I’ve been reading a book by Elisabeth Elliot called, Let Me Be a Woman. It is a compilation of letters she wrote to her daughter before her marriage. In one chapter she tells a story about a time she was too busy and her daughter knew it. Here’s the story:
“When you were small there were always Indians around us, and I had many things on my mind in the running of a jungle mission station. I was sometimes tempted to pay little attention to your small needs. You knew it at once. You knew whether it was an opportune time to get away with something. You would try it, and my preoccupied, “Val, leave that alone,” you would ignore. You knew you could safely ignore it because my attention had already turned back to the thing at hand. I learned very soon that I had to give my full attention to you when I spoke. I do not mean that I gave you my full attention twenty-four hours of the day. I see mothers who very nearly accomplish this and they do it to the destruction of their poor smothered, harried children. I mean that when a matter needs the mother’s attention it must get her full attention for that moment. I had to turn from my work and turn to you.
“Your eyes would open wide when I stopped what I was doing and looked at you. Slowly, slowly, your hand would drop when I said your name. In the moment of pause and silence you assessed my seriousness. Either I meant it or I did not, and there was no dissimulating with you. You knew which it was and acted accordingly.”
I experienced the same thing with my children and now again with my grandchildren. That look says, “I see you and what you are doing. I have something to say about that and I expect you to listen and obey.” That look has some important components that I want to talk to you about:Your attention, your authority, and your child’s development.Your Attention
We live in a very busy, noisy, distracting world. Everything clamors for our attention. Whether you are a stay-at-home mom or work outside your home, you will have to concentrate on giving your attention to your child.
When we served in Africa for two years our boys were still quite young. I had so many responsibilities and activities of daily living took so much time. But I learned that if I gave my full attention to my sons for a while, I gained time with no whining, fighting, or naughtiness. If I became too distracted, they would do things to get my attention. They would rather get my negative attention than no attention at all. When I took time to notice the good things they were doing or answer their small requests with full attention, they were charged up to go on their own for a while. There were far fewer times I had to discipline them. My boys knew when I was paying full attention by looking at my eyes.
You must know you have authority for your children to get the full benefit of your eyes on them. Before you can say, ‘No’ effectively, you must know that you have the authority to say it. You have to know that you are the parent. It is a God-given responsibility and you will be held accountable for what you do with that.
Many parents, in this busy world, turn over their child-rearing responsibility to caregivers in the form of grandparents, nannies, maids, or childcare centers. When they are home with the children, they never want to say, ‘No,’ or in any way make their children unhappy. But children need their parents to be involved in their lives and that sometimes means saying, ‘No.’ If you must have help with childcare, choose wisely who will be training your children and stay involved in their upbringing.
Our boys used to call ‘the look’ from my husband and me, The Parent Ray. They have told us now that they are older, The Parent Ray from either one of us would freeze them in their tracks and bring them to full attention. They thought that The Parent Ray from both of us at the same might destroy them. Now we laugh about this together, but it does show the power of accepting and using our God-ordained authority.
Your Child’s Development
One of the most important lessons we teach our children is self-control. By teaching them to look at us, we are teaching them to think about what they are doing. When they look at us and see our response to what they are doing, they learn to judge the safety and goodness of their actions. Of course, children are impulsive and it takes lots of training for them to learn to read our expressions and internalize those controls.
One of the oldest Christian benedictions says, “Make Your face to shine upon us.” We know God’s face shines on us when we are doing what pleases Him. Your children will instinctively know God’s face shining on them as they see your face shine as they mature to self-disciplined people.
So, keep your eyes on your children and they will know you are paying attention to them. Take your authority seriously and your children will take seriously what you say both with your eyes and words. The result will be children who grow to be self-controlled and know God’s pleasure in them.