Generation Cedar

I apologize in advance if this punches you in the gut, but you might take heart in knowing it did mine too.

Because for all the desires of our heart to be good parents, we forget one colossal thing: they are children. Learning children. Growing children. Not yet finished children. And maybe we expect too much sometimes. NOT that we shouldn’t have high standards or expectations for our children, but that we should understand how the timing of parenting works.

It’s not enough to tell them to do a thing. We don’t throw seeds in a garden, walk off and leave, and expect them to grow to beautiful plants. The garden must be tended. We don’t pull a weed, walk out the next day and upon seeing another weed throw our hands up in despair and give up on the garden. Or yell at it.

I’m guilty of this. Our frustrations come because we expect them to grow into adult character after one or two (or 100) admonitions.

And this is where God sanctifies you, mamma. Parenting is a long, slow process and our job simply includes the daily teaching, reminding, correcting and showing them how to become grown ups. It’s a full time job and a lifetime job. And it will suffer if we get distracted.

So this piece by JC Ryle was so excellent and so convicting, but also moves me to action. And I pray it does you too.

Train up your child with all tenderness, affection, and patience.

“I do not mean that you are to spoil him, but I do mean that you should let him see that you love him.

Love should be the silver thread that runs through all your conduct. Kindness, gentleness, long-suffering, forbearance, patience, sympathy, a willingness to enter into childish troubles, a readiness to take part in childish joys, — these are the cords by which a child may be led most easily, — these are the clues you must follow if you would find the way to his heart.

Few are to be found, even among grown-up people, who are not more easy to draw than to drive. There is that in all our minds which rises in arms against compulsion; we set up our backs and stiffen our necks at the very idea of a forced obedience. We are like young horses in the hand of a breaker: handle them kindly, and make much of them, and by and by you may guide them with thread; use them roughly and violently, and it will be many a month before you get the mastery of them at all.

“..fear sows the seed of much hypocrisy..”

Now children’s minds are cast in much the same mould as our own. Sternness and severity of manner chill them and throw them back. It shuts up their hearts, and you will weary yourself to find the door. But let them only see that you have an affectionate feeling towards them, — that you are really desirous to make them happy, and do them good, — that if you punish them, it is intended for their profit, and that, like the pelican, you would give your heart’s blood to nourish their souls; let them see this, I say, and they will soon be all your own. But they must be wooed with kindness, if their attention is ever to be won.

And surely reason itself might teach us this lesson. Children are weak and tender creatures, and, as such, they need patient and considerate treatment. We must handle them delicately, like frail machines, lest by rough fingering we do more harm than good. They are like young plants, and need gentle watering, — often, but little at a time.

We must not expect all things at once. We must remember what children are, and teach them as they are able to bear. Their minds are like a lump of metal — not to be forged and made useful at once, but only by a succession of little blows. Their understandings are like narrow-necked vessels: we must pour in the wine of knowledge gradually, or much of it will be spilled and lost. “Line upon line, and precept upon precept, here a little and there a little,” must be our rule. The whetstone does its work slowly, but frequent rubbing will bring the scythe to a fine edge. Truly there is need of patience in training a child, but without it nothing can be done.

Nothing will compensate for the absence of this tenderness and love. A minister may speak the truth as it is in Jesus, clearly, forcibly, unanswerably; but if he does not speak it in love, few souls will be won. Just so you must set before your children their duty, — command, threaten, punish, reason, — but if affection be wanting in your treatment, your labour will be all in vain.

“Love is one grand secret of successful training.”

Anger and harshness may frighten, but they will not persuade the child that you are right; and if he sees you often out of temper, you will soon cease to have his respect. A father who speaks to his son as Saul did to Jonathan (1 Sam. 20:30), need not expect to retain his influence over that son’s mind. Try hard to keep up a hold on your child’s affections. It is a dangerous thing to make your children afraid of you. Anything is almost better than reserve and constraint between your child and yourself; and this will come in with fear. Fear puts an end to openness of manner; — fear leads to concealment; — fear sows the seed of much hypocrisy, and leads to many a lie. There is a mine of truth in the Apostle’s words to the Colossians: “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged” (Col. 3:21). Let not the advice it contains be overlooked.”

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15 Responses

  1. thank you for this post today.
    We are the proud parents to 9 Blessings; 6 of which we are adoptive parents to. These 6 are all teens..:) It has been along summer. And there are days that this mama just goes into my prayer closet & has a few moments of tears. Praying is non-stop for me, too! And He is Always here! And so is my husband!
    And thank you for the reminders of what our job is! My husband said the other day ~ if we don’t keep going with the Lord’s help ~ you know what they are going to be like when they leave home! And he prayed.

