Surely children must learn to wait; I don’t dispute that fact. Often, though, adults must learn to stop and see the child and to respond with careful attention and thoughtful gentleness. Children can teach us to be present in the moment. They can require us to slow down and truly listen, because, frankly, no one can readily understand a two-year-old without focusing and looking at context and listening carefully and asking clarifying questions. No one can listen to a two-year-old with absentminded attention while attempting to multi-task and really understand what the child is saying. And neither mother nor child grows in virtue if interruptions are met with anger.
Children can teach us gentleness, if only we have teachable spirits. Gentle mothers make an effort to speak softly and less often, to listen carefully and more often. Mothers who are able to permeate the atmosphere of their homes with gentleness can see God’s hand when a child interrupts her work. Like the monastery bell calls a monk, the child calls Mother to service and her work with the child becomes a prayer. If she is wise, she will see opportunity to grow in holiness in every interruption. She will count every call to gentleness over exasperation a blessing.
I, like Melanie, can very much relate to the challenge of responding to little ones with patience and gentleness. Sometimes I need to scold Cecilia for not waiting when I have told her to wait, like yesterday when it was time to pick a DVD and by not waiting for me to open the entertainment center she squished Felicity’s thumb with it. At the same time, I am noticing more and more how often I tell her, “Just a minute,” or “Wait a second,” and she does wait very patiently and I have not been recognizing and encouraging and applauding that patience.
I am making a concentrated effort to not yell but rather talk when one of the girls does something they know they shouldn’t. I’ve been trying to reinforce the golden rule to Cecilia though just how well a 3 year old can master the “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” concept is questionable. Instead of scolding her this morning when she threw a toy down and hurt Felicity’s hand, I told Cecilia to look at Felicity crying and tried to emphasize that she had hurt her and she doesn’t like to be hurt and then told her to hug her. Of course, Felicity didn’t care much what Cecilia did as she just wanted me to hold her, but it is a beginning. Part of me is wondering if talking and maybe, in some way, guilting by tugging on those heartstrings that do love sisters and parents might be much more effective (not to mention pleasant) than yelling, scolding, etc. I don’t have high blood pressure but I bet it would help me keep my peace more throughout the day as well.
It is not a weak woman who is gentle when her home is bustling with activity and several people are dependent upon her for their very existence. It is a strong woman who gathers the grace necessary to respond with goodness and gentleness and brings peace to her family. This summer, I pray for the strength to be gentle.
It is easier to blow one’s top than respond calmly to chaos but responding with anger to an interruption or a problem only teaches losing one’s temper. Likewise of a challenge is responding to interruptions within interruptions. When Cecilia hurt Felicity’s hand this morning, I had to leave my computer and set down a nursing Elizabeth to deal with the situation. I must say Elizabeth was a real sport about it.
But I put the question to you: Does responding in any way that isn’t patient and gentle ever seem to be really beneficial to anyone? You? The kids? Anyone within a 5 mile radius? Does anyone besides me notice that once you begin responding with anger, it is easier to do it again and it seems like you need to do it more often than you did before? Did the kids get worse? Or is my temper just shorter? Or both? Did responding with anger help in the long run?
I need a little monastery training in responding to God’s bell when He rings it. I will say this though, with my little girls, I couldn’t have chosen better teachers. It is wonderful to be taught by butterfly kisses and little arms around my neck.