I want an exceptional family. My dream family never fights, no one throws a tantrum, and they all sit at the dinner table happily eating their vegetables. My dream family also sits quietly in church with hands folded, listening intently to the pastor.
My real family is loud, opinionated, and chaotic.
Evie, the three year old, is in a tantrum, my way or the highway, phase. She is stubborn, strong-willed, and at times, downright defiant. Caleb, my four year old, never sits still. He is either running on turbo or passed out asleep, there’s no in-between. And Joshua, my seven year old, is set in his ways, and likes to argue.
In the past, I’ve been frustrated and, yes, I’ll admit, even embarrassed by their unruly behavior. But then one day, when I picked up Caleb from school his teacher told me he was a joy to have in class. A joy? My Caleb? I doubted her honesty and asked if he actually sat still and listened. She smiled, and didn’t answer my question directly, but instead told me he had real passion and loved life. Now those are exceptional qualities.
Maybe I’ve been looking at my children all wrong. Yes, Evie is stubborn and has tantrums. But if I really look at where she’s been, it starts to make sense. She spent two and a half years in an orphanage, fighting for food, fighting for attention, and ultimately fighting for her life. She was born with Tetralogy of Fallot, a serious congenital heart disease and cleft lip and palate, most children would have died. Evie fought. She didn’t give up. I do not want to squash the fighter in her.
And when I look at Caleb through my new lens of motherhood, I see a boy who bounds through life with pure joy. Yes joy. It’s an emotion a lot of adults wish they could feel. Joy comes naturally to him. Joy is not something I want to stifle.
And then there’s Joshua, the oldest of the bunch. Arguing is never pretty on a child and we’re working on lessening that. But even at seven years old, he has deeply rooted beliefs in God and he’s not afraid to defend them. He understands and can explain the plan of salvation and what it means to be baptized. As he grows older, I pray that he continues to stand firm in his beliefs ready to defend them against anyone who challenges him.
Over the past few months, I’ve set new boundaries, one that can nurture my kids’ God-given traits. Evie likes control. So I give it to her with things like picking out her own clothes and shoes. She’s had less tantrums and is proud of her new independence. I’ve given Caleb more opportunities to burn off his energy. He used to run and jump around the house, which would drive me crazy. Now I turn up the music and we dance together. Not only is he happy, but he’s worn out and sits through dinner. And Joshua, my budding lawyer, is arguing less. But I’ve engaged him in conversations that he’s allowed to have an opinion in and am teaching him how to respectfully speak to adults.
My new boundaries are a lot harder to enforce, because honestly it’s a lot more work for me. If the kids misbehaved or were too wild, I used to send them to their room, which would give me a break from them, too. It was a one-size-fits all punishment, which doesn’t work for all my kids. Now, instead of punishing them, I want to discipline them and guide them to use their gifts in appropriate situations.
I’m no expert in parenting and I’m still learning. But my house is a little more peaceful, the kids are happier, and I’m less frustrated. I pray every day that they will grow into exceptional adults who further the Kingdom.
How about you? How are you raising exceptional kids?