My friend Lisa asked a hard question:
How do you hang in there when the going gets really rough?
Why do I pour a 5th cup of coffee? Or unwind and treat myself with a movie at 11:00 pm when I know I have to be up at 6:00 for the day to function best?
No, that isn't what I do. It's what I know I should do. What do I really do?
My patience level zeros out and I walk around tense and ready to snap.
I have four children: two boys followed by two girls, four years later. My poor boys were the guinea pigs. I will carry guilt for the rest of my life over my poor parenting choices with them. My girls aren't perfect and neither am I, but they are reaping the benefits from the lessons I learned through the years. Painful lessons, learned the hard way. Especially as holidays near and the going gets really rough, I hope my lessons can help someone else struggling to figure out how to crawl out the trenches. Here is what I've learned.
Regardless of how important the lesson is that you need to convey to them, it can wait 10 minutes. Take a time out. You have their entire lives to teach them how to be responsible adults. This one offense will not turn them into serial killers. Cool off for 10 minutes.
Save the big guns.
There are times when an immediate "NOOoooooo!" is necessary: They are about to run into traffic, electrocute themselves, fall into a well, etc. But if they are used to you hollering every time they leave out a lego, they will have tuned out the loud urgency in your tone and yelling will not be effective.
Mirror, mirror on the wall.
When you can talk to them properly, position yourself so that you are in front of a mirror. The first time I did this, it was by accident. I sat on the end of my bed with my five year old standing in front of me. I had a mirror hanging on the wall behind him and I happened to look up at it while I was mid-lecture. My eyebrows formed an ugly 'V' and my face was contorted with anger. I was spewing, not speaking. It was a turning point for me. I realized then that my child wasn't learning a lesson because of any wisdom I was lecturing with, but with fear of me. I might control his behaviour that way, but I was not impacting his heart to desire good things, just to fear mama's temper. I hung mirrors in every room after that day.
Resolve your own issues.
When someone is rude to you and you swallow it down without prayer or conflict resolution, you are tense and ready to let out that frustration on someone else. Your child can easily become your scapegoat without you even realizing it. Ask yourself: are you really that upset that your child broke your grandmother's vase or are you upset because your husband said something unreasonable to you earlier that morning? This was a wake-up call to my whole family. Did my husband say something unreasonable to me because his boss said something rude to him? Learn to stop taking out frustration on other people. Learn to recognize when your spouse isn't actually angry with you, but is need of some extra support and encouragement. Learn to ask, "Are you mad at me, or are you mad at daylight savings time?"
Rather than using correction as your means of teaching them what not to do, talk about things ahead of time. On your way to a party, speak sweetly and prepare them for what is coming. "Aunt Bertha is probably going to give you a gift today. What would be a good thing to say to her after you open that gift? What if you already have that toy at home? Does she need to know that? What if you don't like it? What should we say then?"
It's not about you.
Stop taking it personal. Your children aren't hiding roast beef behind the couch because they want to drive you nuts. They are figuring out how to get out of eating the roast beef. They are acting like children, not "the death of you." Also, that witty comeback that would have been somehow hilarious on a sitcom? The only audience was your child and they didn't appreciate the humor; they just felt the sting and shame of the words. You entered this parenting gig and now you're here for life. It's about them now. Get over yourself. What is best for them?
Find a different hill.
Consistency is very important for their sense of security. They hide roast beef under the couch because they are learning where the boundaries are. Teach them gently and firmly. "Here's the line. I love you enough to create lines". Do NOT take those line-pushing moments as personal power plays. Your job is not to prove to them that you are the boss. Acting like a responsible, loving adult will prove to them that you are the proper parent in the relationship. Sometimes we need to work our way through things until a lesson is fully learned. They really need to 'get it'. Not every misdemeanor is a hill to die on. They are learning opportunities. There will be more. Many more. You have years to teach them. Those years fly quickly though, don't fill them with battles.
Your children will remember the most random things for the rest of their lives. Build good memories. When you are 67 and they are telling your grandchildren about their childhood, will they smile fondly as they remember you? Will they resolve to be nothing like you? You will mess up; you're human. Don't make messing up your standard operating procedure.
It is unavoidable that your children will see you do it all wrong. They can learn so much from the way you handle your mistakes. Tell them that they way you responded to them was wrong. Tell them you are sorry and what you are specifically sorry for. Ask their forgiveness. My boys were young when I had my come-to-Jesus parenting process. I sat them down and repented for years of a grumpy mommy. They were 7 and 5 years old. Today, they don't remember those early years. They've both told me that they remember me telling them I had been a grumpy mommy, but they don't remember why. Trust me, it isn't that things weren't as bad as I perceived them. It is that we had a true new beginning and God restored the years the locusts ate.
Forgive yourself. Parenting is hard. Do your best and strive for better each day. Get help if your best isn't healthy for your child. My nights have often ended with repentance. When guilt continues to keep me awake and crying, I remember that God has forgiven and that guilt does not come from Him. There is therefore no condemnation... I resolve to do better and pray for specific strength and help. Believe it or not, nursing feelings of guilt can sometimes assuage our conscience. We are punishing ourselves with those feelings of guilt and that makes it less bad. Don't feel bad enough to walk around condemned. Feel bad enough to repent and change it. Accept the forgiveness God offers. Forgive yourself. Walk in the new beginning.
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