Put Down and Pick Up is a guest post by the author Rachel Allord. Learn more about Rachel and check out her wonderful books here!
We made it, parents. We made it through another year and now stand on the precipice of a brand-new one. It’s the time for fresh starts, clean slates, and all those other resolution-driven platitudes. We’ll do better, be better, eat better, exercise better, parent better.
I’m all for goal-setting and improvement but in our, at times, frantic attempt to become a better parent—whatever that means—we may lose sight of the big picture. Well-intentioned parental resolutions can overwhelm and exhaust us because parenthood can overwhelm and exhaust us. In the bleak mid-winter, I’m better off with a general roadmap, not a detailed ten-step program. So here’s one big picture goal, one offering of New Year’s advice. Like most sound parenting advice, it’s neither complicated nor original:
Pay attention to your kids. That’s it. Pay attention. To your kids. A couple of thoughts as to how:
I’m talking about the thing you’re holding when your child starts sharing, whatever the thing may be. Put it down. Your phone. Spatula. TV remote. Book. Should your child be the center of every conversation? Allowed to interrupt whenever they want? Never made to wait for your attention? No, no, and no. No way can you (nor should you) be fully attentive every time they want to talk to you. But they absolutely deserve regular intervals of full eye contact and complete engagement, even if what they’re sharing seems trivial to you like, Tommy fell in recess today.
We could murmur Uh-huh that’s nice and move on.
Or we could engage: Did he hurt himself? Did you help him up? Are you and Tommy friends?
The fact that our children confide in us is a good thing and we want to foster that practice into tween-hood and beyond.
Jesus engaged children in revolutionary ways. The disciples thought the little tykes were wasting God’s time, yet Jesus “…took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.” (Mark 10:16.) What did he say to them, I wonder? Did he call them by name? Bless them according to their unique personalities? Can you imagine the impact that brief, face to face encounter with the Creator had on those children? This was no “interruption”; this was a life-defining moment for all present—child, parent, and disciple.
What makes your child angry? What makes her laugh? What does he love to talk about? Pay attention to the cues your child gives you that enlighten you to who they are as human beings. What activities or tasks or chores does she naturally gravitate to? We have the temporary privilege to “Train up [our] child in the way he should go.”(Prov. 22:6.) We get to help our child discover and utilize their strengths and abilities, as well as recognize their weaknesses and proclivity to sin.
You don’t need a calendar full of extra-curricular activities to accomplish this. Baking with Grandma or helping Dad replace lightbulbs give kids a chance to explore their natural aptitudes. And while it usually backfires when we blatantly point out sin—to our children included—recognizing our child’s shortcomings can ignite our prayer life. Instead of going before the Lord with generalities concerning our children, we can pray specifics. Help him to speak kindly. Help her to give her fears to God.
When we are clear-sighted enough to view our child holistically, sin and all, and humble enough to share our own struggles, we can show our children what it means to go to the Lord with both our skills and shortcomings.
Heads up, parents. Put down and pick up so we can observe, engage, and pray. Because this year, like the last one, will fly by whether we’re paying attention or not.
Rachel Allord lives in central Wisconsin with her husband and two children. She holds an English education degree from UW-Stevens Point. Her articles and stories have appeared in various publications including Chicken Soup for the Soul books and MOPS International. She’s also the author of two novels, Mother of My Son and The Ground Beneath Us. When she’s not writing, she teaches writing to home-schooled junior high and high school students in central Wisconsin. Rachel and her family plan to move to London England to serve with a non-profit ministry that equips and trains church leaders, and uses the arts to share hope to impoverished families, immigrants, and those in the arts community.