What's the first thing you notice about this photo? For me, it's the long white fence that dominates the foreground. The houses in the background intrigue me, too, but I'll focus on the fence in this blog.
Imagine, for a moment, the generations that must have inhabited the houses behind the fence. I'm guessing they raised dozens of children over the years. There's no way to know how long the fence has been there, but it looks sturdy and old fashioned.
A fence represents a boundary - a border - the line that marks land and property divisions. It also represents safety for those children in the family who are too young to venture beyond it. Can't you almost picture a busy mother hanging dozens of diapers and shirts, dresses and stockings out back?
All around her, children dash and dart while playing tag, leap frog, ring toss and other games. They know the rules: Play fair, watch after the little ones and stay inside the fence. There is great freedom in their play because the boundaries are well established. No guessing about where they are allowed to venture. The fence is always in the same place no matter what day they go outdoors. It stays, and they find comfort and security in that.
As much as our children push against the "fences" we set up, they are insecure without them. They need to know the rules, the limitations, the family standards -- and they need the loving consistency of parents to maintain the fence. Let me give a personal illustration ...
When one of our sons reached eighteen months, he began writing his own "declaration of independence." He considered it his duty to challenge every little rule we set down, and this continued over the next six months, especially. I knew the importance of sticking with the plan and continued to remind our lil' dumplin' who was in charge... and it wasn't him. :-)
Don't get me wrong ... we had our good times, too. He was a cuddle-bug before bedtime, and he liked story time. He also liked playing in the sandbox and building with LEGOS. But in between those good moments were plenty of trying times. We butt heads on a daily basis -- me (the Momma) and him, (a two year old). At times I thought he was tired of fighting and was going to run up a white flag of surrender. Then he'd pick another battle zone. I was mentally and physically exhausted!
After a particularly long day of it, I was so discouraged I cried into my pillow. Hubby comforted me and reminded me that we just had to "keep at it." Sometime during that night, our little guy must have had a bad dream. He cried out and next thing I knew, he had climbed into our bed and snuggled between us. Seconds later, he was totally relaxed and asleep.
I propped one elbow on my pillow and looked down at him. How long was this war going to last? Could I hang in there? I prayed for wisdom, strength and grace, and that night, the Lord reminded me of a promise in Proverbs 29:17. "Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yeah, he shall give delight unto thy soul."
Too many parents fail to be the loving authority figure their children crave. Instead, they fuss, nag, whine, threaten, and punish in anger -- but nothing is accomplished and the battle rages on for years. The child quickly learns that Mom and Dad really aren't in charge -- they're too busy or lazy to establish sensible boundaries and reinforce them. As a result, the child keeps pushing against the fence until it gives way.
When I looked at my little boy that night in bed, I realized this: As hard as he tried to be in charge and knock down the fence, he really wanted to know if it was secure. After all, if a child can knock it down and run off, what dangers might lurk outside the fence? Who would rescue him? It was a comfort to know when our little boy had a bad dream, he went straight to the place he found security and comfort -- the very ones who set up the fence in the first place.
Children need to know they can trust their parents to hang in there and stick with the plan. Once sensible guidelines are set down, someone needs to reinforce them with loving consistency. If a fence is worth putting up in the first place, it's worth the time and effort required to maintain it, right? So the fence stays ...