The top 2 difficulties in parenting…what are they? Well, today, for me they are:
- Competition with other parents
- Controlling my kids rather than leading them
Yes, these are problems and this morning I read a passage in Changes That Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud* that helped me face them and push me to overcome. Check it out.
To set the background, this is in a section of the book that is about growing up to mature adulthood. This comes from chapter 15, “When We Fail to Grow Up.”
“No Equal Differences”
People who live in a one-up and one-down world rarely consider differences acceptable. If someone believes or thinks something different, that someone is “wrong.” There is no such thing as a difference of opinion or “agreeing to disagree.”
These people also tend to treat differences in taste as being right or wrong. If their friends buy a certain car or move their kids to a certain school, they begin questioning themselves, “Do I have the right car?” or “Should I move my kids as well?” People who haven’t grown up experience difference as a threat; if two people are doing two different things, someone must be doing the wrong thing.
This attitude can affect very small things such as what sale to go to, or what clothes to buy, or which racquetball racket is “better.” These people always ask, “Which is the better of the two?” instead of, “You like that one, and I like this one.” The latter is the way two equal adults experience their differences.
These pharisaical minds have such a stringent list of what is “right doctrine” that they miss the real doctrine of “Love your neighbor as yourself.” They are so concerned with determining how others are “wrong” that they can’t love them. The Pharisees did this over and over again; they saw others as “less than” them, and therefore bad.
Please don’t misunderstand. I recognize that some things are wrong. I’m sure Dr. Cloud does as well. But this was like a light bulb coming on for me with regard to my parenting.
We Don’t Have to Compete with Other Parents
I spend way too much time competing with people, especially other parents. You public school your kids, I home school mine (or vice versa). I can’t just be satisfied that I like one approach and you like the other. No. This has to be a knock-down, drag-out fight for parental supremacy. I have to be able to prove that my choice (whichever it is) will turn my child into the next Jesus while yours will obviously turn your kid into a rebellious hellion. Either that or I beat myself up for being an awful parent who just isn’t strong enough to make the good choices that you make for your children.
Just because you and I do something different as parents doesn’t mean I have to question whether or not I’m a good parent. Neither does it mean I have to figure out why you are a bad parent so I can feel justified in my choices. Taking one of these paths is actually a sign of my own immaturity. The fact is, you may choose one path in your parenting and I may choose another and both be equally valid and legitimate. I have read all kinds of parenting books from people with different ideas and their kids seem to turn out okay, whether they co-sleep or give their child his own bed, whether they nurse or bottle feed, whether they cloth or disposable diaper, whether they home school or public school. It’s amazing how many people write books from different ends of the parenting spectrum and the number one evidence they give is their own marvelously successful, well-adjusted kids. How does that happen? Maybe different doesn’t always mean wrong. Maybe sometimes it just means different. Just as we should train up our kids in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6), perhaps we should parent them in the way we should go without trying to compete with everybody else in all their different backgrounds, resources, and opportunities.
We Don’t Need to Control our Kids^
But in addition to competing with other parents and placing all kinds of undue stress on me and on those relationships, I tend to want to control my kids. I want to force them to see everything my way exactly. Instead of letting them grow up to think for themselves, I fear that they may think something different from me. Therefore, I do what I can to manipulate their thoughts and feelings to think, see, and behave like me. I don’t know why I want to do this because I know how rotten I am and all the mistakes I’ve made. You’d think that I would someday grasp that the more I control them to be just like me, the more they are going to be just like me. How truly awful that would be.
Instead, I need to let them have their feelings and thinkings. I need to be able as an adult to share my feelings and thinkings. I need to be able as an adult to explain my reasons for action. But I need to help them develop ownership for their feelings, thinkings, and reasons. They do not have to like what I like. They are allowed to like what I don’t. They do not have to act how I act. What is important to me doesn’t have to be important to them.
This is scary to me because I fear they may not find God important. I so desperately want to control their relationship with God. While I may and should have boundaries in my home about a certain attitude toward God (cf. Joshua 24:15) just as God has those boundaries, I’m learning that I have to let my kids develop their own faith. The story of the prodigal’s father astounds me. When the prodigal asked for his inheritance, the father didn’t try to talk him out of it. He didn’t argue with him, cajole him, manipulate him. He let him go. Yes, this put a separation between the son and the father. But that was a natural consequence, not an artificial punishment.
Here is the key. Because the prodigal was free to say, “No,” to the father, he was later free to say, “Yes” to him. If I try to control and manipulate my kids with guilt, shame, fear, hate, or whatever else, they are not ever actually free to agree with me. They are just robots. My kids are only free to accept me and what I think and feel when they are free to reject it.
That is hard to swallow and frightening, because my kids may reject me. But it is exactly how God treats me. I want to be mature like Him and give my kids the freedom to be different from me. I am hopeful in the end that through this attitude, they will learn to be like me in what is good and also challenge me to change where I am wrong.
The Challenge to Grow Up
This is a challenge to grow up. This is a challenge to be more like God in my parenting. This is a challenge to be more mature in my relationships. We don’t have to be children, constantly seeking everyone else’s approval. Instead, we simply need to do what we think is right based on our relationship with God and let other parents and our kids do the same.
What books or ideas have helped you out in your parenting? Click here to add your input.
^Please understand that I am talking about as our children grow up. There is a time with young children for controlling their behavior. But even at those times, we don’t need to manipulate their behavior.
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