Do you sometimes feel stuck in a self-condemning “pit of discouragement,”? Saying things like, “I just need to be more patient.” “I sure wish I could control my temper.” “I need to be less angry….”
Beneath statements like these is usually an urgent but unspoken belief that “If I can get this right, I’ll feel ok about my parenting.” This is like starting from a deficit… just trying to get to zero. That’s how I (Lynne) felt a lot as a parent in the early days. Feeling okay about my parenting rarely happened. It was the main reason I felt stuck! Every time I parented out of my discouragement I dug another shovel scoop deeper into the very “pit” I wanted to climb out of!
Parents often have condemning, discouraging thoughts about their children too: “Her meltdowns need to stop!” “He just needs to start caring about his homework!” “That child is never going to learn!” Kids take in parents’ judgments, even if unspoken, and get more discouraged. Every anxious “I’m not good enough, I need to try harder” effort by parents or kids digs the pit deeper, and interferes with learning.
What’s really true about you and your kids?
“Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” Romans 8:34
Let that sink in. Who condemns you?
No matter what your emotions tell you, you are not starting from a deficit working hard just to be “accepted.” Ditch the discouraging lie of “need to!” Remember that Jesus is in you and with you as you lead your family in a grace-filled learning journey. And that’s something you can begin to build your identity on: We are a family of learners!!
We hope these cartoons encourage you if you’ve felt like you’re “in the pit” with your parenting.
Four ideas to make a “learner-identity” practical
The following ideas can bring joy and wisdom as you lean into God’s grace, and learn together.
1. Talk about God’s grace.
Discuss the drawings above with your kids. (1-page printable version here) Be clear about the “bedrock” of our total acceptance in Jesus. In the tough times, say an angry “No!” to the “pit of discouragement!” – it’s a tool of the Accuser. Ask yourself, “What would God say to me right now?” and imagine his gentle, compassionate smile. As appropriate, share what you’ve learned with your family.
2. Build identity as learners.
When anyone messes up, you can remind each other: the goal is not perfection, the goal is learning. Learn this phrase together, “We are a family of learners, and God is teaching us how to love each other!” Philippians 1:6, 1 Thessalonians 4:9, Romans 8:34 For a deeper dive, see this article that addresses when your child hates himself, or this article about God’s unconditional love also.
3. Have fun with learning!
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Roleplay. This is a favorite among coaching clients. You can roleplay a common family challenge (with silly exaggeration) and ask your kids for advice about how to get to the car, calm down, share toys, make a better decision, etc. Pretend to be the bumbling parent that can’t remember how kids are supposed to get ready for bed, pick up toys, etc. Kids’ “learning language” is play, and when they give you advice it will increase their self-confidence and performance. Kids are more likely to follow their own advice as they “set you straight” for playfully messing up.
Memorize a few short and sweet “wisdom phrases” as a family, like:
- Accidents happen. Let’s learn from this one.
- Honor the privilege – keep the privilege.
- People are more important than things.
- There’s a kind way to say everything (so we can “speak the truth in love.”)
- I’m not worried. We’ll figure this out.
- Everybody is learning!
Explore the book of Proverbs. The book of Proverbs is full of wisdom. Pick a verse (examples Proverbs 4:23) and talk about the meaning over a meal or at bedtime.
Make the learning fun and full of grace, and use the wisdom phrases to “correct” yourself sometimes! Then you can begin to gently, affectionately use these phrases when challenges happen. A great resource for developing a “growth mindset” * about learning, especially if you add some biblical perspective to it, is biglifejournal.com, with resources for all ages of kids.
*Growth mindset is a term originally coined by Child Psychologist Carol Dweck and popularized by numerous authors. Our use of the term is most closely informed by her work.
4. Celebrate any progress!
Another idea to build a growth mindset as a family is to ask everyone, “What did you learn, or when did you make a wise choice today?” Other questions are, “How was that helpful?” Or, “How did you do that?” (Dinner or bedtime is a great time to do this!) One parent stated, “The phrase, ‘You’re really growing in…’ is an incredibly effective tool even when it’s not my child’s natural inclination. It recognizes growth, not demanding perfection.”
I think that I spent a lot of time focused on that pit of discouragement, hanging onto my “shame shovel” with a white-knuckled grip! With that focus, I couldn’t see the solid rock identity that God was inviting me to stand on. Shame and discouragement held me back from the freedom and courage to be an imperfect and amazing mom, growing every day with my kids, taught by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
One of our “wisdom phrases” is “Everybody is learning!” It’s really sweet because my kids have said it to me too when I’d lost sight of God’s grace. The contrast between discouragement and grace-filled freedom to learn has been profound in my family. We’ve grown so much more as we lean into God’s grace and guidance right in the middle of messy, challenging life!
(You can also hear Lydia on Episode 76 of the Connected Families Podcast titled, “How to Be Safe for Your Kids”.)
Stand firm as a family of learners
This year you will likely face many struggles in parenting and beyond. We hope this article equips you to not only build a growth mindset as a family, but to climb out of the “pit of discouragement” with its barrage of “need to’s and shoulds…” Stand firm on your rock-solid, grace-filled identity as a “Family of Learners, Taught by God!” and see what happens!
What are your parenting strengths?
You’ve got them. Knowing your strengths will help you become the best parent you can be. Knowing your parenting challenges is useful information too. Take our FREE ASSESSMENT.