Recently, I've found myself in many situations in which I am explaining our method of parenting, our beliefs, goals, etc. Here are a few snippets of thoughts, ponderings, and conversations:
I sometimes wonder if the Duggar family show has led people to believe that, if you have a lot of children, they will naturally be well-behaved. It's obvious to me that the Duggar parents have invested a lot of time into discipling (DISCIPLE-ing) their children. They intentionally parent. They are not passive in their methods. However, much of that is not shown on television. What the viewers see is Michelle sweetly correcting her children from time to time.... and so mothers are led to believe if they just sweetly tell their children, "No-no, honey," that their kiddos will instantly behave.
The Duggars do not do the majority of their correction in public. They noted in one of their books that most of their correction is done in private so as to not shame the child. I think many viewers forget that there is a lot done in private, and they are only getting a small glimpse— a very small glimpse— of what their family life is like. In fact, I would say that the viewers are really only seeing the "fruit" of all the effort, tears, prayers, consistency and time poured into these children.
These last few weeks, several mothers have come to me for parenting advice. As I've confessed to a good friend of mine, I really don't think I'm the right one to come to because 1) my children are still very young, and 2) while I am seeing some fruit from our parenting in their lives, I know their faults more than anyone else does, so I am aware that our family is far from perfection, and 3) the biggest fruit comes after 15-20 years of parenting... when children are more on their own and living what they have been taught. Obviously we aren't to that point yet! They do things at times that totally embarrass me and make me sure that everyone around thinks I'm a horrible parent!
My friend has really been encouraging me to speak up, but it always feels a little strange to me because often, the women asking for my advice are older than I am and sometimes have more (and older) children than I do. I don't think people understand that I go to bed every night and wake up every morning begging the Lord to help me be a godly parent and forgive me for the mistakes I made the previous day! I often feel ill-equipped!
These last couple months though, it seems that encouragement in this area has been loaded into my lap. Friday evening we visited with this really sweet couple who flew in from Florida to visit our home church, and when we left, the woman kept telling me how wonderful my children were, how sweet and well-behaved they were. My kids totally loved her and practically talked her ear off. (I think she was really missing her own sweeties by the end of the day!) I was really thankful for her comments.
Parenting is a huge, enormous part of my life (obviously!) and is something I am really passionate about. I see so many women who are always overwhelmed by their children, and they seem to constantly have to remind themselves that "the bible says children are a blessing" because they do not really feel that way. I can totally relate to that because I used to feel that way all the time, and I only had two at the time (as was pregnant with a third)! I read all these parenting books, tried all these methods, and had nearly given up when I finally received some good direction!
Brandon and I have come across so many parents who really want to enjoy their children, but are just feeling like they are a burden. I have definitely been there as well! It's not a good feeling, and NO ONE wants to confess to feeling that way!
That's not to say that now I never ever feel overwhelmed.... because I do, but it's not a daily thing, or even a regular thing.
Looking back to the beginning of my parenting years, I can see that the only thing I was really consistent in was being inconsistent. I have learned that I *must* stay on top of things and be aware of what is going on in my household and confront issues before they get completely out of hand. Previously, I let the kids get away with little things under the belief that I should "choose my battles". That was really a poor decision I made from following poor advice.
I would let them get away with things, and then I'd get this point where I was so angry or frustrated that I would just explode. So, the children learned that they could get away with quite a bit up to a certain point, and then Momma was going to go nuts. I explained this to a fellow mama-friend last night, and we talked about how so often people don't really step in to discipline and parent their children until the parent is totally overwhelmed (even enraged). I told her that I had learned it was better to approach each little bad-attitude, misbehavior, etc right away—right when it happens—rather than let it build up. This definitely keeps me from being overwhelmed and getting angry. And, disciplining or correcting in anger only teaches your child not to make you angry. It doesn't teach them how to behave properly. It's better to deal with the little moments before they become major issues. You can deal with the little problems calmly, often with just a little chat... but it will require that you be tuned in to what is happening in your household, and it will require action, rather than just "hearing" what is going on and yelling from the kitchen or the couch (or ignoring what is going on). It means getting up, going to where your children are (or calling them to come to you immediately, and if they don't come, you gather them and let them know they must come right away when you call), and dealing with the situation right then and there.
Those days when I am overwhelmed are those days when I am caught up in doing other things, and try to passively parent. Those are ALWAYS the worst days, and I know I have no one to blame but myself, even though I might say something like, "The kids were really in rare form today! They were so unruly and disobedient!"
I was thinking, if I had to narrow my method of parenting down to the two most important principles, what would those be?
1. Consistency. I believe children need a clear understanding of what is expected of them, and the only way they can really understand that is if we go beyond just saying what we expect. We have to follow through. So, if we say we expect something of them, then we have to follow through when they do not do what is expected of them. If we tell them not to pinch, and they pinch another child, and we do nothing about it... what we are really saying is that pinching is okay. Most children listen to what we do, not to what we say. Therefore, if there is not a consistent follow through, then they learn we are not serious about what we say and expect.
This is one reason why I feel the whole "I'm going to count to three" is just ridiculous. What you are teaching your children is that you are not serious until you get to three.. and then maybe you'll follow through. Maybe. Delayed obedience is still disobedience. That valuable tidbit has definitely stuck with me through these last few years!
I know one of the problems we still have in our house is that I will be really consistent on something for about a month, and then the problem will go away, but then rears its head after a bit. If it goes unchallenged, then I will find myself back at square one. I thought our family was just going through phases, and then I realized it was me not being consistent, and I was causing these "phases".
