Last week we wrote about what to do when we blow it. We suggested that overcoming parenting mistakes isn’t so much about not making them (which is good because we made TONS of them), but about being intentional to develop three specific things that will help you recover when you inevitably do blow it:
- Skills for reconciling well when you’ve blown it.
- Humility for admitting when you don’t live up to your vision.
- A vision that can sustain your family through tough times.
These components are like the legs on a three-legged stool. Without all three in place the stool just doesn’t stand up. Over the next few weeks we’re going to share a few practical things parents can do to strengthen each leg. We’ll start with Skills. The following four skills have helped many a parent grow well, in spite of all their mistakes.
1. Reflection skills
To reflect is to take a close look in the mirror – at yourself. Here are some questions to help parents reflect more effectively when they’ve blown it:
- What was going on in me that may have nothing to do with the situation at hand? Would my response be different on other days? Why? What stress from my day may have fueled my reaction?
- What was I feeling about myself or my child? What recurring thoughts feed those feelings?
- What did my child see in me? How might that have felt for him or her?
- How do I understand God’s purposes in this for me and for my child?
Taking time to reflect, even writing down the answers, can powerfully shape parents’ perspectives of what happened and what they’d like to do to restore.
2. Truth seeking skills
We’ve talked to many parents who start reflecting with these ideas and then say things like this: “It’s hard to look at myself this way.” “It’s hopeless.” “I’ll never get it right.” and so on. These thoughts tend to become discouraging and even defining unless parents make a habit of seeking truth from God’s word. So cling to the truth: In Christ we are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Romans 8:1 tells us “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, so refute the shame that can bring despair. And then in those really hard conflicts, hold on to the reality of God’s merciful presence with you to help, not judge – “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Lynne and I have been digging for Truth for 30 years and feel like we’ve just begun. Nothing equips us with confidence for parenting (and all of life) like growing in an understanding of who we are in light of God’s grace and truth.
3. Listening Skills
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger, for human anger does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19). Listening well requires true curiosity. All too often parents jump into conflict with all they have to say, and with little regard for their child’s perspective. To learn to listen well is to learn to understand our child’s perspective. When people feel heard they feel validated and valued. Especially when you’ve blown it, listening well is a true healing balm and teaching agent. Here are some statements and questions to guide you into listening:
- “I don’t like how I acted earlier. I bet you didn’t like it either. What didn’t you like about how I acted?”
- “How did that feel for you?” (If the child can’t give this words then you can help by saying, “That must have been pretty scary.” or, “You must have been pretty sad.”)
- “How do you wish I had acted?”
If you’re truly curious and open, your children are more likely to be honest with you and what they say may be pretty ugly. Be sure not to get defensive or they’ll shut down. One parent who confronted a disrespectful child felt prompted to start by asking, “Have I been disrespectful to you lately?” Humble, thoughtful listening to the child’s painfully honest answer brought healing and deeper true respect, as well as the child’s unprompted apology for his part.
There are other questions you’ll want to ask when it comes time to address your child’s part of the problem, but that can wait. Your best chance of reaching their hearts and teaching them well later is if you listen and reconcile well now. Which brings us to…
4. Reconciliation skills
To reconcile means to make right what you have made wrong. By developing reflection skills, truth-seeking skills, and listening skills, you are well on your way. The final piece is to offer an apology and ask forgiveness. It’s tempting to offer a quick “drive-by apology,” maybe mumbling something like, “Sorry I was kind of harsh.” But this is like slapping a little plaster on a crack—a temporary fix of a problem that will reemerge under stress. It may ease the guilt a bit, but it does little to truly restore the relationship or prevent the problem from happening again. True rebuilding digs into the surface crack and replaces it with big globs of restorative goo. Confessing, hearing the other perspective, and together planning a “what I want to do next time” course of action is the true “goo” of reconciliation.
Remember – the key to not exasperating your child is not to get it right all the time. The key is to get better and better at getting through those times effectively when you do exasperate your child! In this way you will “bring your child up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph 6:4) Whether you’ve been at it for awhile or are just getting started, let us know how we can encourage you further in this. Take some time in the comments below to ask questions, or simply let us know how we can pray for you.