Gladly I’ve gotten past the fact that no matter how much I ‘get it right’ on any given day, my children are still going to behave in ways that cause me to wonder where on earth my sweet child has temporarily disappeared to. It’s truly liberating to come to that place.
I use the word ‘spirited’ in the heading in this post, over other words such as ‘difficult’, ‘hard’, ‘challenging’, ‘frustrating’, etc as this would simply be my interpretation of those attitudes and behaviour in my children that are causing my own issues to surface! And sometimes those ‘spirited’ qualities are the seed of something incredibly wonderful that we’ve yet to see mature and grow in our children. I think of my own cries of ‘that’s not fair!’ as a child, which were labelled as difficult, when really it was nothing more than a strong sense of justice and compassion that I have as an adult.
I’m finding that more often than not, the times that my children disappoint me or frustrate me work like a catalyst that trigger things within me that are still being refined in the fire so to speak, and are the Lord’s own work of transformation in my life.
Somehow we’re trying to find the balance of allowing our children enough freedom to experience great grace and liberty, while still discipling them and stewarding our role as parents in a way that allows them to flourish within boundaries and temporary limitations; that is, until their maturity is sufficient for more trust and responsibility to be given to them.
Yes, I find myself with three spirited children, although in three very different ways. But I’m also attempting to be honest with the fact that those challenges that I experience on a daily basis are an opportunity to grow myself. It’s another way that these children are a gift from God to my husband and I.
So what to do on those days (and days and days…) where even your well-tuned parenting strategies are ineffective and you feel the rumblings of just wanting to throw your hands in the air and shoo them all outside?
Don’t hide your vulnerability – I don’t mean fall into a heap of tears on the floor. Just stay real with your child. Let them know how their actions and attitudes are affecting you (gently and without heaping guilt on them). “When you ignore Mummy, I feel disrespected. It hurts me. I love you. But I also want you to know how you’re affecting me”. Remind them that you too make mistakes but are trying to do your best to teach them. Ask for their forgiveness if you need to. Letting them see your vulnerability doesn’t undermine parental authority. It’s OK to show weakness – because you are weak. You’re not a superhero. Be humble and be real, and in doing so, you will show how much we all depend on the Father to be our source of strength.
Pray together – seek the Lord’s heart together and trust that He will indeed speak to your child. This often works for us (once everyone has calmed down). Sometimes I find the Lord will speak to my child regarding their behaviour much better than I intended to. It deepens my trust in Him and also gives my child a chance to cultivate their own faith.
Keep connected – above all else, even if the issues are yet to be worked out, keep your connection with your child. If you need to take a break from schoolwork at the table to sit in the lounge and read together, or whatever activity that you do together where your child can re-establish connection, just do it. Maths can always wait until another time. I cannot emphasise this enough. Trust me, I’ve learned the hard way.
Listen to your child – sometimes some bad behaviour is nothing more than your child’s way of expressing themselves, without the maturity of knowing what they are really wanting or how to ask for it. Frequently I have found that one of my children just needs some time with me. Or they are fed up with something. Or they are still stewing over something that may have taken place earlier that day. Instead of just implementing the ‘strategies’ without hesitation and demanding that much desired ‘first time obedience’, watch and listen to what is really happening in your child’s heart.
Empower them – your kids want power. We all do. So give them some. Empower them to make sound decisions by offering them choices, all of which you are happy with them choosing.
Keep the bigger picture in mind – remember that much of what you see is the seed or seedling of something special and unique of what God has placed in them – patience, long-suffering, justice, compassion, discernment and leadership are just some of the things that come to mind when I look at my own children. You are influencing, guiding and nurturing these gifts within them – not controlling, suppressing or determining exactly how those gifts must look.
You may find that you go through a rough patch that lasts more than just a day or two. Or a week or two. Be consistently loving and consistently forgiving and gracious. They are watching your every move and will model what you demonstrate to them.
Hug. Hug before you even talk things out. Hug if nothing else is working. Hug even if their love language is not physical touch! Our children need our unconditional affection lavished upon them in every way imaginable, so they feel like they could do anything and be anything as they grow. It will reaffirm your love for them, especially within the impact of any disciplinary measures that may be part of restoring order in your home.