  2. This is so important, and so hard sometimes to remember in the midst of shrieking madness. I do have a question. Do any of you mothers have any advice how to help a three year old with MAJOR aggression issues, and a less than hair trigger temper? I want my children to love each other, but it can be so bad that other siblings say they flat out don’t like this child at times, which I can understand, though I love him dearly at the same time. If you say the sky is blue, he, in certain moods, will completely flip out and declare it purple, while trying to pummel you into accepting his opinion. I am at a loss. I have never had a child with not just a strong will, but a violent one as well.

    1. Hi Mrs. Brotherton,

      Does your 3-year-old have an autism spectrum disorder? That possibility first came to mind when I read your post.

      Inflexible thinking is very common in autism, and it’s especially hard for autistic children, who have little life experience, to understand that things don’t always work the way they expect, and that other people may have thoughts and beliefs different from their own. When confronted with a different reality than the one they see in their very black-and-white, rigid thinking, sometimes they do act in a violent manner.

      Children who have limited or no language (as is frequently the case in autism) can be prone to physical outbursts because they may be completely unable to verbalize their frustrations in words. Frustration eventually comes out in one form or another, and physical violence can be one such manifestation.

      If you believe your son could be on the autism spectrum, RDI (Relationship Development Intervention) can be a helpful treatment that some families consider. Others swear by ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) after an autism diagnosis, but the nice thing about RDI is that it it family-based, which I like because autism really does affect the whole family, and relationships are so important in life, especially within the family context.

      More information here, if you’re interested:

      Not sure any of the preceding may apply in your situation, but thought I’d share it just in case. May the Lord bless you as you raise your family, and bring you all His peace.

      1. Thank you so much 6 Arrows for the response. Our little hurricane does not seem to be on the spectrum, just from my research and observations. I did wonder about that at one point, but it doesn’t seem to be the issue at this point. He’s extremely verbal, just very aggressive and strong willed like few I’ve ever seen. He does NOT want to obey, and he thinks nothing of whacking siblings, (though he weeps and wails if they retaliate).
        He does have absence seizures, and there are some behavioral issues that can stem from that. Some of it just seems to be personality. He’s exhaustively energetic and always in motion. I’ve thought he might grow up to be a ninja some days. Oddly enough, the seizures seem to all but vanish when he is fully engaged in something, like playing outside, or at the lake, which we don’t fully understand.

        1. Have you had him checked out by a pediatrician? There are so many neurological disorders that have absence seizures as a symptom, and most of these are also linked to behaviour issues. If he does get diagnosed with something, the pediatrician will be able to introduce you to different therapies that may help, perhaps suggest parenting methods you haven’t thought of (and I am in no way suggesting that there is anything wrong with your parenting! Just that sometimes an outside person can see something we are missing) and possibly even medication, if that would be appropriate.

          Having grown up with Tourette’s Syndrome, but not being diagnosed until my early teens, having an actual diagnosis helped me immensely. Before that, I was just labelled as “naughty” (I wasn’t) or “attention-seeking” (I wasn’t) and treated accordingly, which made it worse. Absence seizures can be a Tourette’s tic (it can also be a sign of quite a few other disorders) so I would definitely suggest getting him checked out.

        2. Mrs. Brotherton,

          A couple other things I thought of:

          First of all, I can’t speak to the absence seizures and what behavioral implications they may have, as I have no experience with that, other than that my dad’s cousin had them as an adult (and whether as a child, I really don’t know). He’d just blank out for a while, but didn’t manifest any aggression that I ever saw.

          I think KD gave good advice about getting things checked out with a pediatrician or other practitioner, if you haven’t already.

          You sound like you’ve done a lot of reading to try to find out what may be behind your son’s outbursts, so this suggestion might not be needed, but examining his diet closely could yield clues. Food dyes, for example, can cause big problems with some kids. Doing a food and behavioral diary, tracking what he eats and how he conducts himself X minutes or hours after ingesting certain foods may provide clues about extreme sensitivities.

          It was good to hear that he is very verbal. Perhaps encouraging him to use his words when you see one of his triggers and anticipate a meltdown or lashing out might help head off a blow-up.

          The other thing I thought of was that he needs to know that pummeling, whacking, and other physical acts of aggression are not tolerated in your home or anywhere else, and that when he feels like doing those things, he needs to find an acceptable alternative. I think it would be good if you could buy several pairs of squishy balls or something that fits in his hands and place them in the areas of your home where he has his most frequent anger episodes. Teach him that when he feels like using his hands to hit someone, he should instead grab a pair of squishy objects and squeeze his frustration into those.

