Have your children ever made a mess? Join AMBrewster to discuss which messes are okay, which aren’t, why our kids make messes, and how we can help them.
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My mom used to be very pleased with the fact that our home was clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy.
But — you know what — I don’t think the average child lives with that mantra in mind.
But today we want to discover whether or not children are messy because they’re in a phase or because of their personality or because of a heart problem.
But before we dive in . . .
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Your rating and review will be greatly appreciated by TeamTLP, but also by the people deciding whether or not they should listen to the show. Your review may be what they need to dive in and become a premeditated parent.
Alright, so, let’s see if we can determine why our kids are messy, if it’s okay, and what we can do about it if it’s not.
First, let me say that I believe my mother’s saying: “Clean enough to be healthy, but dirty enough to be happy,” has some value if we believe the Lord is honored by the state of our homes.
Sometimes things should be dirty.
I’ve been learning a lot recently about the way our immune systems work, and I’ve encountered a number of articles arguing for why it’s healthy for our children to play in the mud, run through the grass barefoot, and dance in the rain.
I think it’s great for our kids to have opportunities to make Christ-honoring messes.
I used to direct a Day Camp program in Schaumburg, IL, and we liked to take our younger campers on a field trip to Make-a-Messterpiece. It was great. There was this whole room where the kids could go all Blue Man Group, banging on various surfaces that were covered in paint. Ah, man it was awesome.
My kids and I have also taken ash from a fire pit and rubbed it on our faces as we prepared for imaginary battles. Finger paints and the kind of paint you shoot out of a paintball gun all have the potential to create valuable learning experiences, but they can turn south real quickly if your child takes his finger paints to the wall or drops his sweat and paint stained camo on the carpet.
So what kind of mess is okay, and what kind isn’t?
Well, we need to start off with three main foundation stones.
The first comes from I Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
That “whatever you do” includes making and cleaning up messes.
We need to help our children understand how this verse applies to their play time and what they do with their clothes and how they make their lunches and how they use their finger paints.
The second foundation stone is this: it’s true some children may be predisposed to being tidy while others don’t seem to care, but we don’t use our personalities as an excuse for doing things that don’t please the Lord.
I suggest you check out episodes 26 and 27, “The 5th Way to Parent,” episodes 55-59, “The Four Children,” and episodes 95-100, “Why your children do what they do” in order to get a better understanding of what personality is, why we respond the way we do, and what the Bible has to say about it.
But, to put a fine point on it here, sin is sin regardless. One person may smoke a brand of flesh that you don’t. But likely you have struggle with temptations that they don’t. Your child’s personality may make it more difficult to glorify God in this arena, but it will never make it impossible to glorify God.
I Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
And the third foundation stone is this: God has very important things to say about the topic of orderliness.
We could spend a lot of time on this, but I want to sum up the biblical data on this subject by pointing out that God calls us to be like Him, and He’s never a mess.
From the Creation account through the end times, from the precision and glory of the New Heaven and the New Earth back through the layout of the Scriptures, God has proven Himself to be orderly.
In I Corinthians 14 Paul is instructing the Corinthians in the finer points of corporate worship, and when he’s all said and done, he says, “But all things should be done decently and in order.” Why is that? Because God is a God of order.
Creation preaches this fact in every snowflake, atom, and law of nature. The Bible illustrates it in the cunning precision of the Old and New Testament expectations for worship.
So, since God made us in His image and is actively at work in His children to conform them to the image of Christ, I believe it’s very safe to say that our activities should be marked with a sense of decency and order that’s appropriate to the activity.
Those are our three foundation stones: We must never use unique struggles as an excuse for our sin. We must be decent and orderly in every situation (though decent and orderly will look different in different cases). And we should strive to make certain that God is glorified in all we do.
Can you glorify God by making a mess? Yes! Definitely! I do not believe that “cleanliness is next to godliness.” But will God be glorified when you unkindly leave that mess for someone else to clean up? Nope. Never.
So, now with that foundation laid, let me share with you the reasons most children make inappropriate messes and/or don’t clean up after themselves. I’ve learned this not only from being a parent, but from working with thousands of children and parents in the course of my ministry as a family counselor.
