As a young mom, I thought perfecting my children’s behavior – especially in public – was one of the number one things I should do. This lead me to often be a less than pleasant mom, who was strict, and made no room for children’s play. I heard more than once how I was a mean momma, but I didn’t care, my kids would be perfect in public. Period.
I’ve undergone a shift in my thinking over the years. No doubt, I still value obedience, and I am still trying to teach character and as I teach character, I think good behavior often follows suit. But I’ve come to see it as a teaching endeavor far more than a demanding or commanding endeavor.
In fact, I found myself recently telling someone (who thought disrespectful teens should be dealt with more fiercely than I am dealing with mine) that in an effort to pull out the best of him, I was going with do overs. Because I figure even if we have to do it over 100 times this week, at some point, he will learn it’s easier to give a kind reply than to have to repeat his reply. Sometimes I see it work in one day. Not always, but sometimes.
We’ve had days/mornings that started out with what I’m coming to accept as the bad attitude of 7th grade, that by afternoon, he was responding with some kindness and respect. And not because I let my frazzled self heap punishment on him, or lecture him. Because every time he opened that snappy, huffing mouth of his, and rolled his beautiful blue eyes in the back of his head because I said something simple (you know, like move your shoes, or excuse me, or it’s your turn to unload the dishwasher) I just stopped, and said “Don’t talk to me like that, try again.”
TRY AGAIN is the key, in my opinion. See, he’s tried to just shrug me off, or one time he said “I’ll be nicer next time,” but it delays the practice part of this. We are practicing kindness, we are practicing behavior, we are practicing respect, and we are practicing responses. So we must try again.
And when I say we, God as my witness, I mean we. When I don’t get it right and that yelling mom surfaces, and I’m sitting there with regret a moment later, I don’t shrug it off and say, “Next time, I’ll get it right.” Nope. I call for whichever beautiful child of mine got the brunt of it, and with a deep breath, I apologize for my outburst. Then I tell them, “I should have said it like this…” and I tell them with kindness what I meant to say, how I meant to say it.
I find myself writing this and thinking, sort of praying, “Jesus help me get this right.” Not this, as in this blog, this as in parenting. (I mean, I want to write it right, too.) I want to point them to Jesus and I want to raise people of strong character, who are connected and relational, who aren’t trying to recover from their childhood.
Like I told my friend, I’ve realized I wasn’t called to control them (parents hear it all the time, “won’t you just get your kids under control”). No doubt, there are times parents have to take control of a situation, because of our experience, our view on the world, and our ability to navigate safely, but our day-to-day is more about calling out the best of our kids. Calling out the good things we see in them and about them, and holding space for them to grow into who God made them to be.
Control suffocates them. Control closes the space around them, is squashes creativity and it squashes personality. Control does not impart character. Control is temporary and it is based on whether or not the person being controlled is fearful enough of perceived consequences to do certain things. Control affects our kids spiritually, because they begin to see God as controlling, too. Control is not a relationship.
Parenting through relationship gives us a unique place to explain why, and let our kids figure out how. It teaches them we are safe to talk to, can be trusted, and we can help them navigate. Parenting through relationship sometimes means we know a better way to do something, but we hold space for our kids to figure it out because learning through doing produces people who continue learning long after they go out into the world. The experience gained by doing something a different way is part of the process of them becoming who they are created to be.
I know I won’t always see the fruits of this labor on the same day. Some days it is nothing but do-overs and I wonder if they are learning anything from me at all. But there are tender moments they share with each other, with friends, moments when they don’t know I’m looking, but they are holding a door, helping a stranger, or otherwise showing good character that I know it’s working. It’s not easy, it’s not immediately rewarding. But these little people are growing and blossoming and God picked me to sit on the front row and watch all of it. How cool is that?
Until next time,
A Prayer to Share:
God, help me get this right. I want a strong bond with my kids. I want to call out the best in them. I want to highlight how they are growing and honoring You. I want them to know that they can do things their own way, and that they are capable. I want them to know that different isn’t always wrong, and that I don’t always know the right way, and I rarely know the only way. Help me honor You in the way I speak to them, train them, teach them. Help me see the best in them. Convict me to correct where necessary. Show me how to build a lasting relationship with each of them individually.
In Jesus’ Name,