Refueling When Parenting is Hard

If you’re anything like me, when you first held your tiny baby, you didn’t think your precious child could ever let you down. In fact, the possibility of disappointment probably wasn’t even a thought in your head. It wasn’t in mine.

The last year has been grueling. I’ve found myself disappointed, heartbroken, and hurting over the actions, words, and behaviors of one of my kids in particular.

It can be incredibly difficult to face each day when I know I’m going to be battling the same thing, with the same person. It’s exhausting at times.

I’ve seen plenty of analogies for our energy – batteries, engines, meters. Empty, full, overfull. Dead in the water, running right, on overdrive. It can be hard identifying where we are at and helping our kids do the same. Taking care of ourselves can seem almost mysterious at times – like is a hot bubble bath going to do it today, or do I need to work on my day planner and budget to refill my battery?

While sometimes self-care is pampering, for me it is often doing a hard task or completing something so that it’s off my plate, so I have one less spinning plate to deal with.

And what about when we do a little self-care, but still feel the sting of what’s not going right? What about when we are taking care of our battery but the smallest thing drains us because it was the same thing as yesterday, the day before, the week before, and on and on.

It’s when I bounce against the bungee 3 or 4 times and am hanging between canyon walls, that I am reminded that all of these things are me trying to do this in my own strength. I’m trying to be smart enough, charged enough, ready enough, focused enough. I’m trying to do this myself because I forget that Jesus is waiting to be my strength.

So often, in the pursuit of self-care, I am pursuing my own strength, wisdom, energy, enthusiasm, and courage to face the hardest of things. So often I am distracted by this notion that I must pull myself up by my bootstraps, that I lose sight of the empty tomb. A price too great for me to pay for myself, my Savior paid it all.

We can chase all the self-care, do all the self-care, read all the self-help content, and attend all the self-help meetings, and the emptiness, lack of energy, loss of strength remains. But when we pursue Jesus, and ask Him for enough for today, we no longer have to muster enough to face another moment. For He is there, being enough for that moment, and the next, and the next. One moment at a time, until we look back and see how much He conquered on our behalf, in us, and through us.

I’m not saying don’t take the bubble bath, or fill in the budget, or line out the day planner. What I am saying is, don’t mistake the minimal energy those things will give you for the strength and energy our gracious Savior has for you.

Until next time,
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A Prayer to Share:

Dear God,

While a bubble bath may be a temporary comfort, we turn to you for lasting comfort. Give us the strength for each moment as they come. Help us to parent for the long road. Help us have wisdom in each circumstance to point our children first toward You, then toward the way that pleases You. Help us persevere. Build strong character in us as we learn to do this hard job.

In Jesus’ Name,
Amen.

Parenting Stretches Us

Parenting always pushes me out of my comfort zone and really forces me to examine my thoughts, motives, actions. I have to really analyze my feelings, determine justified and unjustified emotions, and move forward with the day to day, no matter how happy or hurt I am.

My sweet son was talking to his dad on the phone as we drove home. I listened to half the conversation and could tell his dad was going to a movie, and he wanted to go.

“But not in 3D!!” My son exclaimed.

Hmm, I scratched my head.

“But I had to sit on the front row… Dad, I hate the front row,” he lamented.

Into the darkness of night, I fixed my gaze, as my feelings stung a bit. See, I worked extra hard to put together a movie day with just the big 2 and my husband and I. (Which never happens, for the record.) I’m not “in the know” enough to know that I should buy Marvel movie tickets 2 months ahead of time, or wait a couple weeks to try to see it. So we got stuck with front row seats.

3D gives me a major headache so we opted for a regular showing. But I was just certain that movies, popcorn, soda, and no little kids to hang out with would be a total win. But at this moment, all I heard were complaints.

My knee-jerk reaction/thought was, “I’ll never take you to another movie.”

I wish I could pluck thoughts out of my head and cast them in the trash, forgotten. But that’s not the case. I have to challenge the thought, the feelings, and find what makes the most sense. I have to ask Jesus to help me sort it out.

(Yes, I think kids need to be taught gratitude, but I don’t think this was entirely a gratitude issue. And even if it was on his part, I still have my part to sort out.)

See, parenting gives us these moments and lots of them. Moments where we can cry, stomp, and even lash out. Or moments where we can analyze our thoughts, our hearts, and choose our responses carefully.

In this case, I was merely eavesdropping, so adding my thoughts to his conversation would have been rude. I realized the effort I put into making the movie a special treat for the boys was my energy and effort spent, and being a words of affirmation girl made it hard to hear the opposite. His complaints weren’t far from my own – I thought the front row sucked, but it was better than not going at all.

And I’ve never known a kid that didn’t love a 3D movie.

