Dinnertime again in a typical house on a typical day in America. The mother’s hands are elbow deep in dishwater when she hears a little gasp across the kitchen as her 6-year-old shuts the fridge. Mothers know these small but significant sounds. She turns to survey the damage while shutting off the water and listening for the overflow of boiling water from a simmering pot.
“What happened, honey?”
“Nothing,” says the 6-year-old.
Mommy walks over and looks hard at the little one who is now bracing herself spread-eagled against the fridge as if all hell is about to break out.
When I had my first couple of children, scenes like this were still new to me and, quite frankly, I didn’t handle them well inwardly even if I may have handled them well outwardly. My children’s mistakes left me feeling disrupted as if their upbringing wasn’t my main purpose. I was unprepared for the unexpected. Life with children, of course, is a series of interruptions just as the sea is a series of waves. As parents, we either navigate each wave and ride it in with grace and poise, or we wipe out.
C. S. Lewis once stated this very eloquently: “The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day.”
I’m not certain that Lewis was speaking of parenting specifically when he said this, but it certainly does apply to all the disruptions caused by my children. Dozens of divinely appointed clashes between the true character of my children and the true character of myself. When the rubber meets the road, the true health of the home is revealed.
Taking inventory at intervals is good for parents and doesn’t have to be a guilt-ridden process. We are all hopelessly flawed human beings so there will be temper flares, indolence, and indifference at times. Parents must never underestimate these seemingly insignificant moments and assume that some great school program, church group, or planned family time is going to train up a child in the way she should go.
We may believe we guide our children well because we have them in the right school, church group, or playdates. However, it’s unrehearsed moments, the mundane, that are critical for relationships and unpack a parent’s most powerful weapon in training children: magnanimity.
To understand magnanimous parenting, look at its Latin roots. “Magnus,” meaning “great,” and “animus,” meaning “spirit,” are combined to portray a brave person who notices and studies the hearts of her children. This parent is generous not with money or possessions but with full attention to the details that are most critical; even as the full-tilt chaos of life with young people arises.
Some may not believe mundane moments have so much importance. In my earlier parenting years, the fridge mishap would have meant another mess to clean up and another way my child was failing. Now I am wide awake and see the potential in these conversations. Knowing our children’s hearts and specifically how they respond to our personalities should be our first and foremost goal as mothers and fathers.
Attention is key. Using the story about the fridge, we can easily see what matters first and foremost. The mother can safely assume from the little gasp that an accident occurred. Parents should react as though an accident is different from willful disobedience. Discipline again changes accordingly for chronic carelessness, and of course, maturity.
More importantly, the 6-year-old is trying to hide something she sees as wrong. Hiding and lying are close cousins, which certainly is more concerning than any accident that could have occurred in the fridge. This child obviously knows her mother is aware of a problem yet persists in hiding it. This child has spontaneously revealed her tendency to distract this mother from the truth. Although the mother doesn’t want to see her child hiding the truth, she is blessed. She has been given the opportunity to help her child turn from hiding and lying to transparency and truth.
What if parents treasured up, planned for, and practiced executing discipline magnanimously during the times when their children don’t act as expected? The children of our nation need strong, heroic parents like never before. Could it be so simple as distinguishing the important from the unimportant, and the urgent from the things that can wait? As parents take inventory, they should know that many activities and programs they trust to raise up the next generation, the parenting books, and the latest fad in child discipline are nothing compared to these magnanimous moments.
The mother looks down at the 6-year-old who is still bracing herself against the door. Concern about this child’s character is front and center in the mother’s mind. As the moment swells and the mother seizes it, the child is made accountable. The child understands that what matters isn’t spilled milk but covering up truth. The child is held accountable by cleaning up the milk. The mother realizes that she has allowed her daughter to use distraction instead of facing weaknesses and failures head-on. Mommy rode this wave well and accessed what needed fixing in her own heart. Then she puts her hands back in the dishwater and smiles. She knows the 6-year-old will soon be 16, and the next wave could come any minute.
Tricia Fowler is a Christian homeschooling momma in the Midwest. She currently spends much of her time teaching math, feeding sourdough, and helping with whatever is in season on the hobby farm she shares with her husband and seven children.