If he had the money, he’d also hire someone to be his full-time book reader–as long as he could sit on their lap the whole time.
He loves it when we finally understand what he’s trying to say.
And when he makes us laugh, he likes to say, “That’s funny.”
But when there’s a container he can’t get open or a knob he can’t turn the whole way, every good thing in life is forgotten. He yell-cries and tenses up, as if his frustration is trying to mutate his body. To him, there is no other solution, until an outside force asks him if he needs a little help.
In a voice still wet with tears, he echoes, “Little help” and looks at me.
In these past two years of being a parent, I often feel like I’m not strong enough to keep twisting the lid off the jars of training, correction, and discipline.
It comes so naturally to pity myself, act annoyed, and wish I wasn’t entrusted with someone who can send me running with only a “Moooommmmyyyy!” from the other room.
So often I ignore the Spirit’s small voice saying, “Do you need a little help?”
I assume that because lots of parents raise their children in their own strength, I should be able to as well.
But then the weary, fearful, and overwhelmed feelings start pelting me, one pebble after the other, reminding me that only God can help me thrive in this season of parenting.
Here are six questions I’ve had to ask myself when parenting feels like climbing a rock slide.
- Am I spending time in the Word?
Maybe reading the story of Ahab killing Naboth for his vineyard won’t seem to bring the immediate answers I feel I need, but as I study each God-breathed Scripture, I can get to know the character of God more. The God who gives us so much more than what we might think we deserve, and is ready with His forgiveness when we do repent of our selfish desires.
I can delight in depending on someone else as my Rock, Refuge, Wisdom, and Lover, instead of trying to be those things for myself and my family.
I can see the grace He offered again and again to the Israelites and embrace Jesus’ perfection on my behalf.
When I read the words of God, I can submit my insecure, insufficient thoughts to Him and welcome in His truths to replace them.
Sometimes I wake up with my to-do list scrolling through my head.
Sometimes Isaiah gets up early and is ready to contribute his own demands before I’ve even shaken off my dreams.
When I step out of bed, it can feel like a moving sidewalk, pulling me to the next responsibility.
If I don’t take the time to invite Jesus into my activities for the day, it’s easy for me to start thinking it’s all up to me to keep the ship from sinking. Household responsibilities can start to feel pointless and mundane.
When I ask Him to help me enjoy Him and the work He has for me that day, it opens the way for Jesus to bring the satisfaction and contentment He longs to give. It also helps me fight the battle against guilt influencing the good things I think I should be doing.
3. Am I taking on burdens of responsibility that weren’t meant for me to bear?
My tendency has often been to try and make Isaiah’s life as comfortable as possible. I hate seeing him experience hunger, thirst, or pain. I’ve cringed at the thought of having to let him learn from his poor choices.
In Parenting With Love and Logic, Foster Cline and Jim Fay share that, “Effective parenting centers around love: love that is not permissive, love that doesn’t tolerate disrespect, but also love that is powerful enough to allow kids to make mistakes and permit them to live with the consequences of those mistakes.
“Most mistakes do have logical consequences. And those consequences, when accompanied by empathy—our compassionate understanding of the child’s disappointment, frustration and pain—hit home with mind-changing power.” (p. 13)
These consequences go back to the beginning of time, when sin entered the world.
“When Adam and Eve made the wrong choice, God allowed them to suffer the consequences. Although He did not approve of their disobedience, He loved them enough to let them make a decision and live with the results.” (p. 29)
Of course, God’s grace and mercy were at work the entire time. Even in their sin, He used them as part of His plan of redemption and forgiveness.
But because our sinful nature keeps us from God, our children also need the chance to be faced with the realization that they can never be perfect. Only when they see their need can we point them to Jesus, who paid with His life so that they could be seen as righteous before God.
