I have a very fashion-forward 5 year old. She has been known to offer fashion critiques to me, such as “you may want to take a break from jeans for a little while” and “you never did learn how to do hair, did you”. We were in the Payless recently to buy new shoes for spring and summer, and at one point my daughter was sitting in the middle of the aisle clutching multiple shoe boxes while crying “I don’t have enough shoes! I need all the shoes!”. All of that to say, for a child who seemingly invests her entire heart into her footwear, she doesn’t keep shoes on for a second longer than she has to.
As a result, pretty much every day when I come to pick her up from my parent’s house, we have to hunt for shoes. It goes something like this : “Where are your shoes? Where did you leave them last? You have to look with your eyes and in more than 1 place if you want to find them….For the love of heaven, will you please for just one minute stop pretending to be a puppy dog and help us find your shoes?!” However, on this particular day, her little pink Converse were neatly located by the couch.
As I was settling in to help get her shoes on, May Lee said “Mommy, untie my shoes” and threw her little pink Converse at me. As it bounced off my body, I calmly said “Don’t throw your shoes at me…” but before I could get out any more words, she had already picked up the shoe and launched it at me again. It bounced off my body a second time, and I silently prayed for Jesus to be near…preferably standing between me and the shoe-throwing child. “May Lee, don’t throw your shoes at me…..” and a little more slowly and gently this time, she picked up the shoe and tossed it at me.
Needless to say, obedience has been on my mind a lot these days, and a thought keeps rolling around in my mind thanks to a recent parenting seminar at church and to the concepts we employ at the treatment center where I work. That thought is “what is my mode of operation when it comes to obedience?” Because whether you say it outright or not, kids pick up on your mode of operation in everything and inevitably end up mimicking it.
And that, my friends, is a sobering thought, because if I’m real honest about where I stand with obedience or compliance, it leaves much to be desired and it certainly isn’t something I want my child imitating. In my life, compliance looks like people pleasing. It’s a way to either a) make myself look good in someone else’s eyes or b) satisfy a difficult person in my life so that they will leave me alone. Essentially, it’s manipulation and admitting that to myself makes me gag a little bit.
But if I play out that concept in my child’s life, I quickly move past gagging and accelerate right into full blown panic attack. If that is how obedience and compliance work in my life, then I’m not teaching May Lee to be authentic and genuine in her interactions with me or anyone else. I’m certainly not teaching her to set healthy boundaries, which is an invaluable life skill these days. What I’m doing is teaching her to present a false front to alleviate a temporary, uncomfortable circumstance or to project an image of herself that fits someone else’s perspective of who she should be/what she should do, and boy howdy, how much will that come back to bite me when she gets to be a teenager!?
At this point, I wish I had some great wisdom to impart that would offer a 3 step plan for cultivating genuine obedience in ourselves and in our children, but I don’t. Life is hard and we all fall into various coping mechanisms in order to survive our circumstances, and I am no exception. All I know is that I’ll be talking to Jesus a lot more about creating in me the things that I want to see in my daughter.