A couple of weeks ago, Steve and I got a first-hand reminder that what we think we're communicating to our children may not be what they hear.
We were at the church potluck having a grand old time. It was raining outside and so all of the children (and there are many) were packed inside like tadpoles darting about. Currently we meet in a middle school gym so there is a lot of room to run around and play. Both Steve and I kept an eye on the kids, periodically mentally counting them just to make sure everyone was accounted for. Lunch was served and then dessert was up next.
Dessert! Everyone loves dessert! All of the boys clamored after their Dad as he went off to heap
a plate full of delicious goodies. As Steve was gathering the bounty, he told the boys to go back to their seats and he would bring them dessert. When he got back to our table, he noticed Caleb had gone missing. But at first he didn't think much of it. He thought he probably just got distracted on his way back. Surely he'd be there any moment to claim his cookie! But as the minutes ticked by with still no sign of him, Steve threw me a look and I knew something was amiss. Caleb LOVES dessert so we knew something was off. Plus, he's not our likely candidate to wander off..number 3 takes that place most readily.
After Steve filled me in, we went to look for him. There were a few places he could be hiding out in but not many so, our search went rather quickly. When we met up again and surveyed all of the places inside we had searched, we realized we needed to enlist more help because he was nowhere to be found. A few other parents helped us look and we combed through the place...still no sign. Then a nagging fear started welling up inside and I began looking around for people that might not belong at our gathering. Had someone come in and snagged him? As soon as I started to go there, I remembered that Steve had told him to go to his seat. Could he have understood something else from that statement? Steve meant his seat at the table but was there another seat Caleb could have thought he meant?
The only answer to that was the car. I thought it unlikely as it was pouring outside and our car was a fair distance away from building. Yet being that he was nowhere to be found, I figured it was worth a try. I rain out into the rain and burst into our car. And to my utter surprise, there sat Caleb all strapped into his seat reading a book. Normally our car is locked but before church I had nursed the baby in there and evidently forgotten to lock it! Good thing or he probably would've been standing outside in the rain that whole time!
I was so happy to see him and baffled that he had ventured all the way outside by himself because he thought he was supposed to. I tried to get him to come to me as I just wanted to wrap my arms around him and thank God he was found. But he said very emphatically to me, "Mom, Dad told me to go to my seat. I'm waiting here until Daddy brings me my dessert." Poor child. He was really trying to do the right thing! I then explained to him that we meant his seat at the table inside and that he had a big cookie waiting for him. At that news, he came bounding out, grabbed my hand and followed me in as if nothing was wrong.
Later I related the story to my mother-in-law as we had gone over to their house after church. And she said something that really clicked with me. She said, "Sometimes we think we're saying one thing to our child and they're hearing something entirely different." Of course that was obvious from the situation. But really, I started thinking about it. How often does this happen? I think I'm being really clear all of the time because I know what I'm trying to say in my own head. But am I really communicating clearly? And am I allowing for grace when I'm unsure if they really truly understood?
These questions then led me to the whole idea of giving commands in general. How often do I give too many at a time? Am I asking things that are doable for the child? Am I making it easy for them to obey? How often am I a part of them not following directions? Ephesians 6:4 tells parents, namely fathers, not to exasperate their children. How often do I do this when I am giving directions and how can I be more clear?
I've been trying to keep this in mind lately and be more aware. I know I'll need to be reminded. I know they're small and still learning. I know that they'll need grace at times. And really, after what happened a few weeks ago with Caleb, both Steve and I are definitely more aware of the fact that they might not be getting what we think they are.
And for that, we could do a better job...and maybe use some grace ourselves as well.