I’ve heard a lot of encouraging stories from parents during coaching sessions, but even I was shocked at this one.
When you became a mother, you likely pictured images of you and your children frolicking, playing, creating and bonding. You probably didn’t have visions of yourself with your face beet red, eyes bulging and words that you thought you’d never say spilling from your lips.
But here you are, ready to pull your hair out! You’re not sure how you even got to this point or how to find your way out of the rut. So you make promises to yourself to keep your cool, to be more patient, to practice deep breathing techniques. Only to pick up the pieces after you’ve blown it… one more time. You know you are capable of so much more than just “holding it together,” but you just can’t seem to get there.
I grew up being really good at following rules.
As a child (and even as a young adult), I really struggled with having grace for people who either didn’t or couldn’t follow the rules. Kids who did poorly or misbehaved in school, my younger sister who was less “shiny” than I was, non-believers, or even people who just didn’t have it as “together” as I thought they should — I was outwardly humble, but inside I looked down on them with condescension and self-righteousness. Why couldn’t they just follow these simple rules?
At a recent ski meet I found myself twice in tears for people I’ve never met. The first time was when a young competitor “skied out,” meaning he missed a gate and was disqualified from the race. Nearby his parents gasped and grew visibly angry.
I understand being upset by my kids’ failures. We want what’s best for our kids and when they hurt, for better or worse, we tend to hurt with them when they make mistakes. But these parents weren’t just hurt. They were angry. I later learned that when they met their son following the race they scolded him, saying things like, “Do you know how much we spent to be here! Can’t you concentrate for just one minute?! What is wrong with you!”
We’re excited to share with you the story of Kyle*, a child who has struggled with perfectionism and explosive anger, and his mom, Brenda. After reading Discipline That Connects, and considering how she might approach Kyle’s behavioral challenges differently than in the past, Brenda decided to make a change in her discipline. Brenda was able to more effectively teach about grace and good behavior by looking at Kyle’s strengths–in the midst of his weaknesses. We were blessed to hear her amazing solution — and we know you will be, too!
Our son Kyle was an intense perfectionist – hard on himself and others. His big emotions would erupt in strong, hurtful, or colorful words. After such an explosion Kyle would be engulfed by a tsunami of remorse and shame. “I’m a bad kid! Nobody will ever like me. I’m going to hell because that’s where bad people go!” If we tried to console him by contradicting this terrible self-hatred he would yell “Shut up!!” and run to his room.
When God decided which of his children would be key leaders he avoided the step-in-line, shiny-looking ones. In fact, when we look in scripture at some well-known “Bible heroes,” we see that God chose some serious screwups to guide his precious people:
- Moses – Impulsively murdered an Egyptian man. Went on the lam for 40 years.
- Saul/Paul – Determined to destroy the church at all costs. Orchestrated the arrest, persecution, and even murder of Christians.
- Peter – A short-fused poster child for impulsivity. Biggest disciple screw-up. Told Jesus five times that he was wrong.
Two murderers and an ADHD poster child. Not exactly a crew that we would expect to give spiritual leadership seminars or impress the religious elite.
Why did God choose them? Because all the intensity and passion behind their “misbehavior” could be re-directed for Kingdom purposes.
It was every parent’s nightmare – over two hours at the allergist’s office with three young children. The kids and I all took turns alternately getting poked for blood draws, scratched all over our backs and arms for allergy testing, and puffing to check breath levels for asthma. The results? A bountiful diagnosis of asthma and allergies for everyone, with many allergies rated 4+ on the 0-4 scale.
The markers and paper I had brought along lost their appeal about 20 minutes into the two hour process, as my stress level rose to about a 6 on the 0-4 scale!
At parenting workshops we often ask the question, “What is the goal of your discipline?” The basic answer we most commonly hear is best summarized like this: “To make bad behavior stop and to teach immediate obedience.”
In Hebrews 12:10-11 the Bible gives us a different vision for discipline. We’re told “God disciplines us…in order that we may share in his holiness” and so that “later on (there will be) a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
Do you catch this? God’s discipline is not intended to have immediate results, and those results are not about right behavior but about God’s righteousness and peace. Imagine how things might be different with your children if every time you disciplined them, your goal was for them to experience God’s holiness, with an eye for God’s righteousness and peace.
Recently I attended a family reunion. We did lots of catching up, including reminiscing over family memories. A conversation that continued to pop up over the weekend was prompted by the question, “What is the maddest you ever saw your mom/dad?” Some people shared memorable stories of pure rage, like one relative who, after saying “Shut up!” to his mom as a teenager, had his father’s hands gripped around his neck with the understanding that he had a choice to pack his bags or show his mom the respect she deserved.
Some people shared touching, heart-felt stories of undeserved grace, like another relative who hid in the closet for what seemed like hours after she broke a lamp while building a fort in her living room. She was terrified of what her parents’ reaction would be — but felt so relieved when her parents responded to her clear remorse with gracious kindness.
When kids act up, it’s a parent’s job to guide them through the difficulty. But kids’ trouble often pushes parents’ buttons. Need for control? Push. Desire for quick fixes? Push. Anxiety about what’s gonna happen with this demanding kid? Push. Inconvenient timing? Push.
The kids get treated as if they’re the only ones in trouble — but in fact, their parents are in trouble too. It’s a different kind of trouble. Harder to solve. But trouble nonetheless.