2017 will always be bittersweet. It was one of my lowest moments as a parent, but also one of tremendous joy. I was failing as a parent and that is not easy to admit. The worst part about it, is that I did not even know I was doing it, but thankfully God was gracious enough to point out my mistakes before I hurt my child even further.
At the beginning of the year, my husband and I had shared with our church small group that we had noticed some behavioral issues with our eleven-year-old. She was displaying an “entitlement” attitude, worrying only about herself with almost no compassion towards her little sister, her father, nor myself. More ominously, she had purposefully done a few things behind our backs and then tried to lie about it, like physically hitting a good friend of hers. She was also increasingly defiant whenever we would correct her and our mother-daughter relationship was hanging on by a thread.
It was a hard thing to accept that my smart, curious, happy kid was turning into this person that did not reflect the heart of Jesus (and that frankly, I was not liking very much). We could have dismissed it as part of the growing process and blamed it on the “tween” years, but that would have been a big mistake. We knew we had to make some changes and so we planned for the girls and I to spend part of our summer in Laredo, TX doing mission work. Our hope was that seeing poverty first hand would help my daughter realize that she had everything and help change how she viewed her world.
I believe the trip helped and it certainly opened the eyes of both my daughters in a lot of ways. But it also helped in an unexpected way. It helped me. During one of the church services, my then ten-year-old daughter was sitting a row back from me, with her arms crossed, refusing to participate in the service. This is small church so her bad attitude was easy for everyone to see. I was furious because it was reflecting badly on me and it was reflecting badly on my dad, the pastor. I gave her a glare and whispered condemning words in her ear and she glared back at me, unmoved. My heart was pricked. God convicted me right there and then. At that moment I was worried little about my daughter’s heart. Rather, I was worried about what the congregation would say and how she was embarrassing me.
In the following weeks, I heard a sermon that further cemented what God had begun to speak to my heart that Sunday morning. I also got the opportunity to spend time with a remarkable little boy and his mom and I learned a lot from their interaction. Those experiences showed me that I had been parenting from a place of condemnation. I was making my daughter feel like she could never do anything right, that she would never be good enough. Her natural reaction was to feel lonely, feel unloved, and to rebel and pull away. So I made the decision that I needed to stop the yelling, stop the glaring, stop the hurtful words, and seek to help restore her little heart. I needed to do some serious work on me and how I interacted with my daughter. I needed to apply Colossians 3:21.
“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”
That doesn’t mean I relaxed my “rules” nor that I did away with consequences. I still have certain expectations of behavior. She still has chores. But how I lay out consequences has changed. I try to assume a lot less and I ask a lot more questions to find out where the behavior or reaction is coming from. And if I determine that she has met a consequence threshold, I try my absolute best to speak to her respectfully and to explain why the consequences are necessary. I am trying to avoid phrases like, “I am disappointed in you” or “I can’t believe you did that.” I say things more like, “You made a mistake. It happens. We are all flawed and make mistakes, otherwise Jesus would have never come.”
I also changed my way of thinking. Instead of expecting perfection, I expect mistakes to be made. My child is a child and I would be a hypocrite to expect otherwise. I shouldn’t be surprised by questionable choices, but I am trying to use them as an chance to guide and instruct her instead. Changing that frame of mind, has helped me improve how I react when my daughter does fall short. I am less likely to give that condemning glare and more likely to show her how much I love her.
This new way of parenting is very unnatural for me. I am easily irritated, I am moody, and I have been told that I can give a look that kills. For those that know me well, they know I can be a difficult person (I can hear my mom and husband chuckling now). I have to fight these natural reactions and be more calm. But what drives me is that I only have 7 years left with this little girl. This is the chance God has given me to raise His child and prepare her for adulthood. If I am willing to fight against anyone that tries to hurt my daughter physically, then I must be willing to fight against the character flaws in myself that are hurting my daughter.
And because I am seeking her heart, instead of just looking to get good behavior out of her, I am noticing her emotional needs more. I realized because she is so smart, and so independent, that I was not spending as much time with her as I used to. I wasn’t doing it on purpose. I just assumed she needed me less or didn’t want me to be around because she didn’t seek me out the way her sister does. But in her mind, that was not what was happening at all. She was interpreting my behavior as me not loving her as much as I love her little sister. It breaks my heart to write those words, to know that I did that, but I can’t move forward unless I am honest with what I did. Now, I seek her out even if she is not looking for me and I try to serve her in little random ways that will make her feel special again.
It has been almost five months and the change in my daughter has been remarkable. She is more cuddly, more obedient, more likely to do the right thing when she thinks I am not looking, and just more pleasant. When I interrupt what she is doing and ask her to do something, I am now more likely to get an “Okay, mommy” instead of her stomping away. And although she still has angry outbursts now and then, they are more infrequent and I see a much greater, genuine concern for my husband and me and for her sister. She is still a child, of course. She still fights with her sister now and again. She still makes some questionable decisions, but they are more infrequent. I am seeing a heart change and I am full of joy.
2017 will always be the year that God nudged me, actually more like pushed me to change my parenting style. It was the year I learned that in order to help my daughter, I needed to seek His guidance to provoke change in me first. As we aim to raise our children, we also have to be willing to let God guide, correct, and transform us. We are imperfect beings raising imperfect beings, but if we let the spirit guide us, it can make all the difference. Can’t wait to see what 2018 will bring.
Proverbs 4:23 Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it [are] the issues of life.
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