During the last quarter of this year, I decided to slow down with public speaking and ministry in order to recharge, rest, and focus on the family. This was something encouraged by Edric as well.
It was also a new season for me as a mom. Since our eldest son, Elijah, went through puberty and grew taller than me (to nearly Edric’s height), my understanding of parenting a young adult had to grow. I wanted to be present, emotionally and physically, to be able to minister to him as he dealt with the transition into young adulthood. Obviously my role in his transition was secondary to Edric, who modeled (and continues to model) manhood for him.
There were challenges with teaching Tiana as well, which required me to spend more time with her and to study how to be a better homeschool mom. So I dove into books and didn’t do as much writing in my blog. It felt like a time to channel my energies towards my kids, and to commit to be a learner myself — to re-learn how to parent, how to teach, and how to be still in order to spiritually and emotionally feed myself. My endometriosis seemed to be indicative of stress, too, according to my sister doctor, Carolyn, so I had to make lifestyle changes, exercise more, and eat healthier.
Therefore, this past quarter was quiet and enriching for me. I read a number of amazing books and enjoyed the reflection time. Slowing down presented me with many opportunities to observe my kids, pray more intentionally for them, and to adopt a growth mindset. How could I expect my children and other people around me to grow if I didn’t push myself to do the same?
When I look back on 2017, I had two big issues that I wrestled with almost everyday as a mother. The first was how to relate to Elijah, my young adult. I didn’t want to be overbearing but I didn’t want to stop being an influence on his life either. He still needed guidance from me and time with me. On the other spectrum, there was Tiana, who had learning struggles. As a mom, I had to grow in patience because I found myself getting irritated and annoyed more easily this year, and I knew that there was something wrong with my heart whenever I made hurtful comments, snapped at my kids, acted entitled or made them feel like they had disappointed me.
We often blame our weaknesses on circumstances or people but the reality is these only expose what’s really in our hearts. As the Word of God explains, “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” (Luke 6:45)
It was humbling to be confronted by the ugly carnality inside me, the negative emotions that I would feel, and to come before the Lord and admit that I could not raise my kids or teach them without his grace and help. I felt lost at times, overcome by my own frustrations and feeling defeated.
Because I focused so much on what my children were or weren’t doing, I would feel the stress of parenting them and teaching them when confronted by the following challenges:
1. Elijah’s emotional mood swings or outbursts over his studies and his responsibilities.
2. His lack of tact and respect when expressing his opinions when he wasn’t mindful of his tone.
3. Tiana’s short term memory issues that made it difficult for her to retain what she learned.
4. Her continued struggle to grasp concepts as quickly as her siblings.
After reading through Paul David Tripp’s book, Parenting — 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family, these lines revealed that one of my inner-person problems was looking to my children and my homeschooling to affirm my sense of self-worth, which was wrong:
Your children can’t give you life. They can’t give you sturdy hope. They can’t give you worth. They can’t give you peace of heart. They can’t give you right desires and motivation. They can’t give you strength to go on…Jesus is your life, and this frees you and your children from the burden of asking them to give you what your Savior has already given you. (p.79)
The Lord helped me to identify the root cause of my impatience, namely the pressure to “produce” perfect children so I could look like a perfect mother. Once I recognized this, it was easier to stop myself from criticizing my kids or losing my temper.
My streak hasn’t been without times of failure but there have been more by-the-grace-of-God-Almighty-moments where I bridled my tongue because I didn’t want to wound the hearts of my kids and push them away from the Lord. After all, I wanted to raise them to love and follow Him, so why stand in the way of that by not living like someone who loved and followed God herself because I was angry, judgmental, and easily upset?
The temptation to be reactive is ever-present, even in the most casual of circumstances which is why I must always think through what is making me upset and why I am unsettled, remembering that parenting is not about me. It’s about connecting my kids to the Lord.
For instance, just the other day we were practicing singing a hymn in the van. Elijah made one negative comment after another about everyone’s tone, pitch, quality of sound. He started to affect the emotional climate of our family with discouraging statements. More than once he also accused me of being half a note off as I tried to teach them certain songs. “Mom, you’re off. Mom, that’s not the right key. Mom, please don’t sing that part.”
