All I knew about taking care of children when I became a mother to my sister’s four children was that you feed one end, and you wipe the other, and you never get the two places confused! It’s true that there are no manuals that help new mothers, whether you are having one child or adopting four children. So, it was truly on-the-job training, with a lot of praying and hoping not to cause any permanent damage while I was learning.
Children, bless their hearts, are oblivious to our lack of knowledge, so they trust us, even though it would be in their best interest to run and keep running. There were three instances where if it had not been for prayers answered, one of two of my children, if not all five (I gave birth three years after the adoption) of them, might not have lived long enough to reach their God-given potential.
In the first instance, most people learn after having the first child that the woman who raised you and spanked you for what you considered to be minor offenses becomes a whole different person when you are about to discipline their grandchildren. But, because I became a mother of four within 24 hours, I did not know this, for I had not been around Mama and her grandchildren much at all.
I found that when one of them misbehaved, and I was about to chastise them, Mama would scream, “Their mother is dead and you are mistreating them.” It did not matter whether they were in jeopardy of being swatted or put in time -out. She did not want any punishment for her grandchildren.
The first time I thought, “What in the world is wrong with Mama?” But as it kept happening, the children caught on quick. So, whenever I would say, “You are in trouble,” they would run to their grandmother and tell on me! So, for a short period of time, there was no discipline at all, and I thought that I was going to end up in a mental institution. Then, I prayed and asked God what I should do, and the answer was,”Send Mama back to her house.”
This should have been evident to me, but, even as a 21-year-old, I feared my mother, especially when she had been drinking her daily quota of bourbon. And, I had also learned in church that one should “honor your mother,” and asking your mother to vacate your home seemed very dishonorable. But, I finally did, and she found an apartment near us, but she was not with us. Sweet peace abounded!
It made a real difference, and boy, you should have seen the children’s faces when they knew that there was a new sheriff in town! Finally, we had structure and an understanding that if you violated the rules of the house after being told the consequences, then you are in effect saying, “I am willing to pay the consequences.”
Another time I learned that when you take children ages 2 to 6 to the grocery store and you are sensitive to other people’s opinion of your parenting, then you need to set rules before you enter the store. I took one of the children to the store, and he was about 2 or 3, and whenever he asked for a cookie or candy and I said that he could not have it, he would start crying and stretching his body across the buggy. People would look at me, and it seemed easier to just buy him what he wanted. I got home with lots of cookies and candy but not the detergent and bleach that I went for because I ran out of money. This became a pattern that all of them learned. What to do, Lord?!!!
One day, a wonderful woman saw what was happening, and she said to me,” In every relationship, someone leads and someone follows. If you do not take control of them, they will be in control and one day they will be whipping on your behind.” She told me to take a small switch with me to the store, nothing that hurt a lot, but just stung some, and when a child started acting crazy, hit their little legs a couple of times with the switch, and then let them know that their behavior was unacceptable and that you loved them.
Well, being sensitive to the opinions of others, I was not inclined to do this in public. But, one day, I decided to try it, and, by George, it worked! Only one or two had to suffer the sting for everyone to get the picture. I, and my pocketbook, thanked God for placing wise people in my path when I had problems that seemed to overwhelm me. I learned to pray about the most trivial things, rather than screaming and pulling my hair out when it seemed like I was losing my mind over the children’s behaviors. I found the truth in Proverbs 3:6, “Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”
One of the last instances from which I learned occurred when the children became teenagers. I learned that as each child had a different personality, the best disciplinary method for one did not work on the others. One of the girls was so sensitive that she would cry when I raised my voice. So, when the oldest boy turned 13, I thought that I could use the same techniques to make him obey that I had used with his two older sisters, but he believed that because he was the oldest male in the house that he did not have to obey me.
If I told him that his phone privileges were suspended until he completed his homework, he would wait until I entered a room, pick up the phone in front of me and talk. When he was suspended from school, I grounded him for two weeks, but he would walk out the door as I entered it. I was beside myself with worrying that if I lost the respect and obedience of one of them, I would lose them all, and our home would become a war zone. I spoke to his Sunday School teacher, a wonderful Christian man from a very good family, and asked him to talk to him about his behavior. I thought having a male talk to him would help, but nothing changed in his behavior.
So, one day, I prayed to God to help, fearful that one of two things would happen: I would lose my cool and hurt him or he would hurt me. God spoke into my Spirit the name of an orphanage in town, and I did not understand what He meant. But, a day came when the boy walked out of the house as I entered it, after being told he could not leave the house, and I knew something had to change. I walked the floors waiting for him to come home, but in the interim, I called the orphanage and found out how much it would cost to place him there for thirty days.
When he came home after dark, well past his curfew, I would not let him in the house. He knocked and knocked, screamed and threatened to break the door down, and I refused to let any of the other children open the door. He finally called the Sunday School teacher above, and he came and took him home with him for the night.
The next morning I had the teacher bring him to the orphanage, and I placed him in there. It was the hardest decision of my life! That night, I don’t know who cried more: me or my children. He called every day to come home, but I felt in my spirit that I had to be strong and let him remain for those thirty days, and I did, even though it costs me $300 that I could hardly afford.
Towards the end of the thirty days, I went to have lunch with the director of the orphanage and my son. The director had lived in that same orphanage as a child, and she said to him, “Do you see these other children? They have no one who loves them and will take them into their homes. I was here as a child because I had no other home to go to. You have an aunt who loves you and is a mother to you, and who wants you home. You have to straighten up and go home and obey her. She is not going to do anything to hurt you, only to help you grow into a good person. Can you do that?”
He said he could, and three days later he came home, exactly thirty days after he walked out of the front door. He was a changed child, and today, he tells me that he would not be the man he is today, a loving father of three girls (I call this poetic justice!) who has his own business, if it were not for me making that decision that hurt him at first but ultimately made him appreciate my sacrifice. He often sends me texts just to say that he loves me and appreciates all I did that I did not have to do.
It was a painful time for all of us, but the other children tended to do everything I asked them to do. So, I thought I had did something good, but one day, I heard one of girls say to her brothers and sister,” You better behave, or Gina will put you in that orphanage.” I realized that while I had won the battle with the oldest boy, I may have lost the war, because my children were terrified of me. All of their good behavior was not because I had gotten through to them the importance of obedience, but because they were scared of losing their home.
I sat all four of them down and explained that no one else was going to an orphanage, and that I loved them with every fiber of my being, even though I did not give birth to them. I told them that I could not love them any more than if I had carried them for nine months and went through delivering them from my body. All I wanted was to raise them to love each other, respect their elders, and love God. Asking for obedience was what God required of me as their mother and guardian. That helped some, and our house was the typical house with five growing children, meaning they were loud and constantly needing my guidance and help.
Philippians 4: 6-7 states,”Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” As a new mother, I needed all the help that God could give me, so that I could raise my children in love, earn their respect, and find peace for all of us. Yes, we have to earn our children’s respect; they do not just give it to us. There were times when I had to place them in God’s hands, because they refused to listen to me, and I knew that only God could keep them safe and bring them back to their senses.
Still, I have no regrets, except for the time that the youngest boy let another child put a permanent in his head, and the lovely curls that he had were gone, and patches of hair stood up in some places. It seemed as if smoke was coming off his head, and he just cried, as I fell on the floor laughing (I know it was not the time, but you had to be there!). I was so forlorn over the loss of his curls that I sent him to school the next day without realizing how embarrassing that was for him. I did not send him back to school for three days, as it took that long for his scalp to stop hurting so he could have a haircut. Hey, I did not say that I was a fast learner!