What’s your motive?

Sometimes I feel like my children are guinea pigs in my grand experiment in parenting. My husband and I are not parenting experts. We’re figuring this out as we go along. We make mistakes (a LOT of them), and we talk about ways we’re messing up, and we ask for forgiveness, and we try again.

Lately, we both are feeling like we need to stop and consider our children’s motives before we rush to discipline. Sometimes I hear my husband’s whisper in my ear, “Consider her motive.” Other times, I am the one who steps in to ask, “Why did you use half the roll of paper towels?”

As I’ve learned to stop and ask about motive, I’m often surprised. The child with the paper towels honestly thought she was helping clean the bathroom. On Sunday, at a crowded family get-together, I found one child eating dessert alone on the steps leading upstairs. In the past, I would have fussed at him for eating on the stairs and told him to get back to the table. With our new mindset on motive, I asked why he was eating alone on the stairs. He said it was so crowded he couldn’t even walk through the room to the table and so he thought he’d eat there on the stairs where he could just be by himself for a little while. It was very crowded and over-stimulating, so I asked him to please try not to get crumbs on the floor and to clean up after himself — and he eagerly did.

Since asking about motive, I’ve learned that the boys playing with water in the bathroom sink are testing Lego boats to see if they will float — not trying to make messes for me to clean up. I’ve learned that the girls with the Dawn and the snack plates in the bathroom sink really were trying to surprise me by washing the dishes for me (hiding in the bathroom with them was part of the surprise element). I’ve learned that the child climbing up to get scissors and tape is trying to make a card for Daddy or a crown for Sister. I’ve learned that the son who gets out of bed for what seems like the hundredth time is really very scared to be in his room because his brothers have fallen asleep and he feels all alone.

Why have I been assuming the worst of my children? I’ve assumed that they are disobeying because they don’t want to obey. At least, that’s how I’ve responded. I’ve assumed that their actions are deliberate acts to defy my authority. At least, that’s how I’ve responded. I’ve responded as if they are deliberately making extra work for me, deliberately creating messes, deliberately keeping me from resting or relaxing or having a conversation with my husband. Well . . . sometimes their actions are deliberate. And we certainly need to deal with that head-on. But other times, they are simply being children who see things from a very different perspective than I do. They don’t understand that turning the plate upside down gets crumbs all over the floor — they think that carrying the plate to the kitchen is helping me. How it must hurt them if I fuss about the crumbs (which my Hoover can take care of) rather than praise them for wanting to help!

How much better it is for me to say, “Thank you so much for wanting to help wash the dishes! Thank you for wanting to surprise me! That is thoughtful! Let’s carry these dishes carefully to the kitchen so they won’t get broken.” And then –if we need to– we can talk about the best place to wash dishes and being careful so we don’t break them and get cut or hurt.

I don’t get this right all the time. I probably get it wrong more than I get it right. But I’m aware now, so I know I will do better. I’m trying not to react before stopping . . . breathing . . . and thinking about their motives.

My poor guinea pig children. I may have this parenting thing down by the time they’re all grown.

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19 Comments

Filed under Family, motherhood, parenting, thoughts

19 responses to “What’s your motive?

  1. Oh Jenn, this is sooooo good! You have such a head start with your children still young. Thinking about motives before we respond is something that would put us in good stead in all our relationships. Thanks for your insights.

  2. You’re totally convicting me here. My poor boys. 😦

  3. md!!!!! WELL DONE YOU! This shift in mindset is THE biggest step. (at least it was for me) 🙂

    I am rejoicing with you. It makes parenting so much more of a joy.

  4. Dawn, hold the applause. 🙂 I’m not totally there yet. Just beginning to think differently. And I still have plenty of moments like, “Stop knocking the magnets off the fridge for the five hundredth time today!” *insert crazy-woman scream* And I surely don’t care what science experiment is involved in this magnet-knocking or what great, deep thinking skills are being developed by watching magnets scatter all over my kitchen all day long.

    But it’s a start. 🙂

  5. Violet, thanks for the encouragement. And you’re right — we should be doing this with everyone, not just our children.

    Crystal — Let’s be convicted together. 🙂

  6. stuartdelony

    wow that really spoke to me as a wake up call to parenting. so often we just discipline based on what we see, but the heart and it’s motives are what matters most!

    I sometimes forget I’m rasing a child to think, not a dog to be obedient!

    thanks!

  7. mcalmond

    Where were you 30 odd years ago? This is very good and I, well, I use this on my grandchildren. Thank you and I can change, really 😉

    Blessings in Christ Jesus!

  8. mcalmond

    Sorry, I meant, “I can use this on my grandchildren”.

    Blessings in Christ Jesus!

  9. Martha

    Jenn, thank you for this reminder. This connects very much with what Tedd Tripp talks about in his Shepherding a Child’s Heart book, probably the one I’ve found most helpful. Getting to the heart. We can’t understand our children’s hearts completely–I mean, we don’t even understand our own!–but we can ask God for wisdom, and He will give it generously! This requires more time, more prayer, more thought, more questions, more discussion, more RELATIONSHIP than just disciplining behavior. But what a blessing this can be for our children, because we can teach them to discern the depths of their hearts as well. What tremendous grace God gives at just the right times! Thanks again.

  10. Pingback: Why do they do that?? « Experiencing the Journey…

  11. Great post! I do this on and off with my children and I have really discovered that had I rushed to judgment about their motives, I would have been very wrong. I, too, have made many mistakes and have had to ask for forgiveness. I needed this reminder so I remain consistent in doing this because it is so easy to get upset because they are touching my stuff and making messes (“Can’t I ever have anything nice!!!!” 🙂 ). To see it written in words is very encouraging.

    I still remember a time when I was about 8 and I went to work with my dad. There was a bag of yarn and knitting needles in the breakroom. I honestly thought this was something for people to do while in that room. So, I started fiddling around with it. Well, I guess I unraveled much of a baby blanket a woman was working on for her grandchild. My dad was very angry with me but I couldn’t understand why and he wouldn’t believe anything I told him concerning my motives. I remember that experience to this day and it does change how I look at my children’s child-like thinking.

    It goes with the Bible’s admonition to treat others as we would have them treat us and to consider others better than our own selves.

  12. Great Post!

    Like you we have learned to consider motive…what’s more we are discovering that how we teach,train and correct our children is a picture of how God is with us…How does he deal with us as adults when we mess things up. I am a firm believer that parents have a very distinct advantage when it comes to understanding God as a loving father who cares for us and wants what is best for us.

    Unlike my own parents I am learning to look for those teachable moments and try and see where my children are coming from rather than being the quick disciplinarian…

    Thanks for posting this =)

  13. Hey Jenn – you won my little contest! Which book would you like?

  14. what a wonderful wonderful thought provoking post… yes and yes again. nothing else to say!

  15. Moe

    That’s a very good point. I don’t have any kids, but I end up working with them often, and there are a lot of little kids in my neigborhood who live at the house. It is very important to look at thier motive.

    It’s so easy to assume the worst, no matter now old the person is, rather than look to see what their original motivation was.

    ~Kelsey

  16. Super good post…I’m in that same place (and wishing I could re-do some parenting a few years ago)…

  17. Great advice and true. It’s amazing what you find out when you take this approach. Thank you.

  18. This was SO good. Thanks!

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