Friday, April 30, 2010

Gleanings from Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles

I just finished reading the book Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. Though she is not a "Christian" author, I thought that the ideas/thoughts in this book were more along the lines of how a Christian parent should deal with his/her child than most "Christian" parenting books I've read.

"Together we've gone below the surface to the feelings and needs that can fuel power struggles. And it is there in the depths of those emotions that you have discovered your child is not out to get you. Your child is experiencing a feeling or need and doesn't know how to express it respectfully. You can teach him." (Epilogue)

This quote summarizes the thesis of the book. For some reason, many Christian parents worry that their child is trying to take advantage of them...they worry that if they tune into their child in order to work with them that they will soon have a little Hitler. I've noticed that what creates little dictators in the home is parents who aren't willing to teach their children, and correct and guide them. I've also noticed, though, that parents who suppress and smother their children's feelings (especially tantrums) rather than addressing them, often have outwardly well-behaved kids, but when these kids reach their teenage years and realize that their parents can no longer control them, they become "big dictators".

From this book, I learned about different temperaments that children may have. They may be introverted or extroverted. They may be "thinkers," or they may be "feelers." Once you find out what your child is generally like, you can tune into their needs as expressed by their outward behavior. You can teach them to respond to situations that frustrate them/make them angry in appropriate ways. You can stop many tantrums/power struggles before they even start because you understand your child better. As the author aptly states,"In order to be open to your guidance your child has to be able to trust that you will hear his feelings such as sadness, disappointment, frustration, hunger, fear, and fatigue and respond in a warm predictable way that is in tune with his signals. A sense of trust is the foundation of all healthy relationships. If your child cannot trust you, he cannot allow you to have power over him." Later she adds, "Trust implies a firm belief and confidence in the honesty, integrity, reliability, and justice of another person. A synonym for trust is faith. Faith is unquestioning belief, as in, Children usually have faith in their parents." (pg. 91) Wow!!! Isn't that why we obey God, too?

This book has helped me to think more about who Aydon is as a person. He has a huge personal space bubble. If someone (even his dad or I) gets too close when he is tired or emotionally intense, he can hardly control the urge to hit. I have been teaching him to say, "no" instead, verbalizing for him how he feels, "you don't like it if I come too close to you, just say 'no'" and mommy will stop". Ryan and I have been working on inviting him to cuddle with us/hug us if he wants to, but respecting his choice. An exception to this, of course, is when we are doing "get off your butt parenting (," and helping him obey us by taking his hand or picking him up...but we are still careful not to overpower him while still being firm and standing by what we say...

I have also noticed that Aydon tends to "dawdle." While this is a characteristic of this age, Aydon tends to this more than some kids. I have really been thinking about the dawdling. What causes it? I decided to observe Aydon closely when he dawdled yesterday. Often, he dawdles because he sees something that is very interesting...the dawdling is more because he gets distracted and he is a thinker, so he really studies anything of interest to him. So, I need to work with him. If there is a reason why I don't want him to dawdle, then I need to tell him something like, "I know that looks interesting to you, but we have to hurry home this can look at cars out the window while we are driving." Or I need to think before I just issue a command like "come," so that I can say that when he is not distracted or warn him that I am about to say "come" in order to set him up for success. More importantly, I need to plan on taking longer during our excursions so that he has time to observe and think and play and be.

Finally, Aydon is definitely a "feeler." He wants us to be happy with each other. He doesn't like it if someone is sad. He wants to please us and make us happy. This means that I need to make sure that he doesn't think I like him only when he is good. I need to avoid phrases like "good boy" because we are all born sinners, and I don't want him to ever think that his acceptance by us or by God is based on his behavior. Children who are "thinkers" respond better to crisp, firm rules because they appreciate logic over emotion. These are the children who will ask their parents "why" about everything when they get older. Ironically, my hubby is exactly half feeler and half thinker, so our children could be both.

I think it is important for me to not try to fit Aydon into a mold, while at the same time, to study him and to learn his personality so that I can set him up for success; so that I can build a relationship of trust (which also leads to "honor," part of what older Christian children are instructed to do in the Bible); so that he is free to become the unique person that God made him to be and not a robot; so that he is able to stand firm against the bad ideas of his peers because he knows that he can say "no" when something makes him uncomfortable!

I would definitely recommend this book to any parent who wants to get to know their child really helps in understanding how to raise your unique child effectively, and how to avoid many situations that become power struggles...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bye-Bye, Baby

I didn't plan to release you until you were eighteen. 

But you had other plans.

I perceived your departure when I awoke early that morning. 
I feared it as I frolicked with your blue-eyed brother in the green green grass. 
I dreaded it as we gingerly mixed the batter for delicate banana muffins. 

I comprehended it when the virile fire blazed in my womb.

My body discharged you and I was not ready. In the still hours of the early morning, I dreamed of  meeting you. I fancied you would have green eyes like your daddy. 

