I have been spending more time than usual thinking about what others like, and in many ways I find it hard going. Me, I’m easy – I know what I prefer – but when I am in charge, how much of the deciding how things will be ought to be what I think best and how much should be the preference of the ones I am in charge of? It gets complicated.

For example, months ago I agreed to head the kitchen for a one-week girls camp happening this month. I have helped with that kind of thing before, but this is the first time I am doing all of the planning, shopping, and overseeing the kitchen. Figuring out the menus is proving to be a challenge beyond multiplying recipe amounts and coordinating prep-to-service times for individual dishes. I have goals in mind as I work – the food needs to be nourishing, attractive, delicious, and not too expensive. I’d like to pamper the campers – it’s a great chance to make things that are special and a little “girly,” and I want to take advantage of that. I want to use as much fresh seasonal produce as possible. And I can do all those things rather easily because, except for the “girly” part, that is the way I cook all the time. That is the way that pleases me.
But the campers have preferences, too, and in this case I am left guessing what those might be. They will be away from home and might crave familiarity in their food, which begs the question: what is familiar to them? Hot dogs and canned spaghetti? Or is it migas and posole? On the other hand, camp could be a good time to expand their horizons a little. Perhaps in the convivial chatter of shared meals a hesitant girl might be emboldened to try the chopped salad with zucchini and sunflower seeds and make a happy discovery. Or, maybe she would stare with loathing at her plate and waste away to nothing over the course of the week and it would be all my fault because I was determined to serve what I like to serve. What is the right way to feed these kids? Lowest common denominator or possibly raised a notch or three above their comfort zone?
This question of how to use my authority to make wise choices and yet model a servant’s heart extrapolates into so many areas of life. In our family, lately I seem to be often second-guessing myself about the household standards we set and enforce for our young adult children, everything from chores to expectations of academic excellence to the ways they use their time. It would be lovely if they always loved the accountability we require, but often they do not. It would be easy if they said, “Thanks, Mom and Dad, for making me do more,” but that rarely happens. Instead, I have to remind myself about a couple of terribly important parenting principles, articulated very nicely by Leila over at Like Mother, Like Daughter:
  1.  Act, don’t react to your children.
  2. Never seek affirmation from your children. True affirmation doesn’t come until long after your hands-on parenting job is over.

The second-guessing I do usually springs from one or both of those mistakes. And, I have to balance having a servant’s heart with exercising the authority I am expected to wield by remembering Hebrews 12:9-11: “Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them [emphasis mine], but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” I have to be humble, I have to be wise, but I also have to call the shots.
When I remember those things, and always bearing in mind how much how much I have been profited by the high standards of my parents and God my father, I have my answers: No, Dear Ones, you may not pile your dishes in the sink for someone else to deal with, and yes, Campers, there will be some zucchini in the menu. Just a little. It’s good. Don’t be afraid.
Are you ever a second-guesser?
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  1. Posted August 1, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Yes! I second guess many things. It matters to me to meet the needs (and likes when I can) of those I’m caring for. The trick is finding the balance in all things.

    • Posted August 1, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      I agree, BeckyS. Balance is key, and for me that means balancing humility with accepting the authority I’m expected to use. Not easy sometimes.

  2. Posted August 2, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    I’m very curious about the not seeking affirmation from our children quote. Does it mean don’t “need” it, rely or lean on it? Because while of course I don’t think the relationship from mother to child should be one where the the parent is the taker/receiver … at the same time I do think that the child should be taught to give in all relationships. I definitely teach L to appreciate and express love and affection for the things we do for her … but not because I *must* have it, but because I want her to learn to have that attitude. Is that what it means? Or not seeking affirmation in general?

    • Posted August 2, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      April, it is definitely meant in the sense of not basing your parenting decisions on needing affirmation from your children for those decisions. The error many parents make with their kids, from toddlers to teens, is shying away from making a rule or asking them to do something because the parent knows ahead of time that the child won’t like it. That shouldn’t matter, or at least it should matter very little. If the parent believes it is important, right, and wise, then that is what needs to happen.

      Certainly, it is important for kids to learn to express appreciation, and in some ways well-trained children will affirm their parents’ decisions. But the principle that we can’t really appreciate (affirm) what our parents did for us until we have children of our own is true in lots of ways, and that kind of affirmation is what this principle refers to. In fact, in my own life, I have found that in a few ways I haven’t fully appreciated how good my parents were at their job of parenting me at various ages until my own children have reached those ages. I sometimes wonder if when our kids reach their forties if I’ll be telling my folks how much I appreciate how they related to me in MY forties! I hope they are still here so I can say it.

    • Posted August 2, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      Ahh, I see now. Yes, there have definitely been many times where I’ve realized more now what a good job my parents did than I realized when I was at home – and I’m sure that will only continue to grow the older I get. And I totally see what you’re saying about not making decisions based on needing affirmation from our kids. Thanks, Lori! 🙂

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