Today I am going to touch on an aspect of discipline which is near and dear to my heart: the parent's attitude. Ouch, I know. How many times, when your child has done something they ought not do or has rubbed you the wrong way one too many times in a day do you end up issuing consequences based on how you feel? How many of us have raised our voices or our hands in response to frustration we feel over our children's behavior? These feelings are so common. I know a few saintly parents who never seem to experience the frustrations I am sharing here, but they are the exception, not the rule. For the most part we all have an end of our rope and children tend to know how to take us there. Usually it isn't intentional. They are being normal and expressing their needs and even testing limits (which is part of healthy development) but we, being human, can only take so much. What we do with the exasperation and burn out which can be such common parenting emotions makes a world of difference to our children.
The distinction between a hostile and frustrated attitude and one of love and concern is the difference between punishment and discipline. Remember that discipline is the training of our children towards the future, for their highest good. When we are upset and frustrated, we are bound to take out that frustration with comments like, "Stop that!" and other unhelpful reactions. I say reactions because most punishment comes as a reaction -- a knee-jerk answer to our children's misbehavior when it gets on our nerves or strikes up against our fears. Discipline, on other hand, tends to be patient, thoughtful, and can take a step back. Discipline takes in the lay of land and makes a response, not a reaction. The response is a loving and concerned answer to whatever our children are experiencing and expressing.
Now, let's get into the nitty-gritty of real life about this. I'll put myself out here under the microscope so we all know the playing field is level at best. I have struggled with being a loving mother towards my boys at times. It isn't that I don't love them. Oh, I love them! My troubles come from a few factors. I had so much woundedness and not a lot of quality material to draw from when it came to the modeling of good parenting in my own childhood. As a result, I was not slow to anger, but instead I sometimes became very impatient in the early years of my oldest son's life. I was so full of fear that he would walk in dark ways as both my husband and I had in our late teen years. I wanted him to avoid that pain at all costs and my inner belief was that if he would only live a righteous life, he would avoid these pitfalls. The fear that rose up in me when he would do normal, even sinful things as a child was overwhelming. I wasn't truly in touch with the fact that I was experiencing fear. Still, it ruled me and made me quick to demand something akin to perfection from this small child in my care. I knew my intensity and my expectations were too much in proportion to his misdeeds. I wasn't looking at his needs, but was looking at what I needed him to be. At other times, I was over committed and burnt out. As a result I would have a short fuse and be impatient in response to his nagging or refusals to do what was asked of him. As God says in His Word,
There is no fear in love.
But perfect love drives out fear,
because fear has to do with punishment.
The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1Jn 4:18)
If you ask friends who know me now and never knew me intimately in the early years of his life, they would say I am a wonderful and patient mom. I can share that here because those words are how many of my friends now describe me as a mom. They hear me say I am not perfect. They hear me tell that I have regrets, but what they witness is what I have grown to be as a mother. I thank God for HIS patience and perseverance in my life. I did some very hard work and applied myself to overcoming what was keeping me from being the mom I wanted to be. God met me in my effort and moved me into a place of deep healing. It didn't happen overnight. I still have moments of impatience and days when I feel grumpy, but it isn't the tone of my motherhood. (I'm still human!) Even in those harder years, we had many good days and many positive parts to our life as a family. That doesn't take away the regrettable aspect of my self-concerned and impatient approach during that time.
I have two totally normal boys. The desire of my heart is to have them grow to know God's love and to feel secure in that knowing. I want His love to be the bedrock of their heart. While that work remains in the hands of God through the Holy Spirit, I can help pave the way for them to see God's love as merciful and safe when I am exhibiting grace as a mother. Grace doesn't mean that they get away with what they do wrong. That would not be best for them. What it does mean is that when I am rooted and grounded in the love of God, I do not fear. I can find rest. I know how to set a loving limit. I can show love towards them and be patient when they act less than wonderful.
My boys are active, sometimes wild, as boys are prone to be.
My youngest is the explorer, scientist, inventor, artist type. More often than not I find something which was a "good idea" of his that could have killed him or damaged something valuable. He isn't malicious or sneaky, but his ideas get away from him and he gets lost in those ideas. My goal for him is to retain his creative streak and sense of wonderful adventure while learning to think about outcomes. Achieving this goal will take time and maturity as well as instruction and modeling and problem solving with him. When I look at him through eyes of love, I see all God put in him and I know that the choices I make as his mother can either squelch his spirit or draw out the goodness in him.
My oldest son is a thinker with a tender side. He has a shepherd's heart and is a mastermind who draws people together for enterprising ideas. He loves to read and plan and discuss ideas. He is sensitive to our opinions and doesn't always see his own part in things right off the bat. My goal for him is to grow into the leader which God made him to be while maintaining his compassionate heart. I want him to learn to be introspective and acknowledge his own shortcomings without becoming discouraged about them.
With each of these boys, I can love them when they lean towards their weaknesses and I can help God draw out their strengths -- the strengths He designed in them. I can do this as I love them and have concern for them instead of reacting out of fear and frustration when they are struggling or misbehaving. Motherhood is a gift, a privilege and a blessing. Can't you just hear the voice and opinions of your own mother (for better or worse) in your own head at times? What we say and how we treat our children will impact them not only in this season, but for all the years of their lives. We must do what it takes to approach them in the love and concern we have and to move away from reacting based on fear, frustration and impatience.
I hope you come back next Wednesday when I will be discussing the outcomes of punishment vs. discipline. What are you learning as you follow through this series? Where do you need to grow as a parent? How can I pray for you? I'd love to hear your feedback as you walk with me on this amazing journey.