EXPECT THEM TO BE MATURING (experience based), NOT TO BE MATURE (evaluation based)
Ephesians 4:12-13 reads, "Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ until we come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature and full grown in the Lord, measuring up to the full stature of Christ. " (NLT)Our goal as parents is future tense. We are working towards maturity which is a continuum. As a pastor to teens, my primary problem is not with a teen who is acting 16, it's with a parent who is. If we all learned to act our age, we'd be better off across the board in my opinion.
This means you should expect your 4 year old to spill stuff, tryout new words she heard someone else say, pitch a fit now and again, and cry when hurt in ways you no longer cry about as an adult.
For parenting toddlers, this means:
- Give them age and capability related responsibilities. If they can't carry a whole grocery bag in after groceries are bought, give them something from the bag they can carry. Help them to be as mature as they are able. Maybe they're not ready to do their own laundry, but maybe they can put away their own laundry once it's folded.
- When our kids were younger, one of our pumpkin patch rules was that you could only have one as big as you could carry all the way to the car. No cart. No help. Seems silly, but it reminded our kids that they are responsible for what they are able to do in a subtle way. We've often used the pumpkin patch as a teaching illustration for them when they ask to do that which is inappropriate for them, either too small or too big.
- Give them the freedom to fail. We all make mistakes. We desperately need houses of grace that help us to learn from and move on after falling short. Our kids will jack up life. When they do, be quick to use them as teachable moments that move them towards maturity.... even if it constantly feels like 5 steps forward and 3 steps back.
- As age increases, consider and evaluate each kid individually as parents and work towards healthy behavior and responsibility expectations for their current age. Remember, the goal is to work yourself out of a job. We are trying to set patterns that are moving your child closer to a full-fledged self-motivated and capable adult who is able to care for their own needs.