“Good morning, Johnny!” said the Old Lady at church.
Silence ensued, accompanied by a lowered brow which was followed up with a dodge behind mom’s leg.
“Say ‘hi,’ Johnny!” said the harried mom who was late, weighed down by an infant in a car seat and a diaper bag that didn’t want to stay on her shoulder.
More silence from Johnny, except for the almost imperceptible nasally sneer that came from his tiny frame as he peeked out from his defensive position to check that all eyes were still on him. Mom was getting frustrated – she likes Old Lady and wants her to think well of Johnny, and her parenting, so she struggled to wrest the child from his hiding spot and coax little Johnny to say, “hi” to the smiling, waiting Old Lady.
But Johnny was having none of it.
As the seconds began to pile up with crushing pressure, Johnny became even more resolute and Mom was looking for any way possible to just get the scene over and done with. So, with apologetic eyes (and heart) she spoke to Old Lady for Johnny and said, “We’re feeling a little shy today.”
To which the Old Lady at church was supposed to smile and say, “Oh, it’s OK, dear – don’t worry about it. They all go through this stage.”
But she didn’t, and here is why.
She doesn’t want to participate in Johnny’s disobedience, and you shouldn’t either.
This mom’s answer on any given morning might have been “we’re still working on our manners,” or “we’re trying not to force him into social situations he’s uncomfortable with,” or “I keep trying to get him to talk with adults, but he just won’t,” or any number of other reasons she has allowed for Johnny not to do as she asked, but none of us is doing Johnny any favors if we allow him to persist.
While all of those things might be true (shyness, manners, social skill development, etc.) they are entirely beside the point.
Little Johnny was told to do something by his mother and he refused. By making excuses for his behavior, Johnny is actually being trained to disobey her and she wanted desperately for the Old Lady at church to help her do it. Sound familiar?
It is absolutely OK that Johnny is learning social skills and manners and even how to navigate social situations he is uncomfortable with. But it is absolutely not OK for him to openly defy his Mom or Dad.
This may seem like a small and silly thing to write about, but it’s played out with such regularity, and is cousin to so many other ways we encourage disobedience rather than obedience that I sometimes want to shout out loud… STOP THAT!!!!
It’s important that we think through all of the little things about child-rearing in light of the Gospel. We miss out on a million opportunities to disciple our kids when we don’t walk them through the steps of showing them their need.
In the example above, all could have been well if a couple of small changes had been made. If mom knows that Johnny really is shy, she can practice with him before he goes in the door. “OK, Johnny, what’s Old Lady at church going to do today?” “Say, ‘Good Morning.'” “Right! And what should you say then?” “Good Morning.” “YES! That’s right! Let’s practice. Would you like Mommy to help you say ‘Good Morning’ to Old Lady today?” And then when the scene plays out, Mom can say to Old Lady after she’s said her greeting, “It is a good morning Old Lady and Johnny and I have been practicing together our greetings to people. Can you help us practice?” Old Lady will be more than thrilled to help you, and says it again. Mom helps reluctant Johnny (who maybe looks at Old Lady but then hides his face in mom’s neck. At this point, Johnny is not disobeying because he hasn’t been told to do something, but he now has two adults helping him to learn an important skill. Old Lady might say, “Oh, Johnny – I know it’s hard to learn how to do this but you keep practicing with Mommy and we’ll try again next week!” No disobedience – all support.
What if Johnny is just not up-to-snuff on all those manners? What better place to practice than in the company of Old Lady at church? Mom and Dad can talk to Johnny ahead of time about this, too, and even do some play acting at home in preparation so that Johnny becomes comfortable with the exchange of greetings. A similar request as above can be made of Old Lady when they walk in. Some coaching might be involved in the process, but that’s OK. Making mistakes while learning is understandable and to be expected, but everyone involved is working towards Johnny’s good in this scenario. Mom, Dad, and Old Lady can gladly participate in Johnny’s efforts to acquire skills to appropriately greet people he might not know very well, and he’s learning to honor people like Old Lady by speaking directly to her and not hiding behind someone’s leg.
You get the idea – find ways to prepare your little darling for what’s coming and what you expect their response to be. Teach them why these things are important and that you expect them to obey you. Build into the situation a great likelihood that your child can succeed with what is being asked for in the routine of normal social situations, and don’t be afraid (or too proud) to ask for help from those around you who have journeyed far ahead of you on the road. (And if you’re stumped about how to do that, ask Old Lady!)
It’s critical, Mom and Dad, that we take the discipleship of our children intensely seriously. God doesn’t wink at or laugh at our sin – even our “childish” sin that is universally common. He hates sin, and he has put his own son on a cross to remove it from his children. Thankfully, we don’t have to make that kind of sacrifice for our sin or our children’s. But in the end, if a rebellious and disobedient heart really is at the core of your little darling’s reluctance to obey you, then there is really nothing more important for you to address right there and right then – even if it is in front of Old Lady at church. Take him to a private place, mete out whatever discipline is necessary, and come back and try again. Old Lady will still be there, smiling and waiting, and cheering you on for being a phenomenal parent because you are taking the sinful heart of your beloved offspring as seriously as God does.
Next post, A Word about Liars…