Tedd Tripp’s book, Shepherding a Child’s Heart talks about correction having a central focus on redemption. He shares that, “You must address the heart as the fountain of behavior, and the conscience as the God-given judge of right and wrong. The cross of Christ must be the central focus of your childrearing.
“You want to see your child live a life that is embedded in the rich soil of Christ’s gracious work. The focal point of your discipline and correction must be your children seeing their utter inability to do the things that God requires unless they know the help and strength of God.” (p. 120)
As we encourage our children in the truth of the gospel, facing natural and parent-led consequences give our children safe ways to fail.
Cline and Fay share that “The older a child gets, the bigger the decisions become and the graver the consequences of those decisions. Little children can make many mistakes at affordable prices. They can pick themselves up and try again if things don’t work out.” (p. 30)
If Isaiah refuses to eat his dinner, he will feel the natural consequence of hunger and be ready to jump into his high chair at breakfast.
If it is time for his diaper to be changed, he can choose whether he wants to walk, run or be carried to the changing table.
When it’s time to brush his teeth, he can have them brushed while he’s sitting or standing.
If he’s having trouble sharing when a friend is over, he spends a few minutes alone in his bed.
I’ve needed God’s help to be unemotional when dealing with my son’s bad choices and jubilant when he makes good ones.
I’m realizing how natural it is to say things I regret or can’t enforce. But when I do, I can ask for my son’s forgiveness and keep disciplining in God’s strength as His agent.
There are many parenting situations we haven’t had to face yet, but I’ve appreciated Cline and Fay’s insights into bedtime struggles, chores, homework, grades, and getting ready to go somewhere. They give concrete examples and case studies of how parents can handle these situations.
As children learn our expectations and their responsibilities, they can take charge of their own choices, (and we can stop doing the thinking for them).
4. Am I making my expectations clear and taking the time to enforce consequences?
Jeff and Jen Wilkin, in their parenting class share that the number of warnings I regularly give will be the number of times my children will get used to disobeying before they listen. They talk about keeping a long view of parenting, making decisions based on what will be best for our children in the long run.
For example, if I take the time to talk with my children about how I expect them to behave when we go somewhere, they will know when they’ve done something deserving discipline (even if it has to wait until we get home).
And when it’s time to leave, if I’ve given them a few minutes warning, they may not be as frustrated to be swept back into the car.
5. Am I accepting the grace of the gospel in my own life so I can pass it on to my children?
If I have a running commentary of insults in my head whenever I make a mistake, I can’t help but be critical when my son messes up.
Even before I became a mom, I saw how my feelings influenced the way I treated others. If I was frustrated by how little I seemed to accomplish that day, when my husband came home from work, it was natural for me to get frustrated if he didn’t feel the same drive for productivity by taking out the trash or helping with the dishes.
Melissa Kruger, in her Biblestudy Walking With God in the Season of Motherhood, says that our “hope is to have God impact our own lives in such a way that His imprint on our hearts makes a lasting impression on our children. If we yearn for children who take their needs to God in prayer, it is important that we increasingly become women of prayer. . .If we want peaceful, hopeful, kind and compassionate children, it is essential that we grow in these graces ourselves. In the beauty of God’s design, He is in the process of parenting us as we parent our children. (p.3)
6. Am I allowing myself time to enjoy my children?
Ephesians 2:10 says, “ For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Many times God leads us to His good works through our roles. Listening to my husband share about his work day is a way to show love to him.
When I take time to delight in my son, reading Rumble in the Jungle for the fiftieth time or watching him go down the slide, I am sharing in the good works God has for me.
When I start to thank God for my role of parenting, rather than seeing it as a constant burden of interruptions, it can open up the way for His joy to flow through me. (And to appreciate how funny a two-year-old can really be.)
What has God used in your life to bring more joy into your parenting?
Jesus, we invite you into our lives and this terrifying and wonderful journey of parenting. Thank you for the eternal souls you’ve placed in our families. Would you give us and our children soft hearts to embrace all you have for us? We are Yours.