MOST PARENTS are very familiar with the phrase "learn to pick your battles." As the mother of a teenage daughter, I know I've had many opportunities to practice this advice.
There are certainly times when a parent's insistence on his or her view of a situation seems unquestionable—like wearing a coat outside on a cold day, or putting a seatbelt on in the car. But there are also times when parents can be so sure of their opinion that they—and their child—may miss out on valuable life-lessons.
When faced with my own child's reluctance to comply with my views, I've been finding that consistently listening for God's guidance, to discover the underlying issues, can bring unexpected results and long-term good.
Early on in our daughter Taylor's education, she attended a private school. Her teacher was ambitious and fun, the atmosphere nurturing, the class size small. But one Sunday evening as I was getting ready to tuck her into bed, she suddenly became upset and said, "I don't want to go to school tomorrow!"
Surprised, I went through that typical parenting debate with myself and thought, "Is this serious, or could she be faking it? Is there some problem at school that I don't know about?" And so on. I questioned her about these issues, but none applied. She was still very distressed and insisted on staying home.
It might have been perfectly valid for to say, "You know, you just have to go to school. I'm sorry if you don't want to go, but that's not an option." At that moment, though, this just didn't seem like the right answer. I could tell Taylor wasn't acting willful or stubborn. So I decided to get quiet and pray about the right response to her need.
First, I stopped wondering what the problem was, and instead tried to listen to what God's tender love was communicating to both of us. As I sat on my daughter's bed, quietly listening, she was able to tell me what was distressing her. It turned out that she sincerely missed being with her dog—a Pomeranian named Coco—during the school day. At first I thought, "Oh, great. How can this be solved?"
I could have responded by telling her how silly that was, and insisting that she'd see her dog when she got home. But something impelled me to continue to pray. My daughter was also used to turning to God with her struggles, so I asked her to join me.
We sat together silently. Then we discussed the fact that if her desire to be with her dog was right, then we could trust God to satisfy her need in a tangible way. This was in the spirit of the psalm that says: "Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart" (Ps. 37:3,4). After we talked, Taylor was satisfied that God would care for her, and was ready to go to sleep.
The next morning when we arrived at school, Taylor was still a bit wary and asked me to walk her in. We were greeted at the door by her teacher—and a puppy. Over the weekend her teacher had adopted this dog for the classroom. She said she'd thought my daughter might like to take special charge of him completely unaware of Taylor's desire to stay home with her own dog. We were so grateful for this specific answer. For the rest of that school year, Taylor and her friends enjoyed their classroom dog every day.
Taylor's interest in dogs proved more than just a passing phase. Since then, the majority of her activities have been focused on her love for them—from dog training and sitting, to participating in dog clubs, and local and state dog shows. On a daily basis, she goes to the park with all three of her dogs and is becoming known as the neighborhood "dog expert."
This experience had been a signpost for me to take the time to pray about each parenting decision I make, whether or not my daughter's concerns seem significant. I saw clearly that God answers the desires of all of His children—parents and adults—in the most appropriate ways.
I WENT THROUGH THAT TYPICAL PARENTING DEBATE WITH MYSELF AND THOUGHT, "IS THIS SERIOUS, OR COULD SHE BE FAKING IT?"
Kate Dearborn lives in Austin, Texas, with her family and their two Pomeranians, Coco and Mishka, and Summer, an Australian Shepherd.
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