2 Samuel 14:28-31 (NIV)This is precisely why we don’t let our children have barley fields. I know Joab and Absalom were not brothers, but my understanding of the text is Joab considered himself to be a very loyal subject of King David, Absalom’s father. He might not have seen himself as a son, but there certainly were intense feelings between Joab and Absalom with a fairly unhappy ending.
Absalom lived two years in Jerusalem without seeing the king’s face. Then Absalom sent for Joab in order to send him to the king, but Joab refused to come to him. So he sent a second time, but he refused to come. Then he said to his servants, “Look, Joab’s field is next to mine, and he has barley there. Go and set it on fire.” So Absalom’s servants set the field on fire.
Then Joab did go to Absalom’s house, and he said to him, “Why have your servants set my field on fire?”
But aside from the gravity of the larger story is the length to which Absalom went for a little attention from Joab. That got me thinking about the tendency of children to do whatever it takes to get a parent’s attention, or what sometimes our boys do to one another to make sure they are not ignored. We have seen quite a few examples of such behavior, which, again, is why we don’t have barley fields.
It’s not uncommon among kids. I’m sure the phrase, “Oh, s/he’s just seeking attention” has been used to describe pretty much every child at one point. Certainly I fell in that category, and I know my siblings did as well. Yet I find myself wondering if that’s the kind of behavior we tend to grow out of as we get into adulthood, or it just manifests itself in different ways.
For example, with all the kids and the pregnancy and my work and my wife trying to keep the diaper store rolling and school getting started and Scout activities and now soccer practice, it’s easy to feel somewhat ignored at times, or at least to sense a lack of the type of individual attention I need to feel like part of a functioning grown-up relationship. I’m pretty sure I don’t thoughtlessly (or intentionally) act out, but I am certain my behavior adjusts slightly, or worse, if I’m not taking steps to ensure a balanced outlook.
It seems likely the workplace, especially one with a great number of employees, would give rise to adults acting as a child might simply in the hopes of getting noticed. Surely there are some scenarios where a person trying to move up the ladder goes out of his or her way to cause a scene or make sure the supervisors are aware of the desire to ascend. My experience in the newspaper world was more commonly to let your work and productivity speak for itself, and there was too much of a team atmosphere for backstabbing to be employed. But I’ve heard stories, and sometimes they’re not pretty.
One of the things we’ve long discussed as parents, and hopefully will actually achieve once the unborn is around two years old, is to establish a routine of one-on-one or two-on-one time with each kid, just to drive home the point they are valued as an individual, loved, special and simply noticed. Even now there are chances. Today alone I took Jack to a doctor, helped coach Max at his first soccer practice and did Charlie’s bath and bedtime routine. But most of our chances are more incidental than intentional, and that’s something we really hope to iron out once we settle into what should be a more permanent state of normal.
The point is to give the kids as much attention as possible so they never have to wonder about their place in the family or if their parents care as much about them as the other boys. That might come at the expense of more interaction between just us without the kids, but in a way two-on-one time with an isolated child often helps a great deal in advancing our relationship as parenting partners. Even if the one child isn’t Jack, we’re still sort of reminded of when it was just us three, which now seems a full lifetime ago.
Ultimately, and this probably isn’t a shocker coming from me, any time spent trying to strengthen familial bonds, whether with two, three, four or all five (and soon to be six) of us, is well worth the effort. We’re the only people in the world with this particular bond, and it’s up to us as parents to make the most of our time when the kids all live at home. We are shaping little boys whom we hope will have long, productive adult lives. I could not ask for a better calling.
A prayer for August 14:
Lord, as I think about the many ways my children compete for attention with me and each other, I am aware of all the things I ignore that ought to claim a more significant spot in my heart and mind. Help me more fully open myself to the things that matter most, the things you would have me keep in the highest priority. Allow me to suppress that which does not matter in favor of the chance to fill myself with the people and issues that will help me live a life worthy of you. Amen.