My nose burned to breathe in your delicate scent. 

If only I could have a moment to listen to your lusty new-baby voice, or to nuzzle your tiny butterfly lips to my milk-laden breast! But God knows that then I would hold onto you forever.

I guess you couldn't linger in my womb when Jesus was singing your name, summoning you home.

Someday I will meet you. 

My eyes will soak in your wee body, knit together by God's gentle hands as you soared to heaven on that cool February day.

I love you, sweetheart. Remember that as you giggle in Jesus' arms.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Teaching Without Provoking Part 2

A sweet little boy is throwing a softball around outside. Suddenly, unexpectedly, it sails towards a neighbor's window. Crash! The little boy dashes into the safety of his own house. Even though the broken window was an accident, he is too afraid to tell his parents what happened... Inevitably, his parents find out. They confront him about the broken window. They explain to him that although it was an accident, he needs to go apologize to the neighbor and offer to pay for the shattered windowpane. This is very hard for the little boy. He doesn't want to tell the neighbor what he has done! How embarrassing! He would rather that his parents just punish him, and then take care of the mess for him. It is hard to face up to his problems!

This is a story that my husband recounted to me from his childhood. Though it was hard, he says that confronting the neighbor and paying for the broken window was one of his best childhood learning experiences.

As Christian parents, we mistakenly believe that the best way to teach our children is to punish them. Unfortunately, most Christians think that discipline is synonymous with punishment. Discipline actually has a very positive meaning in the New Testament. It comes from the Greek word paideia, which according to the Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, means, "(1) active, of rearing and guiding a child toward maturity training, instruction, discipline (HE 12.11); as including Christian discipline and instruction (EP 6.4)." The word paideia is not always translated as discipline, as in 2 Timothy 2:24-25, where it is translated "correction." These verses read, "The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting [disciplining] those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth." Some versions also translate the word discipline in certain places as "nurture." Discipline is supposed to teach, to train, to guide towards maturity.

Punishment does none of this; it merely makes a person suffer and pay for what he/she has done wrong. Sure, after being punished over and over for the same offense, a child may no longer repeat the offense, but the child's motivation to do right is fear of punishment, not his/her relationship with you or with God. The best illustration of that fact in the Bible is this: God sent Jesus to take our punishment for us so that we could have a fear-less relationship with Him! 1 John 4:17-18 says this: By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. Shouldn't our children grow up knowing what it means to walk in relationship with someone who loves them unconditionally? Do we want them to honor and obey us out of fear or out of a love relationship?

In the story about my husband, he learned to take responsibility for his actions. This is because his parents used a logical consequence to teach him. I think that natural/logical cause/effect type consequences are an excellent way to teach our children without punishing them. My husband and I recently read and enjoyed a book called Families Where Grace Is In Place by Jeff VanVonderen. In the book, VonVonderen differentiates between punishments and consequences in this way: "When the process of discipline takes place in a grace-full context, consequences are given to enable children to learn about life... By punishment I mean making people pay for their behaviors as a way to obtain right standing." Later on, he states that "A grace-full family is a place where people can do the job of learning to live without the fear of losing love and acceptance if the job gets too messy."

We are just on the road to learning what it means to raise our son without using fear or intimidation through punishment. When we began studying what discipline really meant in Scripture, and we began to look at how our Heavenly Father deals graciously with us as a model for raising our son, we felt so free! There will be many bumps along the way, I am sure, and we are not perfect, but we are so excited to teach our son!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Teaching Without Provoking Part 1

How does God treat me when I sin? Does He hover over me, scream at me, smack me, or exclaim, "I have poured so much into you, you ungrateful child! How could you do that??" Conversely, does He ignore what I did, roll his eyes, and shrug his shoulders, saying "I just don't know what to do with her. No matter how many times I tell her not to do that, she just keeps on."

He does neither. With eyes full of love, devoid of judgment or wrath (after all, this was poured out on Christ for us), He tenderly convicts me and invites me to admit (confess) that I am wrong. He uses the Spirit and His word to do this. Sometimes, if I am being especially stubborn, He steps out of the way and lets me experience the nasty fruits of sin (broken relationships, hurt to myself, etc). When I am living in sin, the sinful nature controls me, and I live as though I am not a beloved daughter, but an orphan, cutting off my fellowship with Him, though His arms are every openly extended towards me.

I recently read a study on Ephesians 6:4. The verse reads, "And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger." I believe that this applies to me as a mom as well as to my hubby. There are three types of anger in the Bible. One is "thumas," meaning explosive anger. This is the kind that results from living in my flesh and is sinful. Another type of anger is "orgay," and it is used in the Ephesians 4:26 when it says, "Be angry, and yet do not sin...". This type of anger, then, is not necessarily sinful, but depending on what I do about it, could become sinful. The third type, which is used in Ephesians 6:4, is "perigismos." This means "seething hostility." This is what we are supposed to avoid provoking in our children. If I deal with my son harshly and judgmentally when he does wrong and try to control his every action, he will bury his anger towards me deep down inside. If I ignore my son, and never move to correct him, he will feel neglected, and this could also lead to seething hostility.

