I was reading a post in an online Catholic mom’s group to which I belong. A young mother was extremely frustrated. Actually, “livid” was her exact word. She had put her seven year old in charge of the four year old, three year old and one year old, and was trying to cook dinner. The baby got into the dog’s water dish, and the children started out playing together, but ran into the back bedroom and began jumping on the bed.
Mom pulled the children back near the baby and again instructed the seven year old to watch the one year old. In a few minutes, the baby had poured the dog’s water out and was splashing in it. The kids started running around. Then the baby got mama’s purse, had unzipped it and was playing with lipstick and hand sanitizer. Whew! This made me really feel for this mama. All she was trying to do was cook some dinner for her family!
Mama was really, really frustrated, and I don’t blame her. A seven year old is absolutely capable of entertaining a one year old for 15 or so minutes under the watchful eye of mom. And four and three year olds can surely sit still for that amount of time and obey the instruction to play quietly. But upon pondering the situation for a few minutes, it seemed to me that mom had inadvertently set herself up for disaster.
Several things could have made the circumstance easier for this mom: Before she started cooking, the dog and its dish could have been put away in another room; the purse could have been put up high, out of reach of little hands. The baby could have been contained safely, perhaps in a crib or playpen with special toys only allowed at that time, or strapped in a high chair with Cheerios or with a little background music and a spoon for pounding out the rhythm as no one year old can resist.
I don’t know exactly how mom instructed the children because her post didn’t say, but the best case would have been for her to get down on their level and make eye contact as she told them specifically what she wanted them to do in a peaceful, soft voice. Most importantly, she would exude calm because a mother’s demeanor sets the tone of the entire household. You’ve heard “when Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy?”
Lastly, mom could have ended with telling her little ones, “Thank you for helping me. I’m counting on you. Can I count on you?” or something like that. In short, while the children should have obeyed, mom could have made it easier for them to do so, and that would have helped everyone.
Obedience, of course, is a very important virtue to learn as a child, but it is equally important to help a child achieve it. Our little children are like tiny boats and we need to send them coasting down the stream in the proper direction before we ask them to swim against the current. We need to set up our children for success in doing what’s right and make it easy to do so. The challenges and difficulties will come soon enough.
As I thought about this, I realized that we can take a lesson from this mom’s situation and apply it to our lives in general and our prayer lives specifically. We can be organized and smart in helping ourselves reach goals.
Here are a few questions to ponder: How many times do we set spiritual goals such as “pray the rosary more” or “read the Bible each day” but we don’t do the little things that set us up for success with these goals? Do we actually put the rosary at the side of the bed, where we can reach it and see it first thing in the morning? Do we consciously carve out time at midday, turning off the cell phone after lunch and closing the door of our office so that the atmosphere is really conducive to reading the Bible? If we want to attend a weekday Mass do we purposefully not schedule doctor’s appointments or meetings that day so we can actually meet that goal? Do we take a deep breath, slow down and concentrate? Do we eliminate distractions and put temptations out of reach?
If we plan ahead and anticipate potential trouble spots, we set ourselves up for success. We give ourselves the best opportunity to grow in faith and goodness and to reach all goals, spiritual and otherwise. We also offer our children an example for which to strive. It has once been said, and I agree: Children are great imitators. So give them something great to imitate.
A little foresight has a lot of power, the power to create the best possible scenario for us to get things done.