Here's a small example: The children are expected to clean their rooms and clean them well. They are definitely capable of doing so as Brandon and I have taught them how, and we have seen them do a great job time and time again. So, we know that we are not holding too high of a standard. A while back, we got a great piece of advice which was to always check the children's work. This would hold them accountable to doing a good job knowing that Mom and Dad were going to make sure it was completed and done to the best of their ability. But sometimes Brandon and I are lazy or "busy" and we don't go check their work. Then, hours later (or maybe the next day) we find that they did not do the job well... or maybe at all. So, sometimes the kids believe they can gamble on whether they should do a job (or maybe just do part of it), because they see that Mom and Dad are not being consistent to their commitment to check the work.
I confess, being consistent is something I have to work on because... um, I'm lazy. But, I know that if I'm not consistent, my children will see that and will begin to act out as they learn they can get away with more and more. Being consistent means that we cannot send mixed messages to our children. I have learned that, typically, children will not just "do as I say" unless they have learned that I will follow through if they do not obey. Heck, I learned that I could get away with A LOT. My mom would ask me to do something, and I knew that I could say, "I just need to finish this," or "In a sec," and I could delay doing whatever she wanted me to do for a long time, or get away with not doing it at all (as she would give up and do it herself). I adopted a really lazy attitude because I learned that, most of the time, I could get away with doing what I wanted to do instead of having to do those chores my mom asked me to do.
I know my mom just got tired of asking me to do stuff, so she would do it herself, justifying that it was just easier for her to do it, or it wouldn't take long anyway, or.. whatever. What she didn't realize at the time was that by not requiring me to get off my butt and do what she had asked, she was only furthering the rebellion in my heart and concreting the idea that obedience was optional.
My parents were actually very firm when I was a little kid, but the older we got, the more lax they got. A lot of that probably had to do with having a lot on their plate with my brother, and my mom not doing well health-wise. I know my parents really tried to do their best, and I am very blessed that they loved us enough to challenge and correct us!
Anyway, consistency means having expectations that are clear, rather than "making it up as you go". Remember, no one likes playing a game where the rules are always changing. Consistency means staying on top of things, being aware of what's going on with your children, and confronting attitudes and actions right away, before they get out of hand. Consistency means that you have to be active and intentional in your parenting wherever you are- at the grocery store, at home, at a friend's home.... everywhere. Consistency means following through on what you say you are going to do- so don't say you're going to do something you have no intention of doing. (For example, don't say, "We're going to leave if you continue to do ____," if you have no intention of leaving when the misbehavior is repeated.)
Consistency is not counting to three or giving more than one warning. One warning is enough, and sometimes one warning is one warning too many. For younger children (like toddlers), one warning is likely necessary, but as children get older, one warning is one warning too many when it is regarding something they are already familiar with and know they need to do/should not do/etc.
Of course, consistency really needs the commitment of both parents, but I wouldn't give up just because your spouse refuses to participate. It may require more work on your part, but it will be worth it..... and may even change the heart of your spouse (when he/she sees the fruit of that labor).
2. Love. If your main motivation behind the discipline, discipleship, and correction of your children is not love, then you are damaging your children. Whenever we correct or discipline out of anger, we are hurting our children. This is why I said earlier that we need to be aware of what is going on in our household, be aware of the conversations going on, the things our little ones are doing, etc- and approach bad behavior, bad attitudes, etc right away. This is also why we cannot afford to "pick our battles" because if we adopt this attitude with our children, we will eventually have a huge war where we are the angry dictator, and we see our children as the enemy.
It is so much easier to peacefully, calmly, and kindly confront little issues right away, then allow them to add up. Doing that is like continuing to turn up the heat underneath a pot of water. Eventually, it will boil over and make a huge mess! I cannot tell you how many times I have let things slide, and then found myself horribly frustrated and overwhelmed and about to spew. Tension builds up in my chest, and I find myself close to the boiling point. And, let me tell you, you will NOT feel better after spewing. You will feel horrible as you spew (and likely feel like you want to just shut up and stop, but can't) and you will feel even worse after you spew. And your children will not be better off, they will be hurt and sobbing... and not because they are sorry for disobeying but because they are wounded by your words, actions, and the monster-expression on your face.
I have learned that I should not discipline when I'm angry because I may say or do something that is hurtful, not helpful. If I am not approaching them in love, then I need to step back.
The tone of my voice is something I really have to purposefully be aware of. It's kind of a habit to use a harsh tone, and I often catch myself defaulting to that. I definitely have to work at reigning that in and speaking with love and kindness. Even when we're in the midst of a harsh discipline, my voice should be loving and kind. My children need to understand that, even when they disobey, I love them dearly. Of course, that doesn't mean I can't use a stern voice- a stern voice is often necessary- but the tone of my "stern" has to be in check.
I believe the way we parent has a huge effect on our children spiritually. I know so many people who have had a hard time seeing the goodness and love of Father God clearly because their fathers (and mothers) were so harsh and demanding. On the other hand, I know people who think of God as some sort of sweet ol' grandpa who doesn't really care what they do. Of course, I believe God's love is unconditional, and He most definitely is a generous Father, but there is also an expectation of obedience. God's love, grace, and mercy do not challenge is justice, righteousness, and judgment. They all work harmoniously as one.
Obviously, we are not perfect beings and our love, grace, mercy, justice, righteousness, and judgment struggle to work harmoniously (in fact, we struggle to have Christ-like love, grace, mercy, justice, righteousness, and judgment, period!) but I truly believe that the goal of parenting is to teach our children those exact qualities of the Lord, despite where we may fall short.
(And boy, do we fall short.)