I wrote a bit the other day about parenting challenges. I personally think most parents find it very hard to be vulnerable and authentic about their parenting struggles. It is hard to say "my kid is struggling right now and so am I." As some Facebook friends added to my bloggy conversation, it reminded me of so many things I have often thought about regarding parenting challenges.
Let me share one of the things I think my husband and I both struggle with in terms of parenting.
It is so hard to walk the line between holding your kids to high expectations and letting them be individuals who fail, who make mistakes, who ultimately learn from those mistakes. We both are teachers by trade. We see a wide variety of kids who are being parented with a wide variety of parenting styles, and it is really hard to watch kids struggle daily because there is no structure and consistency at home. We don't want that for our kids. We also have a Biblical background that says learning to live within boundaries and learning to live under authority (ultimately God's authority) matters. We don't want our kids to become adults who struggle with rebellion and make bad choices, who assume the rules don't apply to them. We also view life through the lens of loving others, that loving others is the second greatest commandment and that how we treat others matters a lot. We don't want our children to treat others poorly be it a friend, a family member, or a stranger.
Yet, we know that discipline has to take into account individuality. We believe that each of our kids was created in a unique, purposeful way, where certain traits are innate within them. So often those personality traits are also their Achilles' heels, an easily manipulated weakness. For me, I also maintain a strong belief that discipline is not about punishment, that it is instead about learning, that discipline is always about a child's heart.
So how do you let your kids spread their wings and make their own choices, albeit poor ones, while guiding and training them to be a loving, responsible adult? It is so hard to correct without crushing, to limit without boxing in, to offer consistency and yet grace.
Throw in a child who is struggling, who repeats and repeats and repeats a behavior and it is easy to doubt yourself as a parent. We want our kids to "get it" right now. We see a child's struggle with repeated sin as indicative of our ineffectiveness as a parent. In a sense, our parenting becomes a source of pride, where we puff out our chest and attribute our child's great behavior to our own genius and our child's failures to our ineptitude.
We forget that our kids are spiritual creatures who struggle with sin just like we do. I am quick to anger and yet I want my children to always respond with gentleness. I am careless with my words, quick to blurt out something that has not been thought through and yet I want my children to tame their own tongues and stifle their initial responses. I am apt to criticize rather than encourage and yet I fault my children for finding fault with others. I grumble under my breath and complain about small inconveniences and yet I hate it when my children whine or get huffy over things that frustrate them.
This Sunday, we did a bit of family time where we talked about sin and guilt. Part of my motivation in choosing that was because I have a couple kids who can easily take sin and internalize it as shame and guilt. We did a quick race around the house with a backpack. The first time each child raced with an empty backpack. The second time, I dropped in two five pound weights to symbolize guilt and talked about how guilt changes the way we operate. We shared the story of Peter and his denial of Jesus and then read the story of Jesus confirming Peter's love for His savior and friend as well as confirming Peter's new purpose to feed His sheep. I had never really thought about Peter as someone who should have been a prime candidate for guilt and shame. How easy it would have been for him to have looked at his denials with intense guilt, to assume that his failures marked him forever? And yet, Jesus saw it differently. Jesus didn't look at Peter's behavior and abandon him. Jesus didn't lecture, ask questions, or assume that Peter was destined for a life of apostasy. Instead, Jesus loved him. Jesus knew his failures, which were pretty big, and looked not at that, but instead at Peter's potential.
"Feed my sheep."
Do what I have created you to do.
And so for my kids, may my heart be more like Jesus. More of seeing the potential of who they were created to be. More of recognizing that failures, even big ones, even failures in a series of failures, are not fatal. More of knowing that they are fighting some of the same battles that I am with my attitude, my tongue, my heart.