When I look at my son’s messy room, it puts a knot in my stomach.”
Joe was insightful and honest as he described his emotions about his son’s room. “Just the sight of his dresser drawers hanging out with stuff all over and I’m thinking pessimistic thoughts: If he can’t even push his drawers shut, how is he going to be responsible to hold anything but a low end job? It even makes me feel like I’ve failed as a parent to help my son learn to be responsible.”
Ethan seemed uncomfortable when his dad was in his room, and he had begun to close the door of his room a lot more often. Ethan was clearly discouraged about his failure to please his dad; Joe was discouraged about the widening gap between them.
In our coaching session we processed the unspoken but powerful messages Ethan was probably getting from Joe. “You are loved and accepted only when you do well, and keep a clean room.” “You are lazy and messy.” “You are headed for a bleak future of irresponsibility.” “Your behavior determines my feelings of competence as a parent, and even my emotional well-being in general.”
As we talked about the messages of Discipline that Connects and how they might apply to Ethan’s room, Joe decided to make some changes. Here’s what he did:
1) You are SAFE with me.
Joe realized he how much he wanted to relate to his child as a giver and a guide instead of trying to get his value from his son’s performance. He consciously reminded himself, “My emotional well-being does not depend on Ethan’s cleanliness.”
2) You are LOVED no matter what your room looks like.
Joe had a great talk with Ethan. “Ethan, sometimes cleaning is tough for you. I get that. But I want you to know that I absolutely love you no matter what your room looks like, and I’m happy to hang out in here with you. Maybe we could play a game or something. In fact, I love you no matter what you are struggling with!”
3) Because you are GOD’S WORKMANSHIP, you are capable of cleaning your room, and you’re RESPONSIBLE to do that in a way that works for you, not me.
Joe told Ethan he was responsible to keep his room in the way that worked best for him. He also told him that he would not bug him about it anymore. He followed through on that promise and focused more on affirming any example of responsibility he noticed in Ethan.
Joe was grinning at our final coaching session as he talked about the amazing impact of this new approach:
- He felt good about how he was relating to Ethan and was encouraged about his son’s future. “My whole approach to parenting is night-and-day different now.”
- Ethan’s room was consistently noticeably cleaner.
- Most importantly – Ethan began to invite his dad into his room to hang out with him. Sometimes they would just sit together, Ethan reading homework assignments while Joe read from his iPad. The “Closed Door” phase was over!
Joe stated with a smile, “He knows that I accept him as he is.”
It’s almost like Joe was leading Ethan in a metaphor of our relationship with God. Shame and a sense of God’s disapproval of us drives us to increasingly close the “door” of our hearts, but when that love breaks through and we invite God into our mess, we grow in our relationship with him, and change becomes much easier.
Apply it Now:
- How might you consciously invite God into the messes (literal and figurative) in your family?
- What is an area your child is struggling with, and how might you communicate: You are SAFE with me, LOVED no matter what, CAPABLE and RESPONSIBLE in heartfelt, creative ways to your child?