You’ve seen the memes. Maybe you have posted them. You know the ones that the punch line goes how you have never really been tired before you had kids. The exhaustion of new parents is the literal worst.
Except then you have a toddler. You’ve heard the jokes and maybe seen the books about how toddlers are assholes.
Then there is the sucker punch of the threenager. Worst than terrible twos, so I am told. But, just wait…soon they will be five. And on it goes. Wait until they are in middle school. But that’s nothing. Wait until they are teenagers.
And if they are girls you hear, “Oh, the drama of girls! Daughters are such a storm all the time.” But, if you have boys you hear, “I so don’t envy you all those boys around. The mess! The noise!”
In all the jokes and jabs, which makes all people even in polite company laugh, our children can hear us. They heard us say they are the worst and that the hardest age to parent is the age they are. They hear people bemoan their gender as more difficult than the alternative. They hear parents say that they don’t want any more children because the ones they have are already too much. If the 1, 2, or 3 they have are so terrible, why would they want even more?
What if I told you that these words spoken in jest might actually land. That our perception of children might actually make our children feel unwanted, unloved, and like their struggles are a burden for us. They might not articulate it as such. But, the seed is there. The seed of anti-child sentiment is sown early—while still a child.
What if (just hear me out) our children heard us say how the age they are now is the best? What if our default was to think and speak and believe that our children are amazing? What if they knew that their parents cherished their tenderness, their light, their charm? What if they were filled with warmth at the thought that they heard their parents say that they had the best laugh, told the best jokes, were the best cuddler, and were their best friend? How might that influence the child’s perception of himself?
I am not talking about a false narrative and ooey-gooey “everyone-gets-a-trophy” and “you-are-a-special-little-unicorn” type philosophy. I mean the authentic connection of parent and child who actually enjoy one another thoroughly and truly. That. That is my goal.
So, I watch my words. Yes, there is good natured teasing and a touch of sarcasm tainted humor. But at the end of the day, my kids know that I think they are delightful and that I absolutely treasure their friendship. Yes, they respect me as their authority, but because of our heart connection I don’t have to flex that as often as you might think.
And so they grow—grow into my best friends. They pass from their infancy when I breathe them deeply and fight the urge to bite their chubbiness into their toddlerhood when they explore their world and find wonder in “sticky little leaves as they open in the Spring…love the blue sky…” (Dostoevsky) Gradually they stretch into middle school and their awkwardness makes them all the more cool and relatable. Truth be told, I have never outgrown my middle school awkwardness. So I love to see it in others. Middle schoolers are my people. And then high schoolers as they expand their hearts and their minds and find the limits of their world and dream of what may lay beyond. And before you know it they are grown-ups. We sit down and unwind at the end of the day or after weeks of not seeing one another. We drink coffee or open a bottle of wine. And we share. And it is lovely.
All the seeds of appreciating them at every stage blossom into something beautiful and fruitful.
Speak life to your kids. Make sure they know that you think them strong and competent and able to rise to meet difficult challenges—you do this by letting them meet hard challenges and do difficult things, fighting the urge to rescue them. Make sure they know that you think they are good company—you do this by intentionally choosing their company. Make sure they know that God made no mistakes in crafting them and breathing life into them—you do this by never complaining about things over which they have no control (age, sex, place in family, etc.)
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue; those who choose one shall eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18:21
If you want to be friends with your kids when they are teenagers, start expressing exactly that sentiment when they are babies. When you call forth the riches of relationship in your children, you will see it come to be that way.