          Make it his responsibility to choose alternatives, and the aggressive episodes may begin to lessen as he begins to take more charge of his emotions. He wants autonomy — after the initial training period with reminders about taking the squeezable objects into his hands, his choosing to grab them on his own when he feels frustration mounting puts him in the driver’s seat, taking care of his own problem in a way that doesn’t hurt others.

          Just a few thoughts from a mom who has had strong-willed children of her own. 🙂

          1. Food Allergies can often be the cause of behavioral aggression. My littles have severe reactions (outbursts followed by tear) if they eat gluten containing products or processed sugar. Different kids of course can have different food triggers, but it is worth looking into. It has completely changed our lives here.

      2. My third son (fourth baby) has a very strong will and hot temper. I wouldn’t go so far as to call him violent but he’s pretty close. He was a dream baby and toddler but when he hit three years old he changed overnight into an emotional ball of fire that goes off at the least provocation. I had disciplined his older siblings faithfully and he had a brother only 14 months younger so when he began screaming fits about not being able to find his favorite toy I was unprepared and often gave into him just to stop the screaming. He also was developmentally “behind” where my other children had been — he didn’t walk until 16 months old, didn’t really talk until he was almost three, and had no potty training inclination much later than my others. His fourth and fifth year of life were very difficult for us both but I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I have realized that he becomes overstimulated very easily and I take care to make sure he gets away from the other children to do his own thing at regular intervals during the day – this has helped a lot. Also, requiring cheerful, first-time obedience has been a battle (and continues to be at times) but the wisdom contained in the book of Proverbs as explained by Ted Tripp’s book Shepherding a Child’s Heart has helped immensely. The key word here is cheerful. When I accepted his obedience despite his crying, screaming, or stomping we made no forward progress but when I started requiring him to answer my directives to do something with “I’ll be glad to, Mama” I saw big changes. For my child, it all came down to a heart issue of his rebellion and unwillingness to submit to my authority, and giving him the words to say helped change his mind over time. I also prayed with him after every incident of discipline (as the book instructs), seeking God’s forgiveness on his behalf for his sin but also pleading with the Lord to take away his anger and to strengthen him to resist the temptation to be angry. God has been very merciful to us both and he is still a challenge but I am no longer afraid he will end up in jail. This may not be applicable to your child, but I wanted to share my experience in case any of it is. Two verses that I constantly quote to him are Hebrews 12:11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. and Ephesians 4:31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. I have struggled with anger myself in the past so maybe that is why I was able to see his problem for what it is, it may not be the case with you and your son, but you might want to consider that it could be a heart issue and not a medical one.

  3. Have you read the book “Jesus the Gentle Parent” by L. R. Knost? I’d be interested in your thoughts about it – it has really blessed me! <3

  4. I fear sometimes that I yelled too much at my oldest child (he is strong-willed, difficult and we constantly butt heads) and that I somehow shattered his spirit a long time ago. Now he is eleven and hates me. He goes on the defensive a lot but I think it’s because I’ve made him afraid of me. He doesn’t feel respected and also doesn’t respect me. I do not know what to do anymore. I cry buckets and buckets of tears and pray about him all the time but I just do not know how to help him. Is it just who he is? Or did I make him that way by yelling too much when he was really tiny? There is so much guilt and I am so done and so over it. Some days I feel almost like I don’t even like him that much and I sure as heck don’t like myself either, for being such a terrible mother. I don’t even know what I’m trying to say here. I just needed someone to talk to. My heart feels so broken. I wish I could go back and just start over and always be a patient loving mom to him.

    1. Laura,

      I understand your hurt, and I am so sorry. But let me say that nothing is hopeless. I, too, had/have a difficult child (since he was 2) and carry many, many regrets, and wonder, too, if I’ve lost all his respect. BUT…the Lord has shown Himself faithful in this last year and has brought lots of healing to both of us.

      The thing I would tell you is to take your son out somewhere and pour your brokenness out to him and ask his forgiveness for your part of the injury. Don’t qualify it (I get so mad because you….) just tell him you know it’s a sin to yell at him and be harsh with him and even though you will likely have to ask his forgiveness again, tell him how much you want to restore your relationship. And then ask him to talk and see if he will. And then listen. And then PRAY your heart out. Pray for him, pray with him. I write my son letters and we communicate a lot better that way with a lot less emotion. You have lots of time to redeem. God is for you and for your son. He is a healer and a miracle worker.

      And go get a copy of Streams in the Desert, devotional book. It has been an amazing source of help to me through the hard days. God has given your son specifically to you. And I believe our children are every bit for shaping us and we are responsible for shaping them. Ask the Lord to show you what YOU are supposed to be learning. And REJOICE in these trials, as the Bible says, because you are being refined in the image of Christ.

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