Last week I was in Florida staying in the home of a young family. They had a son, 2 years old, who exemplified good training.
He was a joy to be around. I was wondering how this young couple had managed to train him so well.
The next morning, I sat across the breakfast table from the mother as she was feeding her little eleven-month-old daughter. Suzzie sat in the high chair sucking from a spoon a spinach- squash-mush-mix, or some such concoction. I think I have discovered why some kids are so rebellious later in life. They are punishing their parents for what they were forced to eat when they were too young to know the difference and to small to resist.
After about half of a jar, the little girl shoved it away. The mother pushed it back in front of her and said, “Don’t you want some more, are you through?” Again the child shoved it away, this time with a little more force. It was one of those whole-body shoves, not violent, but determined. Her body language said, “I have had all of this I am going to tolerate. Get it out of my sight before I throw it in the floor.” She didn’t voice any protest, and she was not mean spirited. She was just practicing being independent, demonstrating her ability to enforce her rights.
Most mothers would have simply accepted the child’s actions as a statement that she was through eating. However, this little mother was wise beyond her years. She picked up her little enforcer, which was lying on the table, and spatted the child’s hand, while she once again placed the jar of green slime in front of her. Suzzie tried to shove it away, and received another spat. The mother spoke so quietly and so without emotion that no one else at the table even noticed, “Suzzie, are you through eating?” The little girl did not cry, but she got the message that she is not in control—Mother is. I could see that she wanted to push it away, but she looked at the little switch and restrained herself. The mother further enforced her victory by leaving the jar in front of the child.
I loved it. It was beautiful. It was the making of a well disciplined, self- controlled, balanced teenager. In that little girl’s heart, the seeds of rebellion were just germinating. She was fomenting the sins of Lucifer: “I will be…, I will ascend…, I will exhalt… (Isa. 14:13-14).”
The thing that makes it difficult for the parents is that at such a young age the rebellion is so easy to overlook. At times it is even cute. “It doesn’t hurt anyone, it is not inconvenient, embarrassing, or trying on our patience. We are not personally irritated, so why bother? Wait until it gets to be a problem.” If a farmer waited until the little blades of grass got to be a problem, he has lost his crop. Before the roots get too deep, the farmer plows or cultivates-under the grass. When more seeds germinate, and grass and weeds begin to grow, the farmer again plows it under. By dealing with the problem before it is a problem, it never becomes a problem.
Most parents wait until the weeds of self-will and indulgence are choking their children and disrupting the family before they try to pull them. The world and the Devil are always sowing tares in the flesh of our children. If we “sleep” and allow the weeds to get high enough to become visible, we might just have to “let them both grow together until the harvest, lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.”
There was a conflict in this eleven- month-old child. It was a tiny conflict, but it involved her whole soul. The tiny seeds seemed insignificant, but all deep rooted weeds begin as harmless little sprigs. The character she will have as an adult was being formed over that jar of baby food. The way parents respond to the eleven-month- old is one-hundred times more import- ant than how they respond to the fourteen-year-old. Tares that can be so easily pulled in a small child can not be pulled at all in a teenager.
One year, I allowed grass to grow up around some bell pepper plants. I had cultivated out the center of the row, and was proud of the way my garden looked. But I had neglected the grass that was growing immediately next to some of the plants, concealed by the foliage. When it finally came to my attention, I decided that I would pull it tomorrow. I got distracted, we had a couple good rains, the sun shone warm, and the grass roots entwined with the roots of the bell pepper. When the pepper plant started to bear fruit, the grass was then nearly as big as the pepper plant. I decided to pull the grass. You guessed it, the pepper plant was uprooted with the grass. I stood there holding my beautiful bell pepper plant feeling like a stupid sluggard. When I found weeds tangled in the roots of other plants, I let them both grow together. The fruit was greatly decreased, but at least I didn’t kill the whole plant.
I have seen parents “uproot” their older children in the process of trying to pull the tares which they allowed to mature. Pressured by parents who suddenly decide to clean house, some children totally rebel and run away from home—or commit suicide. I will not here discuss the manner in which we should deal with “weedy” teenagers. I am sure that I do not have answers for all the problems that arise. „
This little mother did know, however, how to pull little tares from the flesh of her eleven-month-old daughter.
If you will take time to anticipate the character you desire in you teenager and cultivate it while they are young, you will be able to enjoy the fruit later on. We gardeners know that it is much easier to weed early in the season, before the sun gets hot, and the ground gets hard. If you wait too long, you may wait until the experience is so painful and humiliating that you give up on one of your “plants” and say, “Well maybe next year—next child.” It is sad to come to that place, but many of you are there right now.
I must encourage those of you with small children, train up your children now. Do not wait until they are one-year-old to start training. Rebellion and self-will should be broken in the six-month-old when it first appears. Take this young mother’s example and think of ways you can train your child.