If you want to have consistent accountability for something then just tell a preschooler what you’re planning to do and make sure it contains the word “always.”
Mom, you said you weren’t going to eat any more cookie dough because you were going to give the bowl to us!
I know I said that, Honey. But look, there’s...
But we always lick the bowl!
I know you do. Here, look — the rest of the cookie dough is for you.
You said that we get to lick the bowl.
I know, Mommy’s sorry.
Mom? What are you chewing?
Preschoolers love consistency! They will mercilessly hold you to whatever standards you choose.
So is the moral of the story to only voice the expectations that you are certain you will meet?
As a mother, you have influence in shaping the ethos of your home. The word ethos doesn’t mean much to a baby or a preschooler, but they know what they “always” do. You always leave my bathroom light on at night. I always sit in this chair at the dinner table. We always watch a movie on Fridays.
The “we always” things are important. They provide the consistency our children need. The “we always” can be fun to start and continue. Some friends of ours have a tradition called Donut Saturdays where that Dad takes the kids out for donuts in the morning.
Personally, I have been trying to institute a new tradition for our three children called Wordless Wednesdays. Instead of arguing with each other in shrieks and shouts, they will pantomime. They haven’t quite caught on yet, but in the meantime I am willing to settle for Whine-less Wednesdays. We’re still working on that one, too.
We Always Need God’s Grace
In the midst of endless possibilities for the “we always” of our homes, there is one expectation that we are certain to meet every day. We always need God’s grace. The most important thing for us to keep in mind as we shape the expectations of our home is the gospel of grace.
Sometimes it’s hard to know whether or not a “we always” explicitly falls in line with the gospel. Traditions like, “We always yell, ‘Whee-e-e-e’ in the tunnels when we’re driving,” and, “We always respect authority,” are good. But our children also need to grow up knowing, “We always trust God because he’s willing and able to help us,” and, “We always praise God because he is our most valuable treasure.”
The gospel should shape the way we shape our home. One way the gospel does this is by us mothers expecting that we will not always meet the standards of excellence that we set. If we want to give grace to our children then we must be willing to receive it first from God. We tend to wallow in shame or scoff in cynicism over our inability to keep our hands out of the proverbial cookie dough. At some point we will fail, and sometimes we will fall hard.
But then we must boast in the gospel because in it God mercifully gives us Christ to be our valued treasure. Jesus is our consistency; he fulfilled the expectations of the law, and in him all the promises of God find their Yes (2 Corinthians 1:20).
Modeling “We Always Need God’s Grace”
One way to teach our children about our need for God’s grace in Christ is to confess our sin. This is a challenge for me, as I frequently choose to minimize the offense of my sin or justify it by blaming my circumstances.
For example, I often say to myself (and aloud), “Are you kidding me?” and it’s usually not because I’m aghast at an injustice that offends God’s holiness. I say it when I’m irritated by something that is obstructing my personal comfort zone. Dealing with annoyances is a part of daily life, but we can choose to respond to them in a way that honors God. I am prone to outbursts of extreme frustration. This is a big issue for me and it says something about how I view God’s sovereign goodness. It also impacts my kids.
I confessed to my children, “When Mommy gets upset and says, ‘Are you kidding me?’ then my frustration is probably self-centered and therefore not honoring to God.” Now, whenever I blurt out that statement or say it in my heart then I can seize the opportunity to remind myself and my children of the gospel.
Recently the washing machine motor burned out. Because the world revolves around me, I became very agitated by the inconvenience of a washing machine drum that no longer agitates. I fumed from the laundry room, “Are you kidding me?” My kids heard me and came running. When I saw their eyes as big as saucers the Holy Spirit made me aware of my sin. By God’s grace I took the opportunity to remind the kids (and myself) of God’s mercy to save people who think the world revolves around them when the world exists for him instead. How good is our God to use the mundane things to sanctify us!
We always need grace. Our children will take notice when we treasure Jesus in the midst of our trials (and triumphs). By God’s grace our example of faith will testify that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) — always.