Parenting with grace for who your kids are right now

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Last weekend, my in-laws had my kiddos over for the day. My husband and I did some work around the house. Then we went to a late-afternoon movie. My husband likes the John Wick movies. I don’t enjoy the violence in them, but I love movie popcorn, so I was convinced to go along.

As we were waiting for the movie to start, we heard parents with a toddler a couple of rows behind us. We talked about whether they had gone into the wrong theater and didn’t realize it. When they were still there through previews, which included a few for horror movies that had me looking away, we whispered to each other whether we should tell the manager. Because based on the previews alone they had to know they weren’t seeing a children’s movie.

We decided that since the movie is rated R and says you can’t go to see it without a parent’s permission, there wasn’t anything a manager could even do. The parents were clearly giving their child permission to be there even though the child wasn’t even old enough to need her own movie ticket.

Throughout the entire movie, until about 15 minutes before it ended, we heard this little girl. She wasn’t being disruptive, but she was being a typical 2- or 3-year-old who wanted to chat, play and not be in her seat. The mom finally took her out just before the movie ended.

I closed my eyes or looked away for a good portion of the movie. It bothered me all the more that a toddler was seeing these scenes and hearing some of the things being said. Part way through the movie, I whispered to my husband that I just wanted to go get the little girl and take her out to the hallway to play as I heard her parents continue to shush her and tell her to sit and be quiet. (It really couldn’t have been a good experience for any of them!)

I do my best to not judge other parents. I understand parents have different styles, personalities and parenting priorities. I do my best to give people the benefit of the doubt and even assume they are doing the best they can, but this situation bothered me immensely. I’ve thought through various scenarios and can’t come up with one good reason to take a toddler to a rated R movie.

Toddlers are old enough to understand some of the world around them. I know the little girl was seeing and hearing what was on the screen because she commented on it a few times. Her mom thought it was funny when the little girl said that the preview for the movie “Chucky” looked like a scary version of “Toy Story.”

Unfortunately that wasn’t the only bad parenting experience I encountered recently. The next day at the grocery store, a mom walked by with a baby in her cart who was maybe 8 months old. He started to put his mouth on the side of the cart. She yelled at him and told him the cart had germs on it. She loudly told him to go ahead and pout all he wanted.

While she isn’t wrong in what she said, her approach was more suited for a toddler or preschooler than a baby. Her baby wasn’t old enough to understand what she meant. He was just scared because she was yelling at him in a complete over-reaction.

I completely admit I did judge these parents and fully say they are wrong for their actions. Both situations made me want to lecture the parents. I can perhaps give the mom in the grocery store a bit of leeway, because we all have bad moments. But both sets of parents need to hear this message: kids deserve to be kids.

I don’t mean that we let our children get away with anything they want to because they are kids. Heck, no! It’s our job to mold them and teach them. It’s our job to help them understand the world around them, their role in it and how to behave.

But, we also have to understand their capacity for behavior. For example, I don’t expect my 6-year-old to have the maturity of my 9-year-old. I also don’t expect my 9-year-old to have the maturity of a 13-year-old.

And with all of that in mind, we have to also realize that our kids won’t be the ages they are now forever, so making some sacrifices of your own needs and wants isn’t forever and is exactly what you should be doing.

For instance, I remember many times when my kids were younger that I planned things around their napping schedule, which wasn’t always convenient, because I knew they needed those naps and would feel better with them.

Or now they are school aged, I keep our weekly commitments to a minimum so they have time for homework and downtime before getting ready for and being in bed by 8 p.m.

Parenthood is work. It is understanding that someone else’s needs almost always have to come before yours. It’s making sacrifices to do what’s best for your child. Maybe that means you have to wait for a movie to come out to rent. Or that you bring along a blanket or buy a cart seat cover to protect your baby from germs. (I loved having a cart seat cover for my kids; it protected them from germs and had toys attached to keep them occupied.)

Our kids are only kids for a short while. We need to do our best to let them be kids. We need to do our best to embrace the phase they’re in and not expect more of them than they are able to give. We need to remember their ages. We need to let kids be kids.

My test with my own kids is thinking (not saying out loud!), “What are you a [insert their current age]-year-old?” Chances are really good the answer is yes! If this is behavior that is to be expected of a child that age, then our children deserve some grace.

They may need instruction. They may need discipline. But they also need grace, because they are learning and deserve the best that we can give them. They deserve a chance to be their age and not be expected to do things beyond their capabilities or handle situations beyond their understanding.

We have chosen to have these children, whether they were planned or not. And as such, we must be willing to do what is best for them, even when that means inconveniencing ourselves.

About the Author: Stacey A. Shannon

Stacey A. Shannon is a freelance journalist and blogger who has been published internationally. She's also a Christian, a wife and a mom of two school-aged children. She started Families with Grace in 2019 to encourage Christian moms as they create homes filled with grace, love and faith.

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A reminder for parents: Let kids be kids!A reminder for parents: Let kids be kids!A reminder for parents: Let kids be kids!