Learning to not provoke my son when I teach or correct him is a case by case process. Sometimes I mess up. Then I realize that I cannot parent out of my own strength and wisdom.

My husband and I have been so amazed, however, to see that lovingly helping our son obey, while requiring a lot of work, pays off--our relationship remains intact; seething hostility is avoided. We ate supper at a very relaxed outdoor restaurant yesterday, and being that our son wasn't very hungry, we created a playspace for him to run around in. One section of the space was blockaded by chairs, which of course he wanted to escape through. Now, we could have hovered over him, smacked him or intimidated him to stay within his area. Or, we could have decided that it was too much work to enforce the boundary and let him run wild. Instead, we gently grabbed his hand each time he attempted to escape, and redirected him to the area where he could play. Pretty soon, he quit trying to escape and stayed within his area.

Sometimes when we correct our kids this way, they will have an outburst of anger. This is different than seething hostility. Aydon does sometimes. We still hold him to the standard, but with empathy: rubbing his back, saying, "you are angry because of ...., but you have to obey mommy and daddy," holding him firmly and kindly if necessary. We choose not to worry about the judgmental looks of some people, because our relationship with our son is worth it. After all, we Christians sometimes throw month-long tantrums when God tries to teach us, yet He continually chooses to deal graciously with His children.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

Imagine owing millions of dollars to someone and not being able to pay it back. What would you do when the person to whom you owe the money decides to collect on his loan? What if you were a servant, and the only way to repay the loan was to be sold into slavery, along with your wife and children and all of your possessions? Most likely, you would resort to the only alternative you have left: humble yourself and plead for mercy. That is what happened to the servant in Matthew 18:23-35, who owed his master ten thousand talents, the equivalent of millions of dollars.

When I was reading this parable a few weeks ago, I couldn't help but see the parallelism between this indebted servant and myself. God is my Creator; He longs to have a relationship with me. But He is perfectly righteous, and cannot be near sin. And I am definitely a sinner! I have broken God's holy laws time and again. The Bible says that "the wages of sin is death." Like the debtor, I cannot pay these wages. I am utterly dependent on God's mercy. Thank you, Jesus, for coming to earth and paying my sin-debt for me with your death on the cross!

Like God, the master in the parable showed mercy to his servant and forgave him his debt. But did the servant mirror this forgiveness to those around him? No! Instead, he turned around and began to choke another servant who owed him a mere 100 talents (one talent is equal to about sixteen cents). The other servant begged for mercy: "Have patience with me and I will repay you." Did the forgiven servant have mercy now? Again, no! He threw the man into prison to force him to pay back what was owed. I can't help but think about how impossibly frustrating this situation must have felt to the imprisoned debtor--after all, how can you make money in prison?

When word of this injustice reached the master's ears, he, "moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him." 

This parable is about forgiveness. Jesus concludes his story by telling his disciples, "So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart." As always, He wanted His disciples to understand that His requirements for them superseded the law of Moses. He wanted them to see their deep need for His strength to be able to forgive each other in this manner.

So how does this apply to parenting? We Christian mommies and daddies have been forgiven everything by our master. He suffered and died in our place, taking the punishment for our sins upon himself. How dare we, then, turn around and deal harshly with our children when they sin!

Our job is to gently correct, admonish, guide, and teach them as we point them to the cross. This is discipline! While we are teaching our children right from wrong, it is not our job to make them suffer for their sins, so that they will see just how bad they really are. In an attitude of humility and empathy, we can teach them that sin has intrinsic consequences. But, praise be to God, that while we are doing this, we can be pointing them to the cross, where Jesus took their punishment!

As we parent, we must continually walk by the Spirit. We must be in prayer for our children, that God will work on their hearts. The job of the Spirit is to woo, illuminate, and convict our children. And as we walk by the Spirit, his fruit, "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" will be evident.

If we have an attitude of reliance on God while we parent, if we are walking in His grace, as debtors who have been forgiven much, our parenting will serve as a model for our children of relationship. It will prepare them to someday have a relationship with a Father who loves them dearly and wants to know them. It will keep them from having the baggage that shame naturally brings because, rather than learning hopelessness by having to continuously "pay" for their own sins over and over again, they will have formed a habit of looking to Jesus' payment for their sins from a young age.

It is my desire in this blog to share with others that parenting in grace is a wonderfully freeing experience. I want to share my ups and downs. I am not a perfect mother, and I am so happy I'm not, because then I would never rely on God's wisdom to reach my child's heart. My goal as a momma is not to have a perfect child. I want my child to grow into a grace-relationship with God that is honest, deep, and real.