Building Fences and Kids

by Mike Blacet

I sit down on the front step and put on my old, worn shoes—comfortable and just right for digging in the dirt. I’m gathering some thoughts, replaying my plans, as I lace up the shoes. I like to do that… plan before I start breaking ground, before I start building. I get a sense of how the project will go and feel reassured by it. My plans.

Often my kids like to join me in whatever I’m working on, especially my almost 6 year old son Noah. He nearly always asks, “Can I help?” My girls, Maddy, 11, and Grace, almost 10, are eager to help somewhat less than that. I carefully measure with my thoughts. “How much longer might this take?” “What can I have them easily do without slowing me down? Dig? Carry the wood?” “Where are the extra gloves and will they even fit?”

They’ll have questions. They might complain or even cry. They have before, even when it was their idea to help.

“What’s it going to cost me?”

I really have no idea how it will go if they help. Sure, I will eventually have a fence, but even the definition of eventually comes into question. I haven’t yet come across the construction plans for building a fence with the help of three young kids. It’s just that unpredictable. We know this to be true, so why are we so surprised? Don’t we know what they are by now?

I know that it is somehow good for them to develop strength, inside and out. I could build some discipline in them. Some endurance. Grit. Buried beneath a bulk of reluctance in me is a deeper knowledge that letting them help build, inviting them to help build, will build them.

I know about the joy, value, purpose, connection, and more they get from being allowed to participate in the work. They’ve done this before. They are in awe when the tools are in their grip and they are able to bind things together or move the earth. They’ve beamed as I’ve praised them for their effort. They feel big. They feel like they are mine and I am theirs. We’re building so much more then fences.

I feel my own splintering unease building as I consider the cost if I invite my kids in, or if I don’t.

So I invite them.

The first task is to move some pickets from the front yard to where they will be assembled. I give their instructions, a few tips, and some gloves. I get sidetracked almost immediately. Noah needs smaller gloves. We dig through a drawer to find gloves typically used for snow. I feel myself already succumbing to the reality “These were not my plans.”

I get the kids started with their first “load” of pickets, two to five at a time. They start to get their own ideas. “Dad, can I use the…?” I start calculating again. “Is it a good idea to let them come up with their own ideas?” I’m sure I stood perfectly still for a moment, blank stare, no words.

Noah wants to use the dolly. Grace wants to use the wheelbarrow. Maddy wants to dig. I impulsively say yes to everything, though the tension between yes and no remains inside me. I just want them to keep going. I want to keep going. They are so proud of their ideas.

Noah gets the dolly and loads up three pickets. Six foot pickets balanced across an 18 inch wide dolly. I don’t have construction plans for this. I don’t want him to cry if I tell him his idea won’t work. So I don’t. I let him try to get his plan through the gate, with good effort, but it just won’t work. I stop my work again and have him use the dolly in the back yard to relocate some of the wood that’s already back there—three pickets at a time, with the dolly, to a spot about 20 feet away. He’s pleased and proud.

Grace takes three pickets at a time and lays them across the wheelbarrow. She’s rid herself of her gloves. She doesn’t need them. As she moves, the whole thing wobbles. “They are going to fall off. It’s not going to work,” I’m thinking. And they won’t fit through the gate. She readjusts and lays the pickets long ways in line with the direction of the wheelbarrow. She makes it through the gate, precariously. She’s pleased and proud.

Maddy wants to try her hand at the post hole diggers. She moves a few clumps of grass and dirt, but the post hole diggers are too much. She gets a shovel and goes to work. I have to take breaks from my digging to pull small roots that are in her way, and to move a rock that won’t budge for her. She gets about three inches down in the time that I empty a two foot hole. She’s pleased and proud.

And I pause. I notice that they are learning. Thinking. Balancing. Problem solving. Feeling part of this. Learning that they can join in, just as they are. Falling short. With their dad. Something really valuable is going on inside of them, in this process that is dreadfully slow and cumbersome… to me.

In the pause, I quietly say to myself, “Be patient”. For myself and for them. “Unlimited patience.”  That’s what it will take. I sense God talking to me, counseling me. “In order for your kids to join in your work, to want to join in your work, and for them to take joy in it, you have to have unlimited patience. There has to be room for them in the plans.”

The construction plans have to have room for inefficiency, clumsiness, smallness, distraction, weakness, misguided effort, and so much more.

“And this is what I have for you as well. Unlimited patience.”

“My plans have room for you, room for your weakness.”

“I am gentle with you as you work alongside Me.”

Unlimited patience.

Not my plans, but his.

Let the little children come.

So many pieces are fitting together inside of me. He’s building me as well.

I work for a God of unlimited patience. A gentle God. He knows I need it, that it’s the only way. And I can imitate my Father’s work as I learn to raise kids the way he does.

“…I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:16

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Colossians 3:23-24

So I didn’t get much of the fence raised that day, but it was a good day of raising kids.

Mike Blacet is a therapist with Cornerstone Christian Counseling Services. His first career choice was engineering, but God got ahold of him and turned many things upside down, or right-side up. Mike and his wife Angela have been married since 2001. They enjoy their time together as a family with their two daughters, Madelyn and Grace, and their son, Noah. His other work for the918 includes “Four Words that Changed My Marriage“, “Talking with Children about Evil“, and “Feeling Election Stress?

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