As I write this I find myself wondering what I got myself into. Parenthood has left me questioning my abilities in every single way. I find myself laughing because otherwise I’d be crying. I am still wondering when that magic age, the one where it all gets better, will arrive.
We have rules—doesn’t every household?
No hitting. No spitting. No talking back. No rubbing your bare bottoms together. No picking your nose where we can see you; no picking your nose at all; don’t put the gold you dug out of your nose anywhere on our house. Or us.
No lying. No taking things from each other. No tackling your sister. No kicking. No pointing your mean finger at us when we are talking to you. No breaking your toys just ’cause you feel like breaking things. No sliding down the stairs on your pillow. No jumping on the furniture. No biting. No stuffing your sister under the couch cushions and then sitting on her. No sticking your hands down your pants to scratch either the front or back in public; no pulling your pants down in front of people. And …
The list goes on and on and on. Did I mention no picking your nose? What is it with that one?
We enforce our rules. And on every day of the week, I am destined to repeat each of these rules to my children at least thirty-two times. No exaggeration here either. Such is the life of two adventurous, strong-willed, brilliantly fun (I choose to believe that nose-picking is a sign of brilliance), wildly curious and somewhat bored children and their parents.
Children vs. Soldiers
Soldiers were never this hard. As a leader of troops, I had the benefit of socialization, the law and peer pressure on my side. My soldiers would never live it down if they were caught picking their noses in public. Talk back, and they’d be in serious trouble. Disrespect, and they’d be cleaning the bathrooms or doing pushups until their hands bled. Downright disobey a direct order, and they could be in jail. With the exception of some serious hard-heads, leading soldiers was relatively easy compared to my two ragamuffins.
My kids could not care less about social pressures. Picking their noses is an approved activity in the eyes of their peers. Jail (otherwise known as timeout) doesn’t faze them at all. And push-ups? Well, that’s just a game to them. Oh, to have their energy!
I find myself so busy enforcing the laws that the most accurate word to describe my parenting would be: reactive. I’ve gotten to the point a few times where I just throw my hands in the air and exclaim, “What do I do with them?”
But truthfully, I’m spent. I literally struggle to find the desire to tell my child one more time, “Stop being ugly in your heart.” They just don’t care. It all falls on deaf ears anyways.
Or so it seems.
I heard a piece of advice from a second-hand source that relayed the most encouraging little tidbit of information to me. She passed on advice from a 78-year-old treasure of a woman, and it echoed around in my heart the minute I heard it.
“Capture their hearts.”
She recounted how she spent so much time making sure her kids followed the rules, learned to obey and became respectful, that she failed to really make their hearts a priority. And she’s right. While obedience and respect are important, if the hearts of our children are not aligned with our desires and God’s will for them, they will struggle when it comes time to make decisions on their own. They will struggle in their Christian walks.
I know this from personal experience. I also know this from leading soldiers—it is the HEART of an all-volunteer army that makes them much more effective than any paid mercenary. When they connect with their leaders, resonate with the mission and fall in line with the heart of the nation, their hearts will lead them to the far corners of the world, ready to sacrifice everything for what they believe.
Okay: Capture their hearts. I wanted to. But I asked myself, “How?” over and over again. And the answer was logical: Spend time with them.
In the rush of the day—making breakfast, lunch and dinner; cleaning and doing laundry; driving here and there; getting to work; performing all of my duties; checking the blocks on my to-do list; bathing and clothing the kids (and myself); laying down the law and everything else that comes with the day—I forget to just be still with my kids. I fail to let them know that they matter. Their world—their fun, dreams, silliness, their fears, achievements, struggles, joys and all of the rest—matters to me.
But my kids won’t know that unless I show them. In the effort to capture their hearts, I must get on the floor and sit in their bedrooms while they play around me, spend time crawling around playing Alligator and Python—a wonderfully fun wrestling game invented after watching an alligator eat a python on TV.
I must prioritize my time so that I get to sit at the table and watch them create crafts or kneel down at their Lego bench and help their little men walk around. I must hold, snuggle, cuddle and tell them over and over how much I love them, how proud I am of them and how special they are.
And then wake up the next day to do it again!
So I beg of myself and all of you other parents who are feeling like a defeated, eternally exhausted, broken record: Let the laundry go a little bit longer. Make dinner early in the morning and stuff it in the crockpot so the hours after getting home are free. Play dolls or shoot ‘em up games. Go collect sticks and build an imaginary clubhouse next to a tree. Go pick blackberries, and go for walks. Do the dishes as a family. Make life’s mundane, monotonous habits transform into the guaranteed family time you value each day.
Now let’s face it. With our kids, “Do these things and everything will work out,” never happens. They are individuals, and there is no formula for achieving your desired results. However, if you pursue your kids’ hearts, no matter what ages they are, then the moments when they disobey are much tenderer. You can engage deeper. They trust you more. They feel more connected. They know you love them, and loving discipline can inspire them to follow Christ deeper.
The same goes for all you grandparents, friends, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers and any human out there with a relationship. People usually don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. After all, the fact that God is omniscient doesn’t inspire me to follow Him. It’s the fact that He pursued me to the grandest extent possible that makes me desire Him and His ways. In the experience of His pursuit of me, I trust Him deeply and seek after His ways for my ways.
That’s the result of a truly captured heart!