I also have up to eight teenage boys move into my house every year. Some of these observations may be based off that experience too. Maybe. :-)
So, whether your have toddlers or teenagers, these truths will be important to understand.
1. Alright, I believe the main reason people choose to make unnecessary messes or they refuse/forget to clean them up is that they’re immature.
This is the reality of sin. Because of our sin natures, God is at work in His people to sanctify them from glory to glory. It will be a life-long process for born again believers. In Hebrews 5:12, the author illustrates this point for us when he says, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food.”
What was their problem? Immaturity.
In I Corinthians 14:20 Paul says, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” In Colossians 1:28 Paul states that one of his greatest hopes is to present everyone mature in Christ.
And I think we all know that. If we walk into a bedroom of a person of any age, we may rightly assume by the devastation at our feet that this particular child is still very immature. However, that likely doesn’t help us parent his heart with the precision he needs.
So, let’s move to number 2.
2. Why are some children disorderly? What is the root of their unique immaturity? Sometimes the child is either ignorant or forgetful.
Now, I think this is probably the category of messiness that we parents are the most want to ignore in our children. However, we need to be honest with our own subjectivity. We all accept a certain amount of forgetfulness, but all-of-a-sudden — with very little provocation — that forgetfulness becomes completely unacceptable, and we bring the full weight of our wrath to bear on it.
First, that reveals a heart issue in ourselves, but second I think we can avoid the pressure cooker that occurs when we ignore sin, if we just address it as the Bible does the first time.
Now, to be honest, few people can really claim ignorance. Romans 1 says, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” In the same way that people are without excuse when they reject God simply because creation itself teaches them otherwise, our children should be learning from creation that God wants us to be decent and orderly.
And — it’s safe to say — that most children don’t stay ignorant for long. In fact, before they’re old enough to even understand the implications of creation, most parents have made it clear their expectations on cleanliness. But, do keep in mind that sometimes your kids are messy simply because we haven’t taken the time to help them understand God’s expectations.
But once they’ve been instructed, ignorance is no longer their excuse.
So, is forgetfulness merely a harmless symptom of youth? I don’t believe it’s harmless. What if God were as forgetful as we are when it comes to keeping the world spinning? What if He forgot which of us were born again? What if you forgot to do something that was very important to your child? All of a sudden, a good memory is a requirement.
The reality is that forgetfulness is not a benign symptom of youth, it’s a consequence of disrespect.
If I forget your name, your birthday, or forget any other important something — generally speaking — it’s because I didn’t think it was important to try to remember.
Now, we’re all human and none of us remember everything, but children are uniquely forgetful in that they seem to forget everything but what is valuable to them.
As a nine year old I remember memorizing the secret code necessary to start the Nintendo game, Contra with thirty lives instead of three. Guess what. It was important enough to me that I still remember the code: up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, select, start.
Bam. Thirty lives.
Now, for sake of time I must move past this point, but we’ll revisit it momentarily.
3. The third reason some children make messes and leave messes is they are very simply just rude.
Most of us use the word “rude” without much thought to what it means, but Merriam-Webster defines it as “offensive in manner or action; discourteous.” To be courteous is to have behavior that shows respect for others. So, this ties in with the previous point nicely.
However, where forgetfulness is on one side of disrespect, often rudeness is a deliberate show of disrespect.
To be fair, I don’t believe most children or teens make a mess because they’re deliberately trying to be unkind, but it does happen. I’ve interacted with a number of children who spitefully broke things, left huge messes for their parents to clean up, and who delighted in being destructive.
4. But there’s one more reality of a messy child and it’s this: laziness.
Laziness is a unique form of immaturity in that it is sometimes the root of ignorance and sometimes the root of rudeness.
Some children are so lazy they lazily don’t realize they’re being lazy. Other children are lazy in that they know what they’re supposed to do, but really don’t care to muster up the energy to do it.
So, whether your child’s immaturity is being lived out through their ignorance, forgetfulness, rudeness, and/or laziness . . . I believe their deepest heart issue is selfishness.
