I want the best for my children. As a mother to my young sons, I want to be the best version of myself and reflect Jesus in my words, actions and behavior. The reality is, however, I don’t do this very well. My brokenness, immaturity, fear, and pain can sometimes show more than I show Jesus and His love.
In spite of my shortfalls, I aim to develop Christ-like character, and by God’s grace, there are times I accomplish my goal. Admittedly, I feel that I fail more than I succeed. Just this morning, I was snapping at my boys as I was busily trying to get them through their morning routine and out the door for school. This was a rough morning; more than one of us ended up in tears!
As parents, there are numerous reasons we fail to reach our parenting goals to raise joyful, healthy, and vibrant children. First, painful triggers, which are the result of unprocessed pain from the past which invades the present moment without asking my permission. Often, I am not even aware my past is hindering me in the present. (1)
Fears are the next obstacle that hinders us from reaching our parenting goals. These may vary from fears over how our children will turn out to concerns over what others will think of us. Maybe we feel afraid we are not enough.
Next, we have reactive parenting, which is reactivity to how we were raised and our determination to do it differently without the healthy example of a new way. We don’t know who we want to be exactly, we simply know who we don’t want to be! These are just a few ingredients that derail us from our goals and knock us out of relational mode along the way.
It is all too easy to parent out of reactivity. We vow, “I will never be like my parents!” This ingrained assertion has been the mantra of many a new parent. Unfortunately, in saying this, we have an example of what we don’t want to be, but we lack clarity for the kind of parent we do want to be. When we draw our conclusions based on the type of parent we don’t want to be, we easily swing too far to an extreme.
If we feel our parents were too harsh, for example, or didn’t understand us, or were too rigid, it is easy to declare we will not repeat their mistakes. “I will not be tough on my children!” Or “I will be my child’s friend so they will like me. I will give them understanding and grace.” Or “I will give my child space to figure out who they are and what they like to do.” On the surface, this all sounds pretty good.
When we have clear examples of what it looks like to have a joyful, healthy family, though, this process goes much better. It is when we lack examples, a support system, and relational skills that we become vulnerable to extremes. For instance, letting your children have everything they want, planning your life around their desires, and avoiding saying “No” is asking for trouble. We may give our young children unlimited screen time, no bedtimes, and no negative consequences, which is a great recipe for producing entitled children who lack the earned maturity and fortitude to do hard things. At the risk of sounding like an alarmist, these conditions can breed addictions, compulsions, insecure attachment, mental disorders, and more. At the least, we are robbing them of valuable life skills and simply not preparing our children to navigate the rocky terrain of this world. While our intentions may be good, the results of parenting from our pain only create more pain down the road for our children. This pattern is a sad, self-fulfilling prophecy.
There are times my sons feel something I do or say is unfair. In their distress, they will say, “When I am a daddy, I will be different with my kids!” I have heard them say this when I refuse their request for candy, ice cream or sweets. In fact, our boys sometimes say, “Mommy, this is unfair! When I am a daddy, I will let my kids eat as much ice cream as they want.” Hopefully, as they grow older, they will learn that unlimited ice cream is not very satisfying.
In last week’s blog we looked at how structure, boundaries, and opportunities for upset are not only good but essential for the development of our children’s character. In addition to setting limits, in order to parent well, we need to be in relational mode. We need compassion for the upset our limits cause, and we need to synchronize with our children in their distress—the very distress we have created.
No matter the root of the problem in our parenting style, we can talk with Jesus about the pain from our childhood that can lie just beneath the surface of our decisions and motivations as parents. (2) We also need other parents who can join us and with whom we can share strategies and ask questions. We need a group where we can be honest about our weaknesses and fears, where we share our successes and failures and learn from each other. We find inspiration and hope by hearing stories of creativity from other parents.
This week, I pray you will find grace for yourself during moments of failure. May you interact with Immanuel about the roots of your unpleasant parenting moments. All of us fail as parents, some of us daily! So, the goal is not “perfect parenting” but “repair parenting,” where we mend and patch the gaps once something goes south. Just like this morning as my sons were walking out the door, I apologized for being snappy. I then shared that Jesus and I were going to talk in hopes of getting rid of the “Snappies” before they got home from school.
1 – Read Outsmarting Yourself by Dr. Karl Lehman for more on this.