“It’s tough raising little humans.”

This is what my husband and I tell each other on a fairly regular basis. Granted, we haven’t had experiences raising any other kind of species, but in our limited experience, humans seem particularly challenging.

Because it’s the actual raising of kids that shows just how much normal social behavior is learned and taught and not simply inherited.

We say it after we correct one little boy on the dangers of wrestling his brother to the ground by the neck.

We say it after our other little boy tackles a friend from by behind as his way of saying, “Hi”.

We say it after innocent roughhousing ends up in bleeding scratches due to fingernails used as weapons.

We say it after explaining why stuffing your mouth with as much food as possible and then laughing hysterically is not a good idea —for you or the people around you who get sprayed with the contents of your mouth.

We say it because it’s true. Because childrearing, on the most basic level, is the art of teaching civility. But it’s also about preparing kids for adulthood. So yes, there are the basics—like, bodily noises should not be directed towards people. But also, there are nuanced things.

Like, teaching kids to look an adult in the eye when they are talking to them.
Like, telling them that interrupting is rude.
Like encouraging them to learn to do their “have to’s”—such getting dressed, putting their shoes on, getting their backpack ready for school—before doing their “want to’s”—playing with Legos—Every. Waking. Moment.

And in all of it, it’s a dance. Because let’s be honest, there are days when the ground that needs to be covered to get my boys to the place where they can function as healthy and sociable adults seems too much for a single lifetime. And days when the sound of my voice correcting them gets annoying even to me. Sure, we have a great goal to shoot for, but in the meantime, we are all driving ourselves a little crazy.

So how do we manage the dance?

There are a few verses in the Bible that talk about this relationship between parents and children. Some we may have heard and despised as kids, but love now that we are parents. “Honor your father and mother.” It’s a big command—big enough to be included in the top ten. In addition to referencing that one about how kids should treat their parents, Paul also writes in his letters about how parents should relate to their kids.

Colossians 3:21 says, Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

And Ephesians 6:4 says, Fathers, do not exasperate your children…

Paul was going against a cultural norm at the time that didn’t value children nearly as much as we do now. He wanted to make sure those receiving his letters treated their kids with the worth they inherently had, placing as much importance on children obeying their parents as the way parents raised their kids.

When Paul says the words “embitter” and “exasperate,” he’s using words that mean provoke, or stir up. In other words, yes, it’s important to parent with an end in mind—to raise fully functional adults. But it’s also important to parent with a mode in mind—one that encourages and builds our kids up. In other words, we should be careful we aren’t parenting towards an admirable goal but doing it in an un-admirable way.

For me, I have a lot to learn. I have to make sure I’m not just teaching the behavior I want from my kids while compromising the relationship I want with them because of my tone, my posture, and my emotion.

Basically, I want my kids to know I’m for them—by encouraging them to become the best version of themselves—but not lose them in the process because I couldn’t champion them in the process.

So, yes, I’ll work on keeping their growling in other’s people’s faces to a minimum. But I’ll do it with less exasperation and frustration. And more laughter. And once we’ve raised these little humans who sometimes act like wild animals, I’m counting on being able to look back on these days thankful we raised civil human beings—and kept our relationship with them in the process..