What do you say when you ask your child to behave and they reply “I can’t!”?
I’m smack dab in the middle of the little years. With a four year old, a two year old, and a baby, my days are filled with giving instructions. Do this, don’t do that. Play nicely. Don’t hit. Don’t touch tongues. (Yes, I had to tell them this just the other day. Kids are weird!) Pick up your toys. Pay attention. Behave! And the oft-repeated phrase: be kind!
The response I’m sure to hear at least once every day (and let’s be honest, usually more often than that) is “I can’t mommy! I can’t do it!” If you’re a parent I’m sure that phrase sounds familiar.
So, how do you respond to your child when they say “I can’t”?
A couple responses jump to my mind pretty quickly: Oh you’d better! or You can, and you will, or else . . .
I think those types of responses come naturally for sure. At least I know they do for me! But when we respond that way, what are we really teaching our kids? That they CAN be good if they just try hard enough. That they just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and try harder.
But that’s not true. They can’t.
My kids and your kids can’t be good. Not on their own. Not any more than you or I can.
I was listening to the Risen Motherhood podcast a couple weeks ago and they were interviewing Elyse Fitzpatrick (mom, grandma, author, counselor – if you’ve not heard of her look her up!) Anyway, Elyse was talking about an interaction between her daughter Jessica and Jessica’s little son. Jessica told her son to be kind or something along those lines and he replied – you guessed it – “I can’t!!!”
It was what Jessica replied to her son that really struck me. She said “That’s true, you can’t. Run to Jesus.”
Our kids need to know that they can’t. How else will they realize how much they need Jesus?
Galatians 3:24 tells us that “the law was our school master to bring us to Christ.” It is our failure to do what’s right – to keep the law – that shows us just how much we need Jesus Christ.
If we keep telling our kids to be good – but fail to go any further – we are completely missing the point and are losing out on an opportunity to share the gospel with them.
More than anything else, our kids need us to be to reminding them that they need Jesus. That they can’t be good, not really, not without Jesus.
It can be hard to parent this way because I’m often lazy as a parent. It takes more effort to stop and pray with my children and talk to them about Jesus than it does to yell “be nice to each other or else!!!” But which method reaches their hearts?
We’re never going to parent perfectly, just like our parents didn’t parent perfectly. But pointing our kids to Jesus is something that we need to resolve to do, often. We need to do it until it becomes a habit.
The other day Caleb came up to me. I had been telling him, repeatedly, to be kind and gentle with the baby. He asked me, “Mommy, can we pray that I will be kind to Lucas?”
He got it!! At least on that day, in that moment, he realized that he needed Jesus. And with God’s help (and His grace when I fail) I’m going to keep reminding him.
Two books that have been influential and helpful to me as a parent and that I highly recommend are Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick and her daughter Jessica Thompson, and Parenting by Paul David Tripp.