Sometimes it takes a living, breathing experience to influence how we think about interactions with our children. The Connected Families model of stop and breathe helped me to understand that, as a father, if I desire obedience from my child, I should resist the urge to control their behavior and instead look for connection with my child’s heart. Read my story below for insight about how to apply this principle and see how mindful parenting (after I learned the hard way) really works.
It was the first warm day of spring in Minnesota, which usually means MUD.
The ground was still soggy from the snow melt, but the air was clean and fresh and the flowers were just beginning to peek through the soil. I was outside with two of our three kids and they were enjoying one of the great experiences of childhood: puddle jumping.
Enter our oldest child onto the scene. Shelbi had a number of qualities attributed to many oldest children: leadership, organization, rule-follower and in Shelbi’s case, generally cooperative — which is what made it all the more surprising when she came outside wearing her nice new pants and shirt.
In a rather annoyed tone, I said, “Shelbi, what are you doing wearing your new clothes outside? What is the rule about clothes and playing outdoors?” She gave me a glare, paused and then in a regimented tone replied, “Don’t wear new clothes outside to play?” Yes, I had obviously taught her well, but she wasn’t obeying. I said harshly, “Then go inside and change your clothes.” She was obviously upset, but so was I. How dare she come outside, knowing the rules, wearing pristine new clothes in a muddy yard?
Maybe 5 minutes later, Shelbi reappeared, this time with a different shirt but still wearing her brand new pants. That was it! I had had enough. I said impatiently, “Go inside and change your pants! You know better than that.” I felt justified in my reaction. That girl needed to be taught a lesson and my shaming tone and anger was going to do it!
Then it hit me, “What’s going on here? What is she really wanting or needing from me?” I was obviously not “winning her heart” although I was slowly “winning her obedience”. I asked the Lord for wisdom and the ability to connect.
What once was “justified” anger with a subtle goal of controlling my daughter’s behavior was now a tender moment of restoration and affirmation. As I stepped back and invited the Lord to give me a new perspective on what was happening, I discovered that “winning her heart” trumps “winning her obedience.” When I have won my child’s heart, her desire to obey will come from a desire to please me rather than a fear of disobeying me. Not only that, but when I focus on winning her heart, instead of missing the boat because of my anger and need for immediate control, I learn to listen to what she is actually saying.When Shelbi came back out the third time, she was wearing the appropriate attire. I approached her softly while kneeling to look into her eyes and said, “What’s going on, Shelbi? Is there something you are trying to tell me? Have I hurt you in some way?” With tears in her eyes, she offered, “You always tell Mommy how pretty she is, but you never tell me.” My heart broke as I took her into my arms and told her how pretty she was and assured her of my love for her. My daughter was trying to tell me something in her “misbehavior”, and I had almost missed it because of my anger.
Apply it now:
- What is an “unreasonable” challenging behavior of one of your children?
- What might be a valid need for love, affection, or healthy independence that might be driving it?
- How might you talk to them on a heart level about that?
Chad Hayenga has been married twenty-five years and has three daughters ages 23, 20 and 16. Chad has spent over 20 years ministering to teens and families as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Certified Life Coach, and speaker. Chad’s desire is that families would understand God’s purposes for their lives and seek to live out that purpose in creative and faith-filled ways.
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