And I think it’s normal for a kid to say what he/she thinks it will take to get what they want. He wanted to go to the movie with his dad and stepmom and siblings. Regardless of whether I made it a special afternoon, or we had a blast. He still wanted the experience of going with them.

That’s reasonable. I don’t mind experiencing the same thing multiple times if I get to experience it with different people that are important to me.

Okay, we’ll go to another movie at some point.

Sure, I’d love rave reviews about how perfect the afternoon was and how much they noticed that we went out of our way to make it fun for them. But then I have to remember that the absence of that, while felt sharply by myself as a words person, isn’t actually an insult.

I’m thankful that parenting teaches me so many lessons. I’m glad that parenting is part of how God is making me my best self. I’m thankful I get to walk through these things and that I get to learn to love expressively and fiercely. I am better for these moments that are a little painful.

Until next time,
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Are You a Coach or a Dictator?

When parents make the shift from controller/dictator/punisher to mentor/teacher/leader they will stop trying to control behavior and will start trying to teach why and how to behave. Kindness in this process is not weakness. Kindness toward our kids also does not automatically mean the kids run the show. It simply means that we recognize kid’s experiences are different from adults and we will walk alongside them and give them someone safe and sane they can rely on when they are struggling.

It is crucial for adults to remember that they are already “in power” because of their age, size, experience, role in the home, etc. It’s not a position of power that requires reminding over and over again. Demanding respect is an easy way to lose respect.

Exploding on a kid who is having a melt down, being difficult, or even defiant does not lead them to better solutions. It’s like spanking a kid for hitting his friend – I’ve never understood that. Let me hit you to teach you to not hit … It just doesn’t make sense. Adults losing control of themselves and yelling, name calling, and pushing around kids is kind of like saying “Let me lose control to teach you to not lose control”. It just really doesn’t make sense.

If we want to teach our kids how to navigate the ups and downs, day in and day out of life, we need to show them our maturity and our self-control. When we model the behavior we are trying to teach our kids, we give them something to look up to, a goal to reach for, an example to follow.

I’m not saying they don’t learn when we explode – but if you evaluate what they learn, can you honestly say that’s what you want to teach? When we explode they learn that we aren’t in control of ourselves, and expect more from them than from ourselves. When we explode, they learn they cannot trust us to help them navigate what they are feeling or facing. When we explode we break connection. And if we don’t apologize when we make mistakes, then we often place the burden of repairing the disconnect on the child.

This is a terrible injustice. As adults, we have more relationship experience. And if a majority of our relationships in our adult life have been broken then it’s time to do the hard work of finding out why and how to fix it. We cannot, however, expect our children to “behave good enough” for us to connect with them. We cannot expect our children to set the tone of the relationship. We cannot expect our children to grovel or beg for our attention.

No, this is all backwards. Our kids should already be good enough for our time and attention – because of who they are, not because of what they’ve done (or not done) in a day, week, month. It is possible to set healthy boundaries, to enforce necessary consequences, and to still shepherd their hearts and connect with them. It’s not always easy, and it requires that we look deep within ourselves, and also ask ourselves how our actions today will affect our future relationship with our kids.

Sometimes, in a hard moment, I ask myself, “How do I want them to remember this moment?” Do I want them to remember that mom flew off the handle, bit their heads off, and then was emotionally unavailable until they redeemed themselves with enough good behavior to earn my affection?

legosOr do I want them to remember that mom knelt beside them to right the wrong, clean the spill, navigate the situation, and remained emotionally available, behaved calmly, and lead them through with maturity?

I want the second scenario, hands down. It’s become extremely important to me to consider how they will remember things. As I realize how big our kids are getting, I also think about their adult lives – I want to be able to share in their adult lives. I want to be connected and able to enjoy meals, running errands, and game nights together. No, I don’t want to spend every waking moment with my adult children, but I want to see them regularly, often even. I look forward to being able to relate and connect, and not needing to correct anymore.

So to recap, since I feel like I carried on and rambled:

1. Lead, teach, and train your children instead of trying to control them into submission.

2. Model the behavior you want to see – such as self-control, patience, kindness – you know, fruits of the Spirit.

3. Apologize when you blow it. It’s okay to blow it. We get to make mistakes. But apologize. Do not leave the burden of repairing the relationship on your kids. Don’t expect them to behave good enough to be worthy of your attention.

4. Slow down. It’s okay to pause, evaluate, ask yourself what can be taught vs. caught and how you want them to remember this moment in the future.

Until next time,
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A Prayer to Share:

Dear God,
You know this parenting thing is hard. Please guide me as I guide my kids. Please soften my heart and help me build a lasting connection with them. When correction is necessary, help me find loving ways to correct them that help them grow and mature. Help me point them always toward You and help them to see Your light shining in me, first in how I care for them, then in how I care for others.
In Jesus’ Name,
Amen.