I was privileged to attend our women's retreat recently and though her message for the weekend revolved around trusting God, I really took everything as a parenting message.
You see, for the last three years, I have been struggling as a parent. The last time I'd attended my church's women's retreat, I had just lost a pregnancy and was trying again. Through that pregnancy, my older two were at challenging ages. One had just turned 3 and one was 15 months. The younger daughter was a joy and a delight until she began her quest for independence.
It then became a battle for control. Though we'd tried and failed control issues with the older one, the younger approached matters so differently, we didn't see that again we were fighting control issues.
It would take a long time to share what specific things we struggled with/against, but if you read through some of my first posts, you may glean insight if I shared a particular frustration.
My summary is this: I was exhausted, doubting my abilities as a parent, and wondering why the harder I tried, the worse it had seemed to be. Now I had three daughters, ages 2, 4, and 6, and we were still dealing with emotional meltdowns and lack of reasoning until she would come out of it.
Many well-meaning persons had offered their solutions, but just like the infant colic we went through with all three girls, not one thing worked.
I learned two things that I want to share. First, I learned that God wants us to parent like Him, and He's the great shepherd.
Shepherds rarely use their staff to correct the sheep. Sheep are trainable and there are many better ways to guide and correct them. Sheep are motivated by the presence of the shepherd. Parents with more than one child will underestimate the power of walking into a room when they hear perceived conflict or misbehavior. (and sometimes will learn there is no mischief at all, simply delightful sibling play!)
The second is the fruit garden.
I mentioned my exhaustion. Somewhere in my life, I gained the understanding that God was performance-driven. "If we obey God, He is pleased with us." How can that be true if His love is unconditional? Surely as parents, we fail on this one because our favor IS conditional. "I love you but I don't like what you're doing. Go to your room."
If God asks me to do something and I think to myself, "But I don't want to." Is that a sin? Does He send me away from Him?
The sin is in my heart and action following the command. God is patient, kind, gentle, faithful, loving, peaceful, joyful, good and self-controlled. (Galatians 5:22-23)
If I say "No, I don't want to" but still do what He asks, then "talking back" is perhaps not the same as "defiance". I am expressing my desire to avoid whatever I've been asked to do. Perhaps I am afraid, or I perceive it to be an unpleasant task.
Bottom line, "Am I teaching my children to please me or Him?" Do they fear His wrath or desire His favor? What will motivate better? Loving them or lashing out?
What is my goal? Disciples or Performers?
Even if I was gone, would they be motivated to do what is right? Is God the one they are trying to please? Or me?
I was a compliant child. Most of my friends were too. Our children seem to be less compliant from birth. Our parents cannot comprehend how their obedient children produced children that immediately question and challenge simple directions.
I have passionate children. They have a great ability to focus and are very determined.
Those same qualities in me are what have led to me completing the training to run a half-marathon. I've been running for almost twelve weeks. (See my post on how much I do NOT love running)
Others have been complimenting me on my dedication, and impressed that I've stuck to it.
I'm goal-oriented. These are all positives and to be desired.
To others, however, they believe my children to be stubborn and strong-willed.
"Why don't you control your children?!"
"Because God gave them free will." (statement I have only recently learned to use)
I cannot control how much dinner my child will eat anymore than I can predict when that dinner will exit or if that exit will be timed properly. It's out of my control.
So my focus should not be on controlling my children, but instead motivating them to be in control.
I am trying to model by asking myself if what I'm about to do is loving, peaceful, patient, joyful, kind, gentle, faithful, good, and if I'm exercising self-control.
Then, the focus is on God's fruit in my life. I hold them to the same standard. I'm no longer trying (fruitlessly) to control them.
Stop and think about that last adverb in parenthesis. Are you seeing it? It's taken me three years!
Instead, they are not battling Mom or Dad, but the sin nature inside them that the Holy Spirit is trying to prune out. We are unified, each trying to approach the situation as the Shepherd would. We are battling a common enemy, a similar frustration, and the more similar our temperaments, the more we can encourage each other in this battle!
This freedom led to me embracing James 1:2 New Living Translation. Dear brothers and sisters,[a] when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.
It's an opportunity? Yes. Now I have found that there is hope for me! This situation may feel long-lasting, but the yoke really is easy and light. All I must do is take care of my spiritual self, and point them to the same never-ending source of life and light, and I will enjoy spending time with them once again as they won't be draining me and I won't be drained.
Putting it together, our children are going to face challenges we compliant-generation children never imagined possible. Romans 12:9 (NIV) Hate what is evil, love what is good.
I believe they will be our warrior generation, with no ability to compromise their faith or values. Our daily struggles and victories are so important right now!
Take heart! You are not alone!