I did not think of myself as someone who had it all together, but I suppose I came off as one who did. So many children had passed through my care that dozens of moms asked for input on parenting, never mind that I was a single, childless woman.
After I married and infertility became my label, I still raised a few babies. They came five or six days a week and from infancy ‘til preschool I taught them and potty-trained them and loved them.
They say that when you have your own children it is different. I wonder sometimes what it would have been like had a child come into our home as a baby, but alas, I will probably never know. All I know is that raising half-grown children is far different than teaching babies to say, “please” and “thank you”.
Our children have both come into our home through adoption at eight years old, and this age has emptied me of any put-together-ness. It has left me humbled and desperate for God’s wisdom and guidance.
When I think of it, I am stunned by the Lord’s grace. He didn’t allow me to go through years of parenting where I thought I knew everything, but swirled me quickly into the real places. He broke any pride I had so I didn’t waste time trying to do this parenting thing on my own.
With so little time, half their childhood already gone, my husband and I are always looking to identify the most important things we want to accomplish in teaching our children. We joke about the “parenting concepts” that we’ve discovered along the way—the bottom-line truths that we want our children to understand.
The first “concept” came quite by accident. We were struggling because our daughter was what we called a “pusher”. This is just an easy way to say that she nags. Nonstop. Take her into a grocery store and she will beg for things. Tell her you are making dinner and she will ask and cajole and “push” for whatever it is she wants to eat. She will question every statement you make, stand in your space, and fight for things she doesn’t even understand because maybe someone else might get it.
You never have to wonder what she wants because she will advocate for her desires, loud and clear.
This wasn’t all bad, but there was an edge to it that was built in distrust and fear. It was heartbreaking and exhausting for whoever it was she was “pushing” on, usually me.
One evening my husband was sitting there watching this take place, watching the stress-lines fill up my face, watching the frantic distrust and fear race through his daughter, and he suddenly jumped up. He grabbed our girl’s hand and took her outside. “We’re going to run laps around the house,” he told her.
“Why?” she asked, confused.
“Because you keep pushing on mom. It’s not good for you or her. When you push on other people, it makes everyone weaker. You need to learn to push yourself instead. If you push yourself, you will become stronger. So we’re going to start with running together. All that nervous energy that you’re using to push others, we’re going to redirect to help you push yourself.”
And suddenly, right there, was a parenting concept we hadn’t anticipated:
When you push others, you make everyone weaker. When you push yourself, you get stronger.
Our desire is for our daughter to grow up confident and strong, a woman of valor. She needs to learn to push herself forward in good things, not push others to get her hands on what she wants.
The running was just an illustration, one that worked incredibly for our girl. You see, it turns out that our daughter is a long-distance runner in the making. Though she fought it for a while, and her daddy had to practically carry her around the house those first few times, eventually she came into her stride. I still remember the day she was pushing hard for something so I sent her out to run, and on her third lap around the house she started singing. The air filled with her song of worship and her laughter filled the house when she came inside, breathless and happy. “I don’t know what happened, Mom,” she told me, “but I just love running.”
It turns out that there are plenty of good things waiting for us when we are willing to work for them. The last time I ran a mile with her, she was barely breathing hard and her smile could brighten the darkest room. (I, however, was ever so thankful to see my husband’s truck coming along to pick us up.)
And the most beautiful part? When I say, “Honey, you need to stop pushing me. I’m going to take care of you. It’ll be okay,” she’ll usually roll her eyes slightly, with a grin.
“I know, I know,” she will say. “Pushing others just makes everyone weaker.” And all the uncertainty and fear that is pushing her just drains away.
How the Lord has spoken to me through this concept! His Word is full of instructions on being a servant, advocating for the needs of others instead of your own. How many times do I push those around me, or attempt to push God, to get what I want—and in the process make everyone weaker?
Lord, teach me this concept as I attempt to teach my children. Help me learn to push myself into a deeper relationship with You and with those around me. Help me learn to surrender my wants, that I might be strengthened.
Another concept we are working on is self-discipline. In the home, it is the parent’s job to teach and discipline the children with the goal that they will someday be mature enough to discipline their own selves.
Such a simple concept, but so easy to overlook. I don’t ever like disciplining my children, but I know they require discipline in their lives or they will self-destruct, so my sights are set on the day when my children can take over their own discipline.
We realized how desperately we needed to understand this concept the day one of my children burst into tears after a string of lies. I was exasperated with the lying, my temper on the edge of exploding, when I heard, through sobs, “Mom, when I get to this place, I don’t know what to do! I don’t want to lie anymore, but I’m in trouble, no matter what. Then my pride just takes over and I don’t want to admit anything.”
We needed to establish a way for our children to practice disciplining themselves, with lots of room for changing the course of their decisions in the midst of them.
A new parenting concept entered our home:
If you discipline yourself, Mom and Dad don’t have to.
What does this look like?
Well, it looks like another day when my daughter lied to me, then took a deep breath, looked me in the eye, and said, “Mom, that was a lie. I’m sorry.”
It takes self-discipline to take responsibility for your actions and to correct wrongdoings. And when she uses self-discipline, my job can be easy. I get to forgive her and move on.
At this point, there is a lot of grace in this concept. I give reminders, I ask questions, I set the stage to allow my children to make the choice to discipline themselves—to humbly accept responsibility for their actions and to make things right—even from the middle of being corrected.
Some days they do it. Some days they don’t. But when they are dealing with consequences, they know that they could have made a different choice. They know that I’m not disciplining them to be mean, I am only doing it because they did not.
I think the most important part of this concept is that they know I don’t expect them to be perfect. I expect them to take responsibility for any wrongdoings, or wrong attitudes, but I am not attempting to train my children to always have a perfect response to every situation, which would be impossible for them. They are people, with their own insecurities, struggles, and fears. They will speak too quickly at times. They will get angry. They will say foolish things and do foolish things. I’m not too worried about all of that—I’m just concerned with their response once confronted with their sin. If they choose to confess and repent, we accept the self-discipline used to lay down one’s pride as all the discipline required.
Of course, this concept echoes in my heart as well. The Lord gives me so much room to correct myself, so much grace in every moment. Humbleness is the greatest mark of a Believer, and in teaching my children to humble themselves and repent when they mess up, I find myself rushing to do the same.
Lord, teach me this one, too. Help me win the battle against my pride. Help me discipline my own heart to do Your will in Your way.
Today, these two concepts are the main things we are working on. As our children learn and grow, I’m sure our focus will also, our parenting concepts expanding with their maturity. When I think of how these things play out in our home and our relationships, I am just overcome with thankfulness to the Father who always provides when we are looking to Him. God’s goodness in parenting me, as I attempt to parent my children, is overwhelming.
He is enough. Always, always enough. Even when I have nothing left—He still fills me and gives me everything I need to face the next day and the next crisis and the next moment of joy.
What are some parenting concepts that you have discovered in your journey?