Family

I’m Getting Soft

My previous parenting style was militaristic. We got quite a bunch accomplished by rallying the troops. I didn’t helicopter. Rather, my focus was on allowing experiential education with a healthy amount of encouragement and space. I had expectations in line with Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother –which I still love as a resonating read. Deviations equaled punishments. After all, consequences are moments to allow for corrections, especially when formation years are fleeting. “This is the time to use those teachable moments!” I went to bed repeating.

But then I noticed I was uptight. I was thoughtful and considerate, but firm and gruff. Parenting was a job. A tough job, a cruel job, an inwardly and outwardly injurious job!

The older my children got and the more they understood our family culture, the more I felt a friendship slipping away. My vision for teenage years involved sitting calmly on a couch listening to troubles, a flow of explaining problems to a listening ear. Transparency meeting kind eyes. However, I realized if I was currently fostering fear and allowed it to perpetuate, the relaxed and easy conversations would never come.

Sexting and drinking, alcohol overuse and lying usually come because of a lack of connection. My (admittedly hopeful) theory is: If some core emotional and psychological needs are met, shadier social pressure options won’t seem as appealing. Further, when those likely still occur (I’m not naive, folks), asking for help doesn’t feel as much of a far cry.

Children need a connected confidant in their corner, not a prickly, rigid judge.

Don’t we all, not just children, find comfort in that type of a caring friend?

I was at a movie theatre recently and saw an ad *during the previews* offering addicts help instead of handcuffs. Any person struggling with various addictions may walk into a police station asking for a way out and immediately be assisted towards recovery, even with transportation to an appropriate inpatient or outpatient program. This is a wonderful connection among law enforcement, health proponents, and addiction groups. This is a prime example of an arm around a shoulder instead of a finger pointed in accusation.

So, my parenting style has taken a different spin. Expectations remain, consequences still come, but rage doesn’t play shortstop anymore. Besides realizing anger was too much of a combustive fuel, frustration was too closely related to disappointment. Mmmmm. Ponder on that. As if all those weren’t enough, irritability was my constant companion. To top it off like a heavy load of steel, rage / anger / frustration saddled a constricting burden, zapping me of energy. Motivation for a brighter family future caused me to harness that precious energy, aligning it with a more sustainable route of positivity. I’ll be controversial for a moment and bring in my personal belief in a Big God who knows me, cares about me, and has the power to change hearts. I asked the Holy Spirit to update my heart and mind, bringing extra help to changes I could try to do on my own, but didn’t want to waste time in doing solo. I wanted to do it right, not come short from mere human attempts. My desired strides were too important to fall short.

When troubles arise, pausing to breathe is a more effective route, even <gasp!> letting the not-so-biggies shake off and fall by the wayside. Bigger problems will come. Even when those fish get on the line, I’d rather not fry them just yet. Maybe they need to get thrown back in, too, after a show & tell, talk-it-out session. A sparing amount of airing out issues is helpful, not dwelling on them. Often, we input intentional steps towards solutions.

A couple final thoughts:

  • I wouldn’t change the intentionality with which I began. I was wounded by crazy personal adjustments, unending children’s needs, stark working world to home bound differences, and marital matters. Dysfunctionality took root, sprouted, and needed some major weeding. Enter my readiness for some major overhaul and the Lord at work.
  • No wonder grandparents do well with a gracious perspective. 1) They’re not constantly barraged this time around, but using their space of a generation as a strong advantage. 2) There’s a certain level of “Don’t lose them!” infused in their actions, words, and responses with grandchildren. If I can live in peace and harmony as the live-in authority, having the home be a retreat from the harsh conditions of the world, I’m all for it.
  • What is passed on is more often caught than taught. No amount of words could undo the demeanor I was imparting and perpetuating in my children’s habits. It was sobering to realize my actions were contagiously infecting rather than contagiously attractive. <Hard Gulp>
  • I’m not perfect. I still adjust. By the way, I can still get pretty wound up about certain juvenile repeated behaviors. Some words / actions DO need a ‘that was unacceptable’ reaction. When to say it, when to keep it quiet, and when to wait for later until the height of the moment passes– this wisdom is golden. More often now, I have the sense to shut up, reminding myself flying off the handle is unattractive and ineffective.
  • And one more: Implement Humor.

Moral of the parenting story: When you’re on the scene to care and invest, do so with understanding. Forge a connecting bridge– sturdy, durable, reliable, and welcoming.

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