I just wish my kids would behave! If I thought it once, I thought it a thousand times. All the lessons on common courtesies, kindness, saying please and thank you, and Can’t you just be grateful you have food to eat instead of complaining about the meal I chose to prepare for our family, seemed to have gone in one ear and out the other.
In the moment, all I wanted was compliance because it complicated my life to have to teach the same lesson over and over again when I had so many things I had to get done. I felt like my kids always interrupted my to-do list! I know you moms feel the same way too.
Even though I wanted better behavior, I knew it was really a matter of the heart, of my kids growing up and owning their faith, of wanting to be kind and gracious on their own not because they feared a consequence!
Most parents commonly understand the control center of their children’s will is their heart. It’s not just information that our kids need but do they want to do the right thing, do they have a heart to obey. That’s why we work so hard to train in them.
Our physical heart beats constantly, keeping us alive, but we also have a nonphysical heart in which resides: our emotions, our thinking, and our decision-making or will. It is this heart that Jesus often spoke about, even alluding to these three capacities.
- Matthew 14:27: “Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid’” (our emotion).
- Matthew 9:4: “Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts?’” (our thinking).
- Matthew 19:8: “He said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives” (our will).
In fact, God speaks of our hearts thousands of times, from the first to last pages of the Bible. Two verses summarize this most important part of our in-His-image likeness.
- “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7, emphasis added). God supremely values the choices we make internally in that hidden space inside each of us, our hearts.
- “You shall love the lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, emphasis added). God supremely values where we place our affections, our emotions, which also spring from our hearts.
Parenting is heart work! And I underestimated the challenge of shaping our children’s hearts, the repetitive nature of the work itself, and the time it took for them to fully grasp and embrace these life truths as their own. Cognitive growth takes years and years and it happens in small invisible stages. We now know brain development isn’t fully complete until around the age of twenty-five which means our kids keep growing and developing after they leave our homes and influence.
But it’s not just your child’s heart that requires work. God wants to mold and transform yours too. I entered parenting thinking more highly of myself than I should have, assuming I was more mature than I was. My children revealed more of my depravity than I wanted to see!
So how do you partner with God to change your child’s heart?
- Acknowledge parenting is for your growth not just your child’s.
- Thank God that He is able to give you what you lack on your own, if you are willing to admit you can’t do it on your own. That in and of itself is a challenge.
- Remember you are the first source of your child’s security. For a child to feel secure and stable, to become emotionally healthy as an adult, is to know he is loved and cared for by those who have the power to do good to him. In the formative growing-up years, this responsibility begins with and rests on parents. But as children become teens and then young adults, they need to begin looking for and experiencing their security and love needs in God Himself. Begin early and continue pointing your children to God all their lives.
Parenting is a long process and a maturation journey for all.
Find a way to remind yourself and your kids that life is all about the heart. Write it on a chalkboard or a poster board. Make it a family project to create a heart to hang where all can see it to help everyone keep their hearts teachable and open to the work God wants to do in each one of you.