My Children’s Pupil

When I was a child, I remember thinking that being grown-up was a destination or a finish line to cross. Now, after graduating college, getting married, teaching, and becoming a mother to three boys, I have realized that I am still growing up, right alongside my children.

For three years, my boys have been teaching me how to be a parent, how to love and care for others selflessly, and how to continue growing in patience and understanding. It has been an incredibly humbling journey. Along the way, a few poignant lessons have led to a shift in my perspective that has brought me greater joy and peace in motherhood than I had before. I started out feeling that my job as a mother was to control my children, but then I realized that is not the goal of motherhood at all. My goal now is to teach my children to control themselves, through both active guidance and modeling, by controlling the only person I can control: myself.

Letting Go

Learning to let go of control has been a constant struggle for me in motherhood. From day one, I’ve had to understand that though I may feel that I should be in control as the mother, I am in fact not. I can’t always make my infant fall asleep, no matter how much rocking and soothing I may try. I can’t always get my small child to eat as much as I’d like him to. I can’t control whether my boys wake up happy from a nap. Even if I do everything by the book, follow all the recommendations, and avoid all the pitfalls, there is no guarantee I will get the outcome for which I fought and planned.

After one particularly rough day where my routine was off and I was at a complete loss, I remember my own mother gently reminding me that my baby was not a robot; he was a human being just like me. Just like me, he was going to have days where he woke up cranky, wasn’t hungry, or slept more or less than usual. Mothers are not meant to be programmers who can put in certain inputs and always get the same output. Mothers care for an individual person with varying needs. My job is to support and nurture, not be a rigid taskmaster. For me, letting go of trying to control my children was really about realizing that I never had that power in the first place. The only person I can control is myself and my own actions and reactions. When I accept this, I am more likely to take responsibility and walk in grace and humility towards my children.


I can only control myself, and the same is also true of my children—which is why teaching them how to control themselves is so important. Teaching self-control starts when I practice it myself, modeling the attitudes and behaviors I hope to one day see in them. Modeling is a powerful way to teach children because they often first learn by copying what they see around them. Any parent, especially of young children, knows that the saying “do as I say and not as I do” does not work. Like it or not, our children mirror us.

I remember first noticing this when I was running late for an appointment and couldn’t find my keys. My toddler was ready to go, but I was rushing around the house looking under everything and becoming increasingly frustrated. Suddenly, my toddler, who had been playing quietly, started running around the house grabbing items and tossing them to the ground. Seeing him make a mess before leaving the house frustrated me even more. Then I stopped and realized that he was copying me, not intentionally trying to make my life harder. My demeanor had more influence on him than I had realized.

I have heard many people say that a mother sets the tone of the home. If she can exude calm, even the chaotic moments are made lighter; if she is stressed and anxious, even the good moments can become heavy. I have become more aware of how my own tone could shift the behaviors I saw in my boys. Though I do not have complete control over my kid’s behavior, I do have powerful influence. If, in my moments of frustration, I can take a pause, take a breath, and proceed calmly rather than anxiously, I notice much more cooperation and less pushback. I have also noticed my three-year-old breathing deeply in moments of frustration and sometimes even reminding me to do the same. Showing my kids how to work through frustration, apologize, serve others, and express gratitude by doing so myself is a powerful way for them to learn how to practice those things.


Modeling is often a first step in teaching, followed by more active instruction as we train children up in the ways they should go. I have found Paul’s picture of putting off old habits and putting on new behaviors particularly helpful here (Ephesians 4:22–24). In the early years of motherhood, it felt like all I could do was to remind my children what to “put off” through constant correction and removal from the situation (“Rocks are not for eating” and “Food does not belong on the floor” were constants in my home). As my toddlers have grown, however, I have been able to actively teach them what actions to “put on” instead, telling them how to practice those new habits as well as develop their own problem-solving skills. When my second son started crawling and taking his older brother’s toys, my oldest would push and shove and hit to get his toy back. Simply reminding him not to hit was not solving either his behavior or the cause of it, but when I started teaching him to say “please don’t take my toys” to his brother instead of hitting him, I saw a huge decrease in his physical outbursts.

When problems come up, as they always do, my goal as a mother is to help identify the cause then provide my children with the missing skills or pieces of understanding that they need to handle themselves better the next time. Like a teacher or a coach, my role is to correct, remind, guide, support, and encourage my children through the learning process. I am right there beside them, practicing putting off my old self and putting on my new self as I too continue to grow up.

Author: Dabney Baldridge

Dabney Baldridge studied English and Classical Education at Grove City College. She lives in Maryland with her husband, Austin, and their two sons. She loves reading bedtime stories, building forts, and going on adventures to the park.

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