Naomi has reached an age where she will no longer lay quietly on her back while I change her diaper. She squeals and writhes and does her best to flip over and crawl away. It is almost impossible to change her, unless...I give her a wet wipe. As soon as I hand her a wet wipe of her very own, she redirects her energy toward using it to wipe her own little bum. When she first began making it clear that she wanted to hold her own wet wipe, I had to be sure to give her a fresh clean one (she'd try to grab the used one from my hand) because it would go straight into her mouth. The next step was that she would try to wipe herself with it and then put it in her mouth. But now she will just do her best to wipe, and then let me throw the dirty wipe away with my wipe when we're done.
Tonight as we were going through this ritual, and I was marveling, again, at how quickly she transforms from fighting me to helping me when I give her that wipe, I remembered a talk by Kenneth Johnson, "We All Have a Father in Whom We Can Trust." In it, Johnson tells two stories. First, as a boy of five, he loved to watch his dad working in the shop in their back yard, building furniture for the family:
He invited me to help him by passing a hammer, a screwdriver, or some other tool. I was convinced that my help was necessary and that without me he would not be able to complete his task...As I look back and reflect upon those wonderful memories, I realize that my contribution was not necessary for my father to complete the work he was engaged in. I was the beneficiary, as through these experiences I came to know him and to love him.
In the second story, Johnson is now the father of a five-year-old son. One day he had prepared their front door for a new coat of paint. Just as he was about to start painting, Kevin asked if he could help:
I hesitated before responding, considering what effect this would have on the fulfillment of my dream, or alternatively how he would feel if I declined his offer. It was almost as if I heard someone else say, "That would be a great help. Thank you."
Providing him with an old shirt of mine that covered him completely, almost touching the floor and with sleeves rolled back several times, we went to work on the door that secured the main entrance to our home. He was applying paint to the bottom panel as I worked on the top section. I noticed that because of his age and physical stature, he wasn’t able to spread the paint evenly and that beads of paint were resulting. Each time he bent down to recharge his brush, I would hastily smooth out the paint on the bottom panel, returning to my assigned area so that he would not realize what I was doing. After a while I decided that more important than a first-class paint job was the opportunity to work with my son. On reflection I realized how well he was doing. Thereafter, every time I approached the door and saw the distinctive style of decoration, I was reminded of what is really important in our lives.
Johnson compares both of these experiences to our relationship with God. God invites us to help him in his work, not because he needs the help, but because of the relationship it allows us to develop with him.
Now I'm thinking about the work I do around the house, and the role my children play in that work. The easiest way for me to "get something done" is to stick the kids in front of a movie. Then they are so quiet, and I can concentrate and work quickly and lose myself in the task. Alternately, I can leave them playing, try to get some work done, and be constantly interrupted by them, the frequency of the interruptions having a direct correlation to the urgency with which my task needs to be finished. But this talk suggests a way that I rarely, if ever, employ, in which I ask the children to help me with the task I am trying to accomplish. Then, instead of having the completion of the task as my main goal, the goal becomes getting to know my children better, spending time with them, teaching them, loving them.
I really like the idea of this. It is so hard to do in daily life! For one thing, it requires that you have a much smaller list of things to get done, because working with children can be slow. It requires changing your expectations--the door doesn't look as nice when you are done painting it if you let your five-year-old "help" you. I can think of so many times when I've been hurrying to make dinner and a child comes into the kitchen and says he wants to help, what can he do to help? And I say, essentially, "go away, that would help me the most." Ouch.
Now, to be fair, Johnson was not taking his five-year-old to work with him at the office every day and letting him help there. The help was invited for weekend projects when he was home from work. As a stay-at-home type, I do not have an office to go to where I can "get my work done" without the children. But what if I think of the work as being the children, not the meals or laundry or cleaning or errands? Now that changes things. If my work at home is raising children, not housework, then involving them in housework is getting my most important work done.
What do you think?