The other day, after we had a great breakfast on family day, we talked about the plans for the rest of the day, in case we needed to take 2 cars to the mountains because of schedule issues with my older kids. When it looked like Joel would have to take a separate car, two of the kids said, "It wouldn't be as much of a tradition if we didn't all cram together in the van---we wouldn't have a chance to fuss about the music in the car on the way up!" As with any other special day like our "family day" not all of our moments are perfect. The kids had always fussed about something in the car on the way up! Fussing or quarreling is a regular part of life. It is the source of all wars in the Bible, the Israelites complained when God was taking them to the promised land; David, the righteous had all sorts of contention in his home---his wives, officers, children and enemies. Even in the New Testament, Paul and Peter--two of the most revered leaders of the early Christian movement--argued and fussed.
All that to say, it is something all mothers deal with and will continue to deal with--but it is not a picture of your success or failure as a mom. I think if I had just accepted it as a part of life, I wouldn't have gotten so upset about the regularity of it --as it does drive me crazy and by personality, I do not like conflict. But because it is a part of our sin nature, we have to recognize it as a symptom of our separation from God--but not something that your children intentionally do to drive you crazy! Really--they haven't converged together to make you go insane.
I can say that my children have become so much more mature over the years. They have learned to be more patient and less selfish, to be peace-making, to be forgiving, to serve one another, to encourage and cheer each other on. Yet, there is still the tension of 6 sinful people with a variety of personalities living in our home and so we still have conflict from time to time--and yet we have learned how to resolve it. But getting better is a matter of training and practicing what is right until it becomes the standard that guides us in our relationships.
1. Training--Children need to be trained to love and to be mature. I often told my children that God said, "How good and how pleasant it is for brothers (and sisters!) to dwell together in unity." Also, Jesus and John said that others would know we were Jesus's disciples by our love for one another. And of course, we read I Corinthians 13 and talked about it over and over again. So, love and graciousness was the goal of our relationship training. Clay and I talked about our values as a family and he wrote a devotional to use with our children so that they would clearly understand our standards. (You can see The 24 Family Ways devotional at www.wholeheart.org)
2. Instruction A special part of training is education--instruction. So, we made our goals for our children's behavior obvious by teaching then godly principles of relationships over and over and over again.In relationships, one of our 24 family ways was, "We treat one another with kindness, gentleness and respect." So we repeated this value daily every day out-loud for a week. We would read scripture each day that correlated with that value. I helped the kids memorize verses in light of these goals. Some of our favorites were, "Love covers a multitude of sin." "It is to a man's honor to overlook a sin."(encouraging my children to overlook the faults and offenses of their siblings. "A gentle answer turns away wrath." (choosing to answer with a gentle voice instead of accusing or attacking--a choice of the will in obedience to the Lord.) "Where there are many words, conflict is unavoidable." (Stop fighting before it gets bad.) "As far as it is possible with you, be at peace with all men." "Do not let any unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only that which is good for the moment, that it may give grace to the hearer." (What what you said kind? How should you have said it differently?) And so on.
3. Follow through and correction When my children would quarrel, I would say, "What is our 24 Family way about how we treat each other?" Then they would repeat what they had learned, and say our memory verse. I would then say, "How should you have said that differently to your brother? Do you need to ask forgiveness?" Sometimes I would make the child, (if they were old enough) write a paragraph or several paragraphs about a passage in the Bible about what it meant to show love or patience or what it meant to have a mature relationship.
So, it was a process day in and day out. Just like maturity in marriage--you have to learn to understand your spouse and accept his limitations and to give grace instead of retaliation. As it takes us a long time to exhibit unconditional love, so it takes our children practice and time to mature. They need the same kind of encouragement to succeed as we do to keep going in marriage. They need to know you love them and we need to notice when they are improving.
But so often, I see parents reacting to children and yelling at them when the child doesn't even know what they did wrong. (Often showing off, being exhausted, overstimulated, hungry, hormonal, a boy! or in a new situation or 1000 other issues need to be considered, in other words we have to be perceptive psychologists! ) Telling the the goal of relationships through instruction and memory verses gives them a map to follow and pathway over which to move forward. (Children need to know what the standard is before they can obey it.) Second, training, training, training--Taking time to stop bad behavior and then making them redo the relationship in the right way--making them ask for forgiveness or use kinder words to communicate a request or do something nice for the other one (making a card or bringing a sibling a cup of hot chocolate and serving them if they had really been selfish, etc.) And almost always, praying together to bring about unity.
I think it is always important to take into account many factors. Personality for instance. Extroverts are going to be louder and more boisterous and should not be punished for being that way. Introverts can be whiny if they don't have enough time alone. Toddlers are just immature and often just need sleep or to be separated and can't be expected to be mature. (though they do need to be gently trained, for instance, grab their hands if they hit someone and say, "Hands must always be used for loving and gentleness--rubbing their hands gently on your cheek or arm--never, never for hitting!" Yelling at them will not help them to be more mature.)
Children who are adhd or who have autism or other such issues, must be treated with great patience and an awareness that they honestly cannot live like a normal person. I wish I had known this earlier as one of my children had issues beyond his control. I can see now that knowing that this whole process of training. loving disiciplining, and teaching is a long process--train up your child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it. But now I see the results--children who are emotionally mature, who can show love and serve others and be patient. It is such important work. It takes many years and lots of forbearance--but it is what will help your children ultimately flourish in life---in work relationships, marriage, family, and friendship and in church. Relationship training will set one person way ahead of the rest.
However, mamas sometimes need a break or some time alone. Children are taxing at times and moms blow their stacks. But, rest, fun and a wet loving kiss from a sweet child can blow away the clouds in a second. Some days, we all just need a break--give yourself grace and relieve the tension by going out to a park or doing something fun--but don't give up--a trained adult is such an evidence of a great mom. I have had many ups and downs over the years in this area and yet kept focusing on His love and forgiveness--asking my children for forgiveness when it was appropriate, taking the chance to love then lavishly and keeping going. As my son Joel once said to me, "Mom, just lighten up--it is just the life and adventure of being a family!"May God give you grace and give me grace to keep loving!
Off to make dinner!