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One Size Doesn't Fit All

A parenting lesson I learned the hard way.

When our new home was under construction, I'd walk through each room to check the day's progress. One day, close to our move-in date, the trim man was installing the peephole in the front door. As I passed by, he said, "Oh, no"—words no one likes to hear. He shot a crooked smile my way, then shrugged. What could be the problem? Then it hit me: Our brand new peephole wasn't sized for my 5'10" husband, Charlie, or for 5'1" me. However, it was perfect for our 6'4" trim man!

Often I parent my children like the trim man installs hardware: offering them solutions tailor-made for me, never realizing they don't always fit my children. For example, when our son David began playing t-ball, Charlie and I decided to put him on the same team as his brother, Michael. Since David was only a year younger, we figured it would be convenient to have only onepractice and one game to attend each week!

During this time, David wasn't acting himself. His mood was continually low, he lost interest in his favorite activities, and he began staying home in his room. We tried to affirm him, but nothing seemed to help. Out of frustration, we went to a Christian family counselor. When the counselor discovered the boys were on the same ball team, he asked, "So what position does David play?"

"He plays outfield," I told him.

"And what position does Michael play?"

"Michael is the pitcher."

"And who gets the most cheers and encouragement from the stands?"

While my husband answered, I thought about how parents in the stands would cheer and yell, "Come on, Michael. You got it! Way to go!" Then I remembered the anxious shouts directed at David: "Get it. Get it. Come on, David. Oh, no, you missed it again!" Those flies were so close to his glove during the first few games, but as the season progressed, his baseball glove seemed farther away. His steps got slower and his cries of frustration got louder.

Suddenly, it dawned on me: While our boys were close in age, they were different in every way. But we'd put them on the same team—in the same prefabricated box—for mere convenience. It wasn't working. It was as though every missed ball chipped away at David's self-confidence, and every sigh from the crowd made those chips more painful. Michael's chest stuck out with pride and confidence, while David's head hung lower each week.

The odd thing was, my husband and I had never noticed. We thought both our boys were having fun and enjoying the games. It took an objective counselor to help us see that the "peephole" we'd drilled for our children was out of reach for either of them. We had to change our focus from meeting our needs to meeting their needs.

How could we accomplish this? The counselor helped us discover that by studying our children, we could begin to see them as individuals with unique strengths and weaknesses. Michael loved competition. The very thought of a close game caused him to run faster and hit harder. David, younger and smaller than the other players, seemed to stiffen up when the pressure was on. His more sensitive nature required personal affirmation and lots of encouraging words to get him going. Then, as his performance matched his confidence, he would begin to play his little heart out.

In order for the boys to grow in their own separate ways, we needed to get them on separate teams. Right away, David started smiling again and began catching balls. In fact, he became the new catcher! Charlie and I had to go to twice as many games, and when their games fell on the same night, we had to split up to attend both. Sometimes the games were on opposite sides of town, but we managed. It was special to see both Michael and David get cheers from the crowds, and it warmed our hearts when game schedules allowed them the opportunity to cheer and encourage each other!

If we aren't careful, we'll drill "peepholes" made for us, missing so much when we don't look closer and see each child's unique talents and strengths.

As we seek God's guidance, we'll be better equipped to meet the individual needs of the children God puts in our life.

Dottie G. Bachtell, an industrial chaplain and freelance writer, lives in Texas.

5 Tips to Custom-Fit Your Parenting:

  • Hang out with your kids. You'll learn who shares, who exhibits a big imagination, and who must be active in order to be happy.
  • Observe your child's reaction to stressful situations. What frustrates him? What makes him laugh? How does he respond to teasing? Is he tenderhearted or tough?
  • Discover talents. Try lessons in piano, art, or karate, and see what develops: an athletic ability, or a creative spirit?
  • Observe your child's natural speed and capacity for learning and performing. Can she handle four things at once, or only one thing at a time? Does she finish projects on time or is she consistently late?
  • What brings out your kid's inquisitive nature? If bugs and spiders mesmerize your daughter, buy her an ant farm. She could be a budding entomologist!


Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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