Parenting ain’t easy. I don’t think that’s a secret, but I do think that it has its ebbs and flows. As with anything in life, there are easier seasons and there are harder seasons . . . there are seasons of rest and seasons of growth.
I am raising two very strong willed children. I love and adore them both, but if you know me, you know I tell it like it is even when it comes to my kids. Both have strong opinions, strong minds, and strong emotions all gifted to them by their Heavenly Father.
My youngest has the added twist of a very traumatic background which often affects behaviors and reactions . . . both hers and at times, mine, and parenting her has been a learning curve from the day we picked her up. Sometimes I get it right. A lot of times I don’t, and I have to pray, regroup, and try again. But at the end of the day, she very much loves and needs her mama and daddy, and she still wants the simple things like kisses and cuddles and bedtime stories.
Enter my oldest and all of life’s changes that come with growing up. In the past year as my, now 13 year old, son has entered a new a phase of his life . . . as he grows from a boy into a young man and begins to assert his independence, I’ve also found myself butting heads more and more often with my once very compliant little boy. It’s not that he’s a bad kid. He’s a great kid (maybe a little too much like me at times . . . but still great), but the shift in our relationship, a very important and God ordained shift (sorry moms our kids are meant to grow up), definitely threw me a bit off balance and a different learning curve has entered my life in regards to him.
I was hesitant to write about this. First, because I am NOT a parenting expert. I mean I only have 13 years of experience so I’m far from an expert. I fail daily . . . have to apologize to my kids often . . . am short tempered and impatient far more often than I care to admit. That is not said as a self deprecating bid for sympathy or a way of fishing for compliments on my parenting skills. I say it because the reality is it shows my need for the Holy Spirit to step in and guide my every action and interaction with my children. The second reason I was hesitant, is simply that I do try to respect and protect my children’s privacy. So I always want to proceed with caution when my writing involves them.
Having said all that, nothing as helped me more than other Christian mamas, some in the trenches like me, and others on the other side, saying, “I get it. I’ve been there. I’m there right now.”
This morning as I was working out, which is both my biggest source of stress relief and a time I often use to pray and process, I was thinking about what God’s word says about parenting and what our goals as parents should be. The bible is full to the brim with scriptures applicable to parenting. Yet, there are a few specific scriptures that stand out to me and point out directly what is expected and necessary of us as parents.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and they shall become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24
“And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4
“Fathers do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Colossians 3:21
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6
So how does this play into what our goals as parents are to be? I found myself going back to all that I’ve learned and studied about building a great marriage, and I realized so much of what I know about marriage can also be applied to parenting. First and foremost, God is first in our home, then our marriage (unless you’re a single parent . . . aka, rockstar parent . . . then just drop the marriage component of this), and then, our kids. We do not have a kid-centric home (more on that in a minute). Second, love and respect. We all need both. And I honestly don’t think you can have one without the other. But what I know from being married is my husband first needs respect and then love while I need love followed by respect. Newsflash . . . my kids are the same. I’m not sure why it was so earth shattering for me to realize, that as he grows into a young man, my son obviously needs his mama’s love, but where love used to come before respect, there’s a shift that tells me love and respect are changing positions. He needs my respect and for me to guide and discipline and treat him in a way that is respectful (which we should be doing anyway, but even more so with our teenage sons . . . ).
So practically speaking what are my goals as a mother, and what are our (speaking of my husband and me) goals as parents together?
- To raise our children in a God centered home that leads them on the best path for them (not us). Our children are not here to fulfill our own personal dreams. They’re here to walk out God’s plans and dreams for their lives. Obviously, that will mean looking at their interests, aptitudes, and giftings and how those fit into their futures. It will mean us helping them stay on course and have realistic, God centered dreams. That’s why it’s so important that in doing that, we give them a solid foundation in Christ and the word of God and show them what a Godly home and marriage look like. This is why our home is not kid-centric. One day our kids are not going to be here, and we want to be as happy and as fulfilled in one another without our kids here as we are with them here. Plus, if my husband and I don’t teach them what a great (not perfect) marriage looks like, then it’s going to be a lot harder on them in their own marriages and relationships. So in our home, it’s God first, marriage second, and kids third. Another key component of this is teaching them how to both make mistakes with grace and treat others with grace when they’ve messed up (something on which I have to work daily).
- To launch our children toward independence (as much as is possible . . . this is often going to look very different if your child has special needs, and I think that’s important to note). One thing I appreciate so much about my son’s school is the preparation that they are giving them to move out of Mom and Dad’s house one day and become actual, productive citizens (the middle school boys recently had a brilliant lesson on this taught to them by the school’s pastor). Independence should be the goal for most (again, special needs complicate this greatly) of our kids. With Andrew, his personal path is definitely headed toward college, but beyond that, we know it’s headed toward starting the transition out of our home at 18 (not every kid is ready at 18 so don’t feel like it’s the magic number). If I’m honest, I think the transition toward independence has already begun for him which is why respect has taken such a place of importance. It’s not that he no longer needs discipline or guidance, but it needs to be very thoughtful in its execution. I need to be very thoughtful in how I respond to him. The “how” of this transition is going to look very different for different kids with different levels of needs and emotional maturity and development. That’s why Proverbs tells us as parents to “train up a child in the way he (or she) should go.” My parents did a fantastic job of helping me transition from those late teenage years into full fledged adulthood. What started as me moving out and into a dorm with a very large safety net my freshman year in college, ended with me living alone and paying most of my own bills my senior year. With each year my independence grew and the safety net shrunk. And while it isn’t exactly the same for every kid, it gave me a good blueprint for how it might look.
The other day, after a particularly challenging day with both of my children, I found myself feeling utterly defeated and asking God why I feel like I’m failing more than I’m succeeding. And immediately I heard in my mind, “Good and great do not equal perfection.” Too often I’m looking for picture perfect . . . picture perfect kids, a picture perfect home, a picture perfect marriage, picture perfect parenting . . . when I should be working toward great relationships with both deep love and respect. And the only way to do that, or any of this I’ve written about, is with God’s help through the Holy Spirit. It’s absolutely the only way, I’m getting this right.
Will I mess up again? That’s pretty much a certainty, but I’ll pray and use that to teach my children that all of us need mercy, grace, and forgiveness, and we’ll keep moving forward. Not toward perfect but toward great.
And don’t worry . . . I’m not becoming a parenting writer/blogger anytime soon . . . I think I’ll keep my “day job”. 😉
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