Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Gentle Parenting Isn't Always Smooth and Easy

I have written here and in other posts here about some of my parenting ideals and approaches.  The approach my husband and I take to parenting has grown in us over the years.  We sure don't do a perfect job, but we have a more consistent and concrete view of what the primary principles of parenting are for our family.  God has led us and we have learned through some orientation by fire -- parenting is like that.

Remember getting on a bike, without training wheels?  It quickly veers one way, then another, and then back the other way, but not in the same way as before, and all the while you, this new rider, are trying to manage to just stay up and not topple.  That's how it is.  I think it is why we are given infants first as new parents.  Newborns are challenging in their own way -- providing us with sleep-deprivation and self-sacrifice at never before experienced levels -- but then they grow into toddlers.

I remember thinking about my toddler, "Oh, how I wish you would just sit in that swing or come up to me and let me carry you in the Ergo Carrier again."  He had to tear out the Tupperware from the cabinet every five minutes, attempt to climb the entertainment center, rip up papers, taste-test every fuzzy dustball off the floor and keep me on my constant toes.  The bicycle of parenting swerved again and I was hanging on for dear life, learning to lean with the change in direction.  I love this wild ride, and I get my bearings and soar and I catch my breath with every turn. 

Then my son turned into a preschooler and asked "why" about everything, tested his own independence, had his own mind, knew how to push my proverbial buttons, and had mood swings that rivaled any hormonal teenager.  He was adorable, a miracle, a blessing, but still, this stage was another careen of the bike.  I, who had achieved some balance through the precarious toddler years, learning how to grab my own time of devotion and rest with the Lord despite demands around the home, was now being challenged to parent in new ways.

My second son was born and he was so different from the first.  Whole new bicycle -- whole new learning curve.  Some of the lessons and skills my husband and I acquired have been useful, but some of them are not at all appropriate for this child.  God keeps us on our knees as parents. 

The changes keep coming.  All the while, my goal is to parent with gentleness.  I embrace the verse which my son brought home laminated onto a large sea shell one day from Sunday School: "Let Your Gentleness Be Evident to All."  I wonder which genius in the Children's Ministry Department decided on that project.  God used that shell in all sorts of days.  I would be at my wits end, go into my bedroom to regroup and see it sitting on my dresser staring at me.  "Let your gentleness be evident to all."  My gentleness, Lord?  Mine?  I want to commit crimes against humanity right now.  I feel upset and stretched beyond my capacity.  My gentleness?  And through those times He worked in some of His gentleness until it has slowly and sputteringly become my own.

Gentle parenting is by no means laissez-faire parenting.  I don't sit around letting my children do whatever they want with a sweet smile on my face.  Today my precious son turned and hit the dog because the dog wouldn't give his chew toy to my son in their tug-of-war.  I sent my son to his bed to sit for five minutes so that I could talk with him about not hitting.  Sometimes we just stop and talk about what was done wrong and practice what we should have done instead.  Sometimes the heart in my child shows me a need for reflection or a more serious consequence.  This was one of those times.  My son didn't want to go to his bed.  He kept coming out of his room testing the limit.  I gently told him, "Sweetie, when you are in your bed, let me know and I'll start your timer."  He wouldn't submit and stay, so I had to wait for him.  He threw a fit.  I let him.  I knew he was working his way into submission and a teachable moment.  I have done this very thing with the Lord -- I know what I need to do and yet I have to wrestle within myself to comply.  After a full blown fit, tears, multiple trips to his room and repeated exits, he had worked himself into serious emotion and was beside himself.  He came to me and asked me to carry him to his bed.  He settled into the time out and stayed there.  I had remained calm and gentle through it all (three cheers!) and yet I was weary.  This five minute time out had lasted 25 minutes at this point.  He was hysterical.  I was drained, but knew I had done what was needed to help him grow.  My son had worked himself into a frenzy and finally worked himself back down.  I held the fort, so to speak.  I stood firm and gentle.  Exercising grace is not easy nor natural for me.  My childhood home and upbringing was anything but gentle and patient. 

Following this outburst my son and I cuddled.  I asked him if he could remember why he had to go to his bed.  He (of course, after that flurry of emotions) did not.  I reminded him that he had hit the dog.  I asked him if that were the right thing to do and asked him what he wanted to do instead.  We called the dog into the room and we pet him and the dog licked my son and wagged his tail.  Restoration.  Like all restoration, it came at a price.

I want to encourage you that gentle parenting has benefits and dividends immeasurable.  My boys and I are knit together in our hearts.  We have wonderful relationships in our home.  They reflect gentleness in much of their interactions with me, with their father and with one another.  We have an affectionate and usually relaxed home environment.  The times when I have not been so gentle have born their own fruit -- a bitter fruit which I taste and wish I had known better and done better.  Those fruits I surrender to the Lord and ask him to make them into something useful and redemptive in a way I can not render on my own.  But, the fruit of gentleness, I see, and for that I am so grateful to Him -- for my undoing and my re-doing so that I may reflect Him just a bit to these precious boys.

 Bit by bit I am catching this vision: "A gentle and quiet spirit is not only imperishable; it is precious in the sight of God. It's also one of the hardest qualities to cultivate. Far from a sign of weakness, a gentle and quiet spirit is the sign of a woman who is strong in faith, mind and character." --Anna Sofia & Elizabeth Botkin

I also want to tell you that gentle parenting is hard.  It is just plain hard.  It is hard to wait; hard to sacrifice self; hard to let someone take time to have their process instead of demanding immediate compliance and obedience.  But, this hard stuff is worth it.

You see, grace costs.  It cost God the Cross to extend grace to us and it will cost us to extend real, penetrating, Christ-saturated grace to our children.

Grace is God's way with me.  He could force me, zap me, control me.  But, He waits and He is slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.  He knows my frame and He knows where I am headed and He knows His plans and is in no rush to make me comply.  He would much rather I grow and cooperate from the inside out than I be forced into a mold -- complying externally while lacking internal submission.  I am grateful for His patience and by His grace I will extend that same patience and love to my boys over the years with increasing frequency and gentleness.  Yes, this is hard stuff.  It is the hardest thing of all to parent well, but it is an endeavor worth the diligence. 
There may be no worthier cause on earth. 

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