I recently listened to a fascinating interview with Simon Sinek on millenials in the workplace. He made several observations about them and why they are the way they are: constantly on their phones, expecting perks at their new jobs, craving recognition, striving to make an impact, but also depressed, highly anxious, unable to form lasting relationships and incredibly insecure.
You know what he listed as the number one factor in their character formation?
That made me feel a tiny bit nervous. And heavy. And overwhelmed as I was reminded of the responsibility I have as a parent to shape the next generation.
One of my favorite blogs and podcast series is by Sally Clarkson, who says the following:
“In the absence of biblical convictions, our children will go the way of culture.”
Mothers are entrusted with an enormous responsibility, as we are the shapers of nations, the incubator of leaders, the molders of character as we raise the next generation under our roof.
These kind of statements can easily cripple, instilling fear and insecurity and doubt in the minds and hearts of parents. I am constantly in conversation with friends and we all share the same fears (some of us are just more open about it!) . I hear all of the following:
- This parenting thing is tough!
- I don’t feel like I’m doing this right.
- I feel like I am yelling at them a lot.
- I’m worried that all they will remember is an angry mommy.
- They are always fighting.
- They are always complaining.
- They are always on their devices.
- I just need a break!
I have felt all of those things on a regular basis. BUT, as I move into a slightly easier, or really, just different, season of parenting (compared to the baby/toddler phase), I have HOPE. I am noticing seeds that I sowed again and again finally coming to fruition. Not huge flowering plants at this point, but tiny little shoots of green. And that gives me HOPE that good things are going on in their little hearts.
But let me back up.
The first five to six years of parenting were ROUGH.
I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t have confidence in my ability as a parent. I didn’t even really feel like I knew how to parent. I was watching everyone else and reading a ton of books and asking everyone’s opinion on how to do it ‘right,’ meanwhile, feeling really confused and mixed up and insecure in my techniques and strategies.
I have two incredibly strong-willed children who express their strength of will in very different ways. I often felt worn and weary, helpless and even hopeless, wondering if I was really meant to be a parent at all.
To all you moms out there who may be feeling the same: God has called you to be the mom of your little ones. Children are a precious gift from the Lord and if He has given them to you, He WILL provide you with the skills and wisdom and energy and discernment to parent them.
But you have to ask.
And I mean, beg. Get on your knees and ask for help. Daily. Regularly. At any moment of confusion or chaos or anger. Ask Him for help.
Before you start reading all the books and attending a bunch of parenting seminars and talking to a bunch of moms, I urge you to pray. To ask for wisdom and power to parent your children.
I have Him answer. I was in a very dark place for several years. I felt like giving up. And for awhile, I did. I was physically unable to parent my children. My husband had to step in. He had to cut back work and do the grocery shopping and take the kids to daycare and put them to bed at night.
I don’t regret that time because God taught me to press into Him. To depend on Him in the midst of the chaos that was whipping around me, lashing at me like a fierce storm.
Press into Him, friends. Seek His wisdom first.
On a practical note, here are some basic things I have learned in my parenting journey so far:
Kids need to be told no. And you don’t always need to give an explanation or rationalize why. They flat out need to hear no. As a people pleaser and conflict-avoider, this has been the hardest single thing for me to do. To say no. But I realize, like the millenial video mentions above, it can be incredibly destructive to their character development.
Your word is gold. This is my second hardest struggle. I might say no or tell them to go to their room or take something away, but when they whine and complain or throw a massive fit, I end up caving in and lessening the consequence or completely dropping it all together. Don’t do it. I know the temptation. I understand the inner turmoil you might be feeling. I hate feeling like I am being mean and strict. I want to be the fun mom. But if your word is not gold, they are going to take advantage of that. And keep throwing fits to get their way for the rest of their life. Don’t back down. Even when you feel like it wasn’t fair. Life is not fair.
Love, love, love them. This is one of my natural giftings, so it doesn’t feel hard to me. But many moms have told me they have a hard time encouraging their kids and loving them well. If you’re trying to be a firm parent with boundaries, you HAVE to surround them with LOVE. They will respect your boundaries if they know you care.
