“The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days; while she who lets their habits take care of themselves has a weary life of endless friction with the children.”
Dear Mom of young children,
Do you realize the incredible power you have in your possession?
Well first, let’s get some things out of the way– there are certainly powers you DON’T have. You didn’t get to choose your child’s eye color, gender, or height. You can’t choose whether or not they’ll have a natural ear for music or a pitcher’s arm. You can’t decide what diseases they’ll get, or how long their life will be.
And, regarding eternal things: though you can pray and preach and plead, you can not control whether your child will follow Christ or not.
Please know: I am not advocating for a control-based, anxiety-riddled motherhood.
Nor am I preaching a message of formulaic motherhood, where you input ABC and can be assured to get out XYZ.
But as a mother, you CAN affect real change in a great many things in your child’s life. (Some of these may not be true, or may be more difficult if you have a child with physical or mental challenges, but these are all generally within reach for almost all children.)
- You can teach him to get healthy sleep.
- You can teach him to care for his teeth.
- You can teach him how to get himself dressed and choose season-appropriate clothing.
- You can teach him how to match clothes, and how to know when clothing is too small, tight, or old.
- You can teach him how to wisely select portion sizes, and food types.
- You can teach him how to take initiative and take on a work assignment.
- You can teach him to enjoy a variety of foods and not be picky or rude about food.
- You can teach him how to follow recipes and cook the things he likes.
- You can teach him how to do chores and easy fix-ups around the house.
- You can teach him to identify and appreciate different kinds and eras of music.
- You can teach him how to say his letters and numbers.
- You can teach him how to properly clean his bedroom floor, tidy the house, clean stains, and wash a car.
- You can teach him what it means to be diligent in his work.
- You can teach him how to make manual work easier (by occupying his mind while he works, by mentally listing out the benefits of the work he’s doing, by doing it more efficiently, etc.).
- You can teach him how to memorize verses, and even whole chapters and books of Scripture.
- You can teach him how to speak up and speak respectfully to adults.
- You can teach him how to muster up courage and tackle a problem and try to solve it.
- You can teach him how to soothe a baby, pet a puppy, and interact with an elderly woman.
- You can teach him how to take an interest in people who have completely different lives.
- You can teach him what you know about various countries, people groups, and languages.
Or, you can not do these things. Some or all of them can go undone. And none of us hit everything out of the park.
But realize, that by NOT teaching him some or all of these things, you are setting him up in a different way.
Proverbs says that, “the wise woman builds her house.” But many women fail to build their children according to what God calls valuable. Oh, their children are good at an extracurricular, excel at a sport or hobby, and they might have ribbons for first prize this or that… but:
- What is their character like?
- Are they respectful?
- Do they buckle down and work hard when asked to do so by an authority?
- Do they have a reverence for God?
- Will they be a net benefit, or a drag, in their future home/family?
- Are their habits built toward caring for others or caring for self?
- Do they possess self-control?
Point being, Mama, you have this window of time in which you have maximum influence and minimal barriers to affect change in the way your child approaches the world. There’s a reason why the saying goes,
“The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s mother knew this. Most women of her class had a full-time nanny. Though she was wealthy and could have easily done so, she was reportedly loathe to turn her young son over to anyone else’s care because she so strongly believed in the maternal influence over young children.
She knew that the formation of character that happens in the early years is no small matter.
It is perhaps easiest to see when we meet a friend who has been neglected in childhood. When we see the results of the lack of care… the lack of solid foundation for personhood, the lack of confidence that God is there… there is clear evidence for the importance of love when we see results that come from its absence.
Right now, you have this small window of time that’s been given to you…
- to imprint the world on your children, and help them see it from your perspective
- to frame up their vision of it so that they can understand and be discerning as they learn to live in it
- to live uprightly before them and let them see before their eyes that things like integrity, hard work, self-sacrifice, patience, self-control when angry…. that these things ARE possible.
You have this gift of time you’ve been given with them to show them the way of Christ– to live before them in such a way that you can say, like Paul, “follow me, as I follow Christ.”
That is done, initially through things like habits.
- I say, “pick up your blocks.” You say, “Ok mama.”
- I ask you to come to me; you come.
- We get up in the morning and we eat what is put in front of us with a thankful attitude.
- When we meet someone we look them in the eye and say, “hello,” “yes sir,” and “no sir.”
- When we visit with Great-Grandma, we listen politely, share a story with her, and don’t jump around or break her things.
And much of the work is done through the example we set.
- How we deal with it when a friend hurts our feelings– what we look like and sound like as we process through those emotions
- What tone and words we use when we speak to our spouse
- The affection, attention, and forgiveness we offer to one another in our home
- How often we talk about or read the Bible, the news, accomplishments, complaints, blessings, and disappointments.
- The ways we commit to things like church involvement, community clubs, and sporting events.
And later… as they get older…
you’ll realize, whether you took that time to build, or not, that the building phase is over… and you move into more of a coach role… and then perhaps a guide/advisor… and then a pray-er and an opinion-to-yourself-keeper. 😉
But for now, when you have little ones, view this season as a time of building.
- Build in faith… faith that God may do great things through these humans He’s given us charge of, for a season.
- Build with a purpose… considering the long-range goals you’re shooting for and working toward it.
- Build “line by line, precept by precept”— little by little, consistently, over time, is sooooo much better than a huge dose every once in a while. Seek to be faithful over time.
- Build as unto the Lord… trusting Him with your work. This is not a formula, and we don’t know what the end results will be! We strive for faithfulness because it is right, not because it guarantees an outcome.
Mama of little ones, stave off later regret. Do the work of building– steady, faithful building– right now in this tiring, busy, wonderful season of life God has put on your plate.
And remember– it’s not all on your shoulders– it’s on His. But as you take steps of faith, to be faithful with the influence He’s given you, God will help you. Take heart: He truly can bring eternal good from this weighty, daily work you are doing!
Grace & Peace,
3 thoughts on “Build Now or Regret it Later: A Letter to Mothers of Young Children”
Thank you so much, Jess. I’ve been reading your website/blog since shortly after my son was born. He’s 1 1/2 now. You have provided an amazingly generous treasure-trove of resources for me and many others. Praise God for the ministry He has through you. I’ve been encouraged and exhorted in both practicals and principles. What a blessing!
Thanks for the helpful reminder. I’ve read this before, but read it again today. I have three littles 4 and under. It’s hard work, but with an eternal gain.