Everlasting Life… Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Of all the things we should be most concerned about in regard to our children, it is the spiritual life which should concern us most. Our relationship with our Creator is also the biggest thing we have absolutely no control over, in our children’s lives. My biggest hope for my children and my most gripping fear are two halves of an unbelievably complex equation. I desire that they commit themselves to follow Christ, and I have no power whatsoever to make that happen.
My difficulty lay in my belief that if I did not discipline (punish) my child (enough) properly he would not grow up with a desire to know God. My greatest desire, the need that outweighs, overshadows, and overwhelms every other need I have ever had, is my desire to be Home. Home with my Savior…my Creator. I want my children to know who gave them Life. How does a parent DO that? How do I teach my children about God, about how to have a breathing, growing relationship with Him? How do I show them who God is? How do I teach them what is right, and what is wrong, and what is good and what is evil? What is the first and most important thing I need to communicate to my children? What does being a good parent mean? My questions overwhelmed me. Somehow I had absorbed the idea that I was responsible for whether or not my children chose to follow God.
I ended An Empty Toolbox? by saying that I found GCM. Those poor mommas! I knew less than nothing about parenting gently- my most basic ideas were twisted by my punitive viewpoint! Every ‘discipline’ I could think of was actually a punishment. L I think that was when I really began to understand how important it was to ask myself WHY my child was doing whatever he was doing. There’s a saying that I like, that says the best place to start from is right where you are. What the Mommas at Gentle Christian Mothers did for me was present me with a huge map; including a big yellow star that said, ‘YOU ARE HERE’!! I started reading the Your Three Year Old book by Ames and ILG. That gave me a nice big map with a ‘Maximus is Here’ star. :p Very slowly I accumulated ideas for ‘what to DO!!!’ in situations, and found ways to parent myself through difficult times. Yes, I said I had to parent myself. ‘Well that’s silly’, you say. No, it isn’t. See what I found was that even though my parents did an awful lot of punishing on me, they didn’t do very much discipling. ‘Greenegem, you’re mixed up again, you mean disciplining‘, No, I mean Discipling. They applied the hand or the ‘stick’ or a nice wooden spoon whenever my behavior escaped into inappropriate territory, but they never really taught me what I should have done instead. They did not do a lot of teaching me why God wanted children to honor their parents, or why obedience was such a precious thing to God. I knew how to punish, but I saw how ineffective that was, so the next question I needed to ask was ‘how do I teach, instead?’
Reframing my internal dialogue took a lot of practice. It’s the one thing I consistently fail at. But there are more fail safes now, between my thoughts and my mouth, than there used to be. I credit the Holy Spirit with giving me the control I needed. Someone would do something- Minimus is a biter for instance- and my thought is ‘he hurt his brother on purpose!’ My response- what I DO with that thought is entirely my decision. I can flip out, scream, shriek, punish the biter, comfort the bite-ee while giving pointed stares to the biter, etc. OR. I can gather one into one arm and one into the other, separating them for safety, but not excluding the biter. I can check the wound and comfort the bite-ee, not shaming the biter, but allowing him time to see what the consequence of biting is. The consequence of biting someone is, that person loses trust in you and doesn’t want to be near you for a while. It is a real and direct consequence, rather than an arbitrary or contrived one. From the outside it does look like I did ‘nothing’; and for a long, long time that bothered me. I wanted to look like I had control of my kids. Natural (i.e. real) consequences are often much more gentle than our contrived ones. And the ‘consequences’ we create in order to ‘make an example’ are not truly consequences at all. They are punishments. Punishment always makes a child feel manipulated. I was learning to focus on the moment at hand, the necessary lesson for that action and, most of all, to disregard the stares (real or imaginary) of those who might judge me.
Parenting is incredibly hard work. Don’t let anyone tell you that your job as a parent will be simple as long as you ‘let them know who’s boss’. Parenting is never simple. You can simplify it by reminding yourself that in reality there are very few areas in which we have the power to control events. I began to see that many times when I thought I was angry at my kids for ‘getting away with something’, that something was not actually the problem. There was a wounded voice I heard saying, ‘I was never allowed to do those things!’ There had been quite a lot of idiotic hard-and-fast rules in my house growing up- rules I saw in a new light when I stopped to examine them. So I had to find a new standard. GCM pointed me back to the only thing worthy of providing a standard of behavior- the Word of God. I will write in more detail about applying the Law of Love to discipline; suffice it to say for now, that I violate that law against my children every day. It hurts me to think about- but this is why I need to Re-parent myself. I can’t teach my children things that I don’t yet know. How can I teach patience if I can’t show it? The next step in my journey, which is really two journeys in one, is to study and learn what God wants of me. The only way I will ever be able to demonstrate Grace to my kids is to continue growing in Grace myself.
That’s a sobering thought to leave you all with. But this leg of the journey is the one that never ends. This is the journey that leads ever Onward and Upward…
Further up, and Further in.