Empathy with consequences.This is one that has been HUGE for me. I have connected most with the Love and Logic approach to parenting. Their main thing is: Empathy + Consequence = Effective Learning. When your kid does something wrong, the first thing you do is give empathy. “Oh buddy…” or “Oh, what a bummer” or “Man, was that a good choice?” Then calmly, without anger, give a consequence. And typically, there are 3 types of consequences: remove the child, remove the object, remove yourself. I especially like the third one. I often use the “Mommy is too frustrated to be in the room with you right now” or “Mommy is feeling really angry. I am going to put on headphones while I drive” or “Man, all that fighting and yelling has drained my energy. Mommy is going to go into her room for a little quiet time.” Sometimes that is easier for me than having to battle it out to have them go to their room. But sending them to their room is important. In the beginning, when my confidence was low, I would only do it when Daddy was around. Otherwise, it was a full on physical fight that involved dragging them to their room, then holding the doorknob while they screamed and yelled and kicked the door. Oh Lord have mercy, it’s been a long road!
Choose THIS, not THAT. Another huge takeaway for me has been the constant teaching of what is true, good, and beautiful and what is not. Kindness. Honesty. Patience. Teaching that they have a choice in how they respond to situations. We say a lot of the following:
- Was that being kind?
- Sometimes we have to wait a long time for things.
- God is really working on our patient right now, huh?
- Mommy is unwilling to talk to you when you speak to me that way.
- Are you telling the truth right now? You know that mommy has a hard time trusting your words after you tell a lie.
- I am happy to take you to soccer practice as soon as you clean up your room.
- What a beautiful day it is! Isn’t God amazing in the way He makes the sky different each day?
- Oh, that little girl looks sad. What could you do to help?
- When your brother looks angry, what would be the best thing for you to do.
Pray with them. Often. We do a lot of this. At the breakfast table. When we are all melting down. At night. I pray with them and also let them pray. We pray things like “please God, help me not to react in anger to my sister” and “please help me not try to make my brother angry” and “please help me to tell the truth” and “I’m sorry, God, that I was mean to my brother” and “please protect me as I sleep tonight and not have bad dreams.”
I am not trying to make this a ‘how to’ parenting post. I’ve read a million of those and am often overwhelmed and confused by mixed messages. If you’ve read this entire thing (sorry, I’m rarely concise!), then I hope you hear this: Don’t give up. Don’t grow weary in doing good. Engage in the battles for your child’s heart. Help them to see their sin. Call it what it is: unkindness, dishonesty, meanness, impatience, demanding. We use those words a lot. But as you name those things in them, be sure to point out when you are exhibiting those things yourself.
Mine often say, “Oh mommy, the sin is my heart is SO big. I just can’t stop it!”
That is such a beautiful realization for them to make! I usually respond with something like, “Oh sweet girl, I know exactly how you feel! Mommy’s sin is big, too! And I keep messing up. But you know what? That’s why Jesus died on the cross! To pay for all of our sin. To take it away. To forgive us. To make us clean. What a beautiful thing! And we can ask Jesus for help to make better choices. Isn’t that amazing???”
And remember, lavish on the love. Play with them. Dream with them. Do chores with them. Exhibit what you want to teach. Read good books. Work together to keep the house clean and tidy. Share a love of learning with them. Show diligence in doing the hard things (laundry!). Persevere at things you’re not good at (keeping up with the dishes). Be aware of other’s feelings (it seems like your brother might be frustrated at something…).
Ultimately, ask God, daily, for help. We will not create perfect children, for we are not perfect ourselves. But when the gospel is on display, when we show our weakness and our need for God and strive towards what is good, lovely, and holy, we are teaching them who God is – a holy and loving Father who desires to protect us, love us and take care of us. In order to fight against a culture of immediacy, entertainment, ease, sloth, and indulgence, we have to teach and model the opposite values. That means putting in a lot of elbow grease and being willing to stop what we are doing and help them navigate their emotions, their conflict, their whiny-ness or frustrations. Don’t give up. Keep planting seeds of truth and love. I believe they will eventually sprout into an abundant, fruitful crop if you entrust them to the One who is faithful to meet all your needs.