One day last year, I walked into our bathroom and found my 3-year-old, Moses, with his arms awkwardly positioned, slightly up in the air. Upon hearing my footsteps, he dropped his hands. His big, winsome smile didn’t fool me. 🙂 It was clear there was something in one hand he had pulled down and was trying to hide.
My eyes caught a glimpse and I realized what he’d been doing: trying to use his big brother’s deodorant.
Sweet boy. What an adorable mess he is.
That time obviously wasn’t a big deal. But later, as I was cleaning the bathroom and my eyes fell on the deodorant, a verse came to mind. All I could bring to mind was: “a child left to himself is a shame to his mother.”
Here’s the whole thing:
“The rod and reproof give wisdom,
but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.”
For a number of years (deodorant incidents notwithstanding), we’ve generally tried to keep our kids close to us. And there’s a reason for that:
A CHILD LEFT TO HIMSELF BRINGS SHAME TO HIS MOTHER
A child left to himself does foolish things. He brings shame into his life and the lives of the people around him.
But notice- it’s not really HIS sin– it says “a child left”– “LEFT.” It’s his parents’ sin. They are “LEAVING” him TO HIMSELF. They have another option– namely, NOT leaving him to himself– but they don’t exercise that one.
Instead, they choose to leave him “to himself.”
And so he walks headlong into sin… into things that bring shame… Because, rather than being “given wisdom” by the rod and reproof, he is being left on his own to sort things out.
Here are some of the practical ways that this principle has been lived out in our home:
- A child is not left alone, to himself, playing for endless amounts of time. Until a child is old enough to be responsible with his choices, he is not regularly out of mom’s presence. This cuts down on unending tantrums (because they’re close enough for me to deal with their fits immediately), cuts down on messes (like coloring on the walls), and cuts down on selfishness.
- A child is not left alone to give foolish vent to his anger. There is occasionally a time when I purposefully give a child a moment alone to gain self-control. (This is especially true of my little introverts who sometimes need that moment alone to defuse. But it’s just a moment, not ten, and usually with a suggestion to go wash their face with cool water to help them calm down.) And with toddlers, we sometimes use a few minutes in the crib (before they possess strong verbal communication abilities) to help them understand that, for example, throwing a fit at the dinner table is unacceptable. But I don’t allow a child to endlessly rage. We don’t send a child to his room to “change his attitude” (a.k.a. fuss as long as he wants to). I believe that leaving him on his own in that way would ultimately train a child toward self-focused raging, isolation from others when angry (rather than forgiveness and reconciliation), and a lack of emotional self-control.
- A child is not regularly left alone with other foolish little friends. This one is where things can get touchy. Other moms may not understand at first. But this is not being a so-called “helicopter parent.” Trust me– I could show you the ER bills to prove that I’m not some over-protective mom who never lets my little “poopsies” get hurt. No, rather, this is being purposeful about who you allow to influence your child’s soul.
MY THOUGHTS ON UNSUPERVISED TIME WITH OTHER CHILDREN
Children are foolish. This is nothing personal; it comes with the territory. You were foolish; I was foolish. I remember being a little fool. I remember hearing, and saying, stupid things. I remember doing, and being on the receiving end of others doing, stupid things.
I remember the red-headed 3rd grader who told a group of us on the playground that you could get pregnant by a boy putting his knee between your legs. I remember being teased, mercilessly. I remember laughing in 5th grade when told that a boy in our class had just gotten a swirly in the bathroom down the hall.
Not to mention the truly harmful and wicked things children are apt to do to one another. I remember when two little girls called me over behind the bushes in the apartment complex to look at confusing pictures that I somehow (at 5 or 6 years old) knew weren’t appropriate. And unfortunately I have friends, and you probably have friends, who have been harmed in far more life-altering ways by being left alone with other foolish children.
I know what I was like, and I know what kids in general are like.
Little immature people with faulty decision-making skills and foolishness bound up in their hearts, with potential for great wickedness and harm toward one another, aren’t the sort of people I want to regularly give unfiltered, unsupervised access to my children’s minds, hearts, and bodies.
SO THEN, WHAT IS OUR DEFAULT?
Primarily, our kids stay nearby.
That doesn’t mean they’re never out of our presence, but it does mean that our default is not “a child left to himself.”
Our default is a child near his parents. Most often, our children are near one or both of us. Not always. This is not some lockstep, shackled-soldier mentality, where they never spend a moment away from us, or us from them.
Rather, it’s a general approach to life. They are near us.
- Near enough to be corrected when I hear them teasing or bullying a sibling.
- Near enough to be asked to change the subject if they’re joking about poop.
- Near enough to be prompted to ask forgiveness if they’ve done something that hurts a sibling.
- Near enough to be reminded to consider others before themselves, and asked to stop singing the same 5 words over and over again since a sibling has already asked them to “please stop.”
- Near enough for us to see the outplay of their little hearts— their tendencies, their strengths, their weaknesses
- And near enough for us to rub off on them— for them to be molded and shaped MOST by the two people who love and pray for them more fervently than anyone else in the world.
Our default is “near enough.”
We spread out more, and they have more freedom as they show more maturity and responsibility. Our older boys (10 & 12), for example, could be in the basement playing legos for an hour or two without interruption. That is because, for the most part, I can trust them. They aren’t perfect, but I know their tendencies. My 8-year-old daughter might take a few friends up to her room to play babies for an hour during home fellowship, once a week.
But my 6 and under crew (and especially the 4 year old and 20-month old) are near me throughout most every day. And that is because, on the whole, they still need regular training. Left on their own, they are given to emotional tantrums, foolish arguments, and saying or doing hurtful things to one another. So they stay closer.
It’s not that I don’t “value my space” or “need time alone.” Believe me– I am no saint. I came equipped with the same proclivities toward selfishness as any other person on the planet. (And probably worse!)
It’s not that I want to control every minute of their day. In fact, my selfishness would prefer a different, easier, less intensive way to live these things out. If there was a way to know and train their hearts well, and still have my time all to myself, and have the kids “out of my face,” I would choose that option.
But the Bible paints a different picture, and compels me to choose what I would not choose to do on my own.
Ultimately, I believe this verse: “a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.”
For further study on children/foolishness/parenting consider:
- A child’s heart is bent toward foolishness.
- A well-disciplined child brings peace and delight.
- An undisciplined, foolish son brings grief and bitterness to his parents’ hearts.
- The loving parent faithfully disciplines his child.
- A child’s unrestrained/uncorrected foolishness brings pain and sorrow, and gives no joy to his parents.