They start off as babes, and we hold them close, staring for hours at their always-near faces. Those satin cheeks and wondrous eyelashes, those perfectly pink puckered lips. We cradle, rock, and burp them over our shoulders. An arms reach away, they are soaked up and prayed over.
Before we know it, they clench blankets and scoot forward. As they learn to crawl, we lay on our stomachs, our eyes level with theirs. C’mon, you can do it. Come here. Not wanting to miss one moment, we are down in the action, our faces pressed on the ground, as they discover their strength.
And suddenly, we’re on our knees, bending over to peer into their squealing face as they take one step. Then another. Our babes are on the run. How delicious parenting tastes as we meet them at each new-found stage.
In a flurry of walking to running, little mouths open to protest. They learn to dress themselves, are more independent, and exercise their spirited wills. As I sit on the ground and help them tie shoes, zip jeans, and wash hands, am I intentional to catch their gazes?
Before we know it, it’s fast-forward to preschool, then kindergarten, then grade school. Now it’s writing words and learning to read. How often I catch myself parenting at a distance; standing over them, talking down, calling from the other room. Now ocean blue eyes look up at the mama who used to cradle faces and cup cheeks in delight. A voice runs from my lips and down the hall, meeting little boy ears as they play in their bedroom. I catch them arguing over toys, and my body hovers over their small frames. I notice it. Something feels off.
This isn’t how parenting should be.
I want to adore, respect, enjoy my sons in the same way I long for them to adore, respect, and enjoy me. But they won’t if I talk and discipline over them.
Instead, I prefer parenting from eye-level; looking into their eyes, bending to match their height.
I did it before; when did it stop? In the beginning, God pursued Adam and Eve at eye level, walking and talking with them in the Garden of Eden. Later we find Jesus welcoming the little children, eating with Mary and Martha, pursuing them at eye level for the sake of relationships.
To intentionally parent at eye level means obediently and humbly matching my gaze to the Father’s before I can effectively match my gaze to my children’s.
Jesus encourages humility. Respect and love are not earned by yelling down at others, wagging fingers, or lording bodies over those who are weaker or younger. In John 13:3-7 I love how he demonstrates eye-level love by washing His disciples’ feet. Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” I delight that we have a Savior who models getting down at eye level, or lower, as he washed the dirt and grime from the feet of His followers.
When I kneel on the floor with brothers and talk about how to share, parenting at eye level reflects humility.
When my hand guides the backs of sons on bikes, I whisper in their ears, I’m right here. I will catch you if you fall. Parenting at eye level reflects protection.
At dinner we sit side by side sharing stories. Parenting at eye level reflects listening.
When we disagree and accept one another for the unique personalities we carry, parenting at eye level reflects respect.
In the backyard, a blanket greets as we look up at the sky, the heavens reaching out to display each cloud from the same perspective. Parenting at eye level reflects enjoyment.
What interests does your child have? How can you come alongside and celebrate and foster those passions? When we look in their eyes and ask them to verbalize their preferences, we show love. We offer value for what matters in their world.
They grow quickly, these babes. Soon, they will pass us in height, and when we have to turn our heads to look up at their eyes, my prayer is that those tender-chaotic-everything-in-between years of parenting at eye level will have built bonds of trust and love and respect. That conversations shared face-to-face will cement a mutual relationship with our kids.
When we intentionally parent at eye level, we join our children’s world. It’s a valuable reminder, because their world is often much more forgiving and quick-to-love. We have much to learn about their hopes and dreams, their fears and thoughts, their ideas and questions. Theirs is a world I want to visit time and time again as I attempt to parent at eye level.
Bryan and I want our boys to talk with us. Share with us. We realize at some point we won’t be cool. What? you ask, How this can be possible with all the dance parties you have, and ice cream you eat?
One day, we’ll be old, our frames shorter and perhaps fragile, and the tables will be turned. We may depend on the person whose newborn eyes we once stared at for hours. Life often comes full-circle as a son kneels down, offering a drink, and rubbing a forehead. Should that day come, we pray that years of parenting at eye level will be reflected in our child’s gaze, just as ours is reflected in the Father’s.