More Important Than the Task

We've spent a lot of time hanging out with my siblings and their kids this summer. What that means for my two children is that we've given them a lot of space to run around the house with the 'cousin pack.' They spend less time directly interacting with my husband and me, more time without direct adult leadership. It's definitely affected my youngest daughter, Bethany.I've noticed that she's started to enjoy her new-found independence a little too much.

For example, one delightful little mannerism that she's started implementing recently is a somewhat sneaky defiance. It's very quiet and subtle. I'll say something like, "Bethany, come here. We're going to change you out of your PJ's into your day clothes." Her reply is the quietest, mumble-y-iest, little "No" that I've ever heard. 

And I'll be honest, my gut reaction is just to ignore the quiet "No," and fly right over the defiance because it's so quiet. I'd tend to not even address it and just start stripping off her PJ's and shoving her day clothes onto her. 

And in some respects, that response is somewhat good. Because it's not like I said, "Oh, OK, I get it, Bethany. You don't want to get dressed. OK, you can just go to church in your PJ's." It's great that I don't let her 'rule' in that way. And it's also great that I don't reason with her: "Oh, Bethany, let me tell you all the reasons that you can't wear your PJ's to church. This reason, and this reason, and that do you understand?? Can you please agree with what Mommy is thinking and come get your day clothes on? Please?" That would be letting her take the role of a parent, and I've come so far in my parenting that that is my not my first response.

But. I'd propose that even though it's great that ultimately she's still doing what I want her to do when I just sweep her along in the wave of what I want by shoving her clothes onto her, I'm still missing so much

Because in that moment, the training that her little heart so desperately needs is SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than the task of getting her dressed and out the door.

I so often miss, or even ignore, opportunities to train my children to choose the life-giving, safe path of willful obedience because I'm so focused on the task that needs to get done. In this situation of Bethie saying her quiet "No," it's a GREAT opportunity for me to stop what I'm doing, get down at her level, and give her a quick and appropriate consequence for choosing to defy in the smallest of ways. Because even if the defiance is small and quiet, it's still defiance. And when I call the quiet "No" defiance, I don't mean that I should bend her over my knee and give her a spanking or send her to time-out for the rest of the day. No! I'm saying that this moment offers a beautiful opportunity to RESCUE her from the dangers of disobedience and quiet defiance. 

So here's how I can rescue her. I can stop what I'm doing, crouch down to her eye level, and say calmly and gently, and yet firmly, "Bethany, you may not say "No" to Mommy. Please go put your nose up against the wall." She will probably be sad. She will probably not like it. But in that moment, I am rescuing her from the dangers of defiance by 'speaking' in a way that she, as a three-year-old, can understand. It's physical, it's right away, and it's appropriate. I wouldn't necessarily choose that consequence if I was in a room full of people, but if we're at home alone, it's a great way to let her know that her reply was unacceptable. And after she stands at the wall for about 15 seconds, I would call her to come back to me, and I'd say, looking right into her eyes, "Bethie, you cannot say "No" to Mommy when I tell you it's time to take your PJ's off. You must say, "OK, Mommy." Let's practice that now. I'll tell you it's time to take your PJ's off, and you say, "OK, Mommy." Here we go." And then I'd practice it with her. 

It doesn't take long. But it does require me to intentionally stop the flow of what I'm doing and value the training of my daughter more than the task of what I'm doing. 

The little moments of the day are so important. It's the compilation of all the little moments that add up to the big moments and the broad sweeping strokes of what our children learn from us. As a mom, I can so often forget that the little moments are important because I just want to get the tasks done, to make it through the day with as little interruption and bother as possible. But I need to remember that the most important task of all is training my children. And doing that will often involve letting go of the less important tasks, and crouching down in the middle of what I'm doing and teaching my child how to obey.