Now, I know that “selfishness” can almost seem like a too convenient conclusion to the matter.
“Everything always seems to come back to selfishness with you biblical counselors!”
And the reason for that is simple, selfishness — self-idolatry — is the root of all sin.
The Ten Commandments start by declaring that we should have no other gods in our life. And the tenth command tells us not to covet the possessions and position and popularity of others.
Why is the greatest command that we should love God and the second greatest that we should love others? It’s because we are too prone to loving ourselves.
James 4 tells us that we have interpersonal issues because we’re adulterers. Instead of worshipping God, we worship ourselves and our desires.
Now, I know that it can seem harsh to say that a six year old who comes in from playing in the snow and immediately drops her snowy coat and slushy boots on the carpet is a selfish idolater.
But that’s the biblical reality.
Unless she has not been instructed as to what she should do with her outerwear, the reality is that she’s not thinking about obeying her parents because there are too many other things she’d rather be doing.
If this six year old thought to herself, “I remember mommy saying I needed to take my snow clothes to the laundry room, I’d better do that.” you’d say she was very mature.
And that’s the point.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you berate your six year old for her wicked, vile, adulterous heart. But you do need to help her understand why she did what she did.
So, let’s finish by discussing how you can help your children not merely break the habit of being messy but — more importantly — mature in Christ.
And really, I suppose the hardest question is how do we know what our child’s unique struggle is and — consequently — how do we help them learn to glorify God in this portion of their lives. How do we deal with their specific brand of selfish immaturity?
I strongly suggest you check out episode 39 to answer this question in more detail. Parenting moments like these frequently backfire when we forget to revolve our priorities to meet our child’s deepest heart need.
I walk into my child’s room or I see the snowy boots on the carpet or I realize that my child has not only painted me a picture, but also managed to paint the dining room table as well, and too often my number one priority is to focus on the mess. The mess has ruined something of mine. It may have ruined a table or a carpet, but more than likely it ruins my plans, my hopes for my child, or the happiness I possess when everything goes my way.
I need to kill that adulterous part of me. I need to decimate the self-love sitting on the throne of my heart before I can hope to address the self-love sitting on the throne of my child’s heart.
I need to remember that I’m an Ambassador Parent who’s sole responsibility it is to steward the heart of my child for God. This is not about you or me. This is about my child and God.
So, I remember that the mess my child made is not the issue; the heart is the issue and the mess is merely the fruit of that issue.
So, now I need to figure out what’s motivating my child.
I know generally that he’s immature and selfish. But did this situation grow out of a lack of instruction on my part, ignorant disrespect, or deliberate disrespect?
When it comes to a mom or a dad not giving ample instruction, I believe too often we think we don’t need to give that many details because it’s second nature to us, or we have these vague impressions like, “Everybody knows you don’t color on the floor.”
Well, to be honest, not everyone does. I remember the first time my son colored on the carpet. I wracked my brain and realized that I had never once told him that the only medium worthy of his crayons was paper. How would this immature, unexperienced child know that walls and carpets and tables aren’t legitimate places to realize his art if I don’t tell him?
Now, he quickly figured out something was wrong when I confronted him, but I can imagine he was very afraid and confused. It’s possible he thought in the moment that what he did was fine, and now he’s being confronted by the fact that he was wrong, and he doesn’t know what to do.
So, first, I want to say that you make certain your children know what’s expected of them. Listen, if you didn’t think it was important enough to tell them, how can you sit there smugly assuming they should have thought it was important enough to do?
However, most of us either preemptively instruct our children, or after the first time they urinate in the fireplace, we thoroughly communicate why that’s never appropriate. Basically, our kids eventually know what’s expected of them.
And I believe that once our kids grow beyond a certain age, their powers to apply information to various circumstances should mature . . . but that doesn’t mean it will.
I deal with families all of the time where mom and dad assumed certain things about their children solely because the boy was a certain age. “Every fourteen year old knows he should say no to drugs.” Yeah, he should, but the fact that he doesn’t reveals his immaturity and should tell us to stop giving him Donuts that only mature fourteen years olds should have. I need to interact with him according to his spiritual maturity, not his age.