I am so glad I was in the front seat and only Edric could see my facial expressions. I must confess to rolling my eyeballs two or three times and signaling him to address HIS son’s attitude towards me. (You know how children suddenly become your spouse’s child and the possessive pronouns change when you feel upset with them.)
Anyway, I didn’t lash out in anger even if I wanted to “put him in his place.” I felt like turning around in my seat and saying, “Just quit it! Stop talking to me like that. You are being such a nit-picker! It’s upsetting everyone, especially me!”
Instead, I requested that he comment in a more polite way, and Edric and I also told him to consider how his mood was impacting his siblings. If I had talked harshly towards him, he would have felt embarrassed and resentful, which would not have allowed him to sing the hymn with sincerity or praise to the Lord. Thankfully, he recognized that he wasn’t being so respectful towards me and he became more mindful of his words. His attitude also changed.
Like I said, I have experienced this sort of tension with Elijah on various occasions this year. More than using instances like these to help me teach and train my kids, the Lord has taught me that I have a lot of growing to do myself in order to respond with the grace and mercy that He would have me respond with. These two — grace and mercy — produce the daily patience that I need to have.
Recently, I asked Elijah if the way I have dealt with him is working and he said yes. Whew. Thank you, Lord. So here’s what I try my best to do:
1. Give him space to process his feelings. He doesn’t like it when I keep talking or give my input when he is emotional.
2 Ask him to go to a room where he can be alone to pray about what he is going through. This temporarily removes him from the moment of stress to a quieter, calmer place where he can think and speak to the Lord.
3. Act like his shock absorber by cushioning the negativity with positive, encouraging words, as well as praying with him, and giving him lots of hugs. If I allow myself to get emotional, it only exaggerates his own feelings of stress.
Very recently, I told him how much I appreciate him and he responded, “I still like to hear that mom.”
Our young adults need to be affirmed and built up. It matters to them!
What about with Tiana and her learning challenges?
1. Celebrate little victories and commend her for effort. I appreciate that she is trying her best and she is progressing everyday. Everyday that she gets a concept or remembers what she needs to is a milestone to be thankful for!
2. Be very careful about my tone and my facial expressions when I start to feel frustrated. Sometimes this means standing up and leaving the scene to recalibrate my own emotions. I praise God she told me that my tone has improved a lot! Thank you, Lord.
3. Pray for her to keep improving and growing, and for God to help me the best teacher to her (and all my kids).
4. Spend more time building a relationship with her so she knows she is loved, treasured, and special, because she is! She doesn’t have to perform to be loved or accepted by me. And she doesn’t have to compare herself to others because God has a special plan for her life and the gifts He has given her. She’s a beautiful person inside and out!
For all my kids, at all times, I need to be walking closely with the Lord. There is no other antidote to my selfish and hurtful tendencies apart from coming under the control of the Holy Spirit.
“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself. But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another. So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.”
Let me conclude with another excerpt from Tripp’s book that I hope will encourage you as it has me:
Mercy is parenting with a tender heart. Mercy is not taking your children’s failures personally, but viewing their struggles with compassion. Mercy is about blessing your children with your patience. It’s about being as careful to encourage as you are to rebuke. It’s about discipline that is kind and correction that is gentle. Mercy is about being firm and unyielding and loving at the same time. It is about refusing to indulge your irritation and your anger. If you are parenting with mercy, you don’t condemn your children with a barrage of harsh words. If you’re parenting with mercy, you don’t compare your righteousness to your children’s sin, letting them know that their problem is that they’re not like you. Mercy means not allowing your heart to grow bitter or cold. It is about always being ready to forgive, not making your children pay today for the sins of yesterday. Mercy is about moving toward your children with love even in those moments when they don’t deserve your love. Mercy is about being willing to do things over and over again without throwing it into your children’s faces that you have to repeat yourself. It’s about refusing to motivate your children by shame and threat. Here’s what mercy means for your parenting: mercy means that every action, reaction, and response toward your children is tempered and shaped by tenderness, understanding, compassion, and love. Parenting is a life-long mission of humbly, joyfully, and willingly giving mercy. (p.197-198)
We have received much grace and mercy from the Lord, so we, too, have to grow in grace mercy as parents.
“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.” Isaiah 30:18