I’m having the time of my life this year with a three and five year old. We go on adventures and treasure hunts, we have conversations, we joke around, we act silly and make things together. I’m sure some of this relative peace is because I’m not so crazy in the head as I used to be, but I also just think kids this age are my thing.
Take tonight, for instance.
Bryan is out with a friend, this evening, so I’m on kid duty all night. As is customary in the Zug Haus, Thomas and Ruthie eventually start fighting while I’m cleaning up in the kitchen. This is a sample of what I often hear:
“I WANT IT!”
“I HAD IT FIRST!”
“BUT IT’S MINE!”
“YOU’RE SO STUPID! I’M NOT GONNA EVER BE YOUR FRIEND!”
[screaming ensues when Thomas pulls Ruthie’s hair].
Feeling tired, I let this go on for awhile, hoping it will resolve itself. But it never does. Kids don’t fight fair, and therefor kids will never resolve arguments on their own. They need direction. They need to practice reconciliation. They need a road map to get them through the conflict.
I come into the living room where they are and sit them both on my lap in my favorite chair. And then I do something quite unexpected… to all of us. I ask Ruthie how she is being unloving to her brother.
Of course she starts shouting at me about Thomas pulling her hair, but I interrupt. I didn’t ask what Thomas did to you, I say. I asked you how you were being unloving to him.
Again she starts complaining about him trying to take away her game, but I interrupt and keep her on track. I say it’s easy to point out everything Thomas is doing wrong, but this time I want her to think about it differently. I ask her again, how are you being unloving to Thomas?
I shouted at him, she says.
Yeah? What else?
I wouldn’t let him play with me.
Hmmm. Thomas, how are you being unloving to Ruthie?
She wasn’t sharing her toy with me!
I know that, but how were you unloving to her?
I pulled her hair and I shouted at her.
Hmmm. Sounds like neither of you are loving each other.
I’m sorry Thomas.
Thomas, do you want to play the game together?
I kid you not, this is how it went down – word for word. Ruthie stood up, was completely sincere in her apology, and offered to share the game. Turns out I’m not fucking them up so bad after all, and that all our rote conversations about apologizing and reconciling and being kind are actually sinking in.
It took me a long time to get here, to this place of patience and selflessness where I can stop what I’m doing and walk them through a situation. It’s much easier (and much more convenient to my own agenda) to yell at them and send them to their corners, or to perhaps to redirect their focus by turning on the tv.
But at my core I’m a discipler, a mentor. I draw from real life experiences to help others see things in a different way. When Bryan and I fight, I’m always quick to point out his faults and the way he makes me angry. But Jesus calls us to a love of a different kind – a love that extends to even our enemies (real or perceived) – because that kind of love is unexpected to a foe and much more persuasive than a fight.
My kids are not too young to learn these lessons, and it’s only through real life conflict I will have the opportunity to teach them. If I ignore the conflict, I’m ignoring a teachable moment. It took a radical shift in my thinking and priorities and parenting style to embrace these lessons for myself, but as it turns out, this agenda is way more engaging and rewarding than the self-serving one I was creating on my own.