By the way, if you have no idea what I’m talking about when I say, “Donuts,” please listen to the “The Rock, The Bread, and The Donut” which starts in episode 106. It’s very important.
My point is, you have to figure out what the root of his heart issue is. It may be that she’s ignorant of the Christ-honoring expectation. But let’s move on because — honestly — most children aren’t slobs because they’re ignorant.
So, let’s assume your child knows very well what not to do because you’ve had the conversation many times. Now you need to determine if your child was lazy and disrespectful by not caring enough to value your relationship and the instruction you gave him, or was she lazy and disrespectful because she deliberately knew what to do and refused to do it.
You know what I’ve found? I’ve discovered that most children when confronted about their sin will usually reply with “I don’t know” or “I forgot.”
Few children will look you in the face and say, “I don’t care.” Now, there are those of you out there with terrorist kids who would and do say things like that, and I’ll get to that in a moment. But for now, you need to figure if “I don’t know,” means “I really forgot,” or “I’m uncomfortable admitting that I don’t care.”
Here’s one way I deal with this. I say, “We’ve discussed this so often, I have a very hard time believing your brain is not capable of remembering. If your brain legitimately struggles remembering vital things we’ve discussed on multiple occasions, perhaps we need to take you to the doctor and find out what’s wrong.
“But here’s the thing. Your memory is actually quite fantastic. You remember the funniest details and the most specific nuances. Your ability to quote song lyrics and movie lines is astonishing. My point is, I don’t think the issue is that your brain doesn’t work. I believe the issue is your heart doesn’t want to work.
“Now, you can sit there and try to convince me that you’re too incompetent to be trusted with information like ‘take your shoes off before walking on the carpet,’ but I know that’s not true. I refuse to believe you’re dumb. However, we’re all sinful.”
Now, the vocab can change, the script can be replaced, but the idea is our children need to know that playing the “dumb card” doesn’t glorify God and is generally a lie. They need to take responsibility for their actions.
If they refuse to move past the “I didn’t remember,” I show them how their laziness is actually rooted in disrespect. I teach them that truly honoring and obeying their parents starts with making their parent’s wishes important.
Now, if in the course of this conversation I get eye rolls, or they go from “I forgot,” to “But it’s a stupid rule,” or “Why do I even have to take my shoes off?” then you can revolve your priorities again. They’ve shown their hand and now you know this isn’t a case of ignorant disrespect, it’s deliberate.
And now you can shine the light of God’s Word on their dark heart, hopefully reveal their selfish, immature, self-worship and drawn them closer to submission to Christ.
Now there is so much more that can be said about this. I hope you’ll check out the episode notes at Taking Back the Family, linked in the description below. I believe they provide a succinct run down of the multiple issues we discussed today.
So let me end with a quick synopsis.
The foundational realities of this discussion are 1. Our children’s unique personality or phase is not an excuse to ignore sin. 2. God calls us to be decent and orderly in all things, and 3. We must glorify God in all we do. That includes our messes.
The reason our children fail to glorify God in their messes is that they are selfishly immature. For some of them, they are ignorant of how to glorify God. Some are lazy which causes them to be forgetfully disrespectful. Others are lazy which causes them to be deliberately disrespectful.
As the parent, your job is not to keep them from making messes. Your job is to help them mature by submitting to Christ. In order to do this you need to determine if your child is being intentionally or unintentionally disrespectful.
Once you determine that, you can apply the correct Truth to the situation.
I encourage you to listen to episode 41, “Applying Truth to Our Children’s Lives” for more ideas about how to do this.
Now, our next episode is super important, and it’s not just for parents of older children. The episode is called ‘“How to Know if Your Child is Addicted.”
Pleas make plans to listen to that episode. A toddler can be addicted to any number of things, and we parents need to be able to realize their addiction and help them overcome it.
Please take a minute to share this episode and rate and review it. Your friends and I will be thankful you did.
I know that sometimes I may seem to say so much about issues that seem so small, but no sin is too small to help our child overcome. The Lord isn’t glorified by all messes, and we should help our children learn to serve God in their messes and their cleanliness.
Have a great day!
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