Sometimes it’s his ADHD that stirs all that silt up inside me, making everything cloudy.
Or it could be that perfect cocktail of hormones (that would be mine). Or, and I cringe just typing it, mom’s long day meets her lack of sleep meets son’s embarrassing lack of self-control in front of mom’s friends in living, searing color.
The temptation? Shame. Both mine, and mine welded on to him.
Our own shame is…hard to forget, I think. I still carry some of those moments, picked up from various places decades ago. They settle like stones in my gut when I remember.
I may not be the type of mom to shame in public. But at home, in the throes of a child’s blatant disrespect or repeated disobedience—sometimes the line between shame and appropriate guilt feels smudged and gray.
I’ve explored more fervently lately the links between what researchers dub “guilt exposure” and—get this—toxic parenting. Maybe that whiffs of 21st century melodrama at first blush. But Dr. Brene Brown writes poignantly,
Knowing shame is positively correlated with addiction, depression, aggression, violence, eating disorders, and suicide, and that guilt is inversely correlated with these outcomes, we naturally would want to raise children who use more guilt self-talk than shame.
Funny thing is, I think most times shame-based parenting feels like we’re being loving. Like we’re communicating our vigilance of care, like we’re fiercely protecting their character or even our family’s honor, like we’re setting an example of illustrious motherhood.
But maybe our kids are getting a different message: You are unacceptable to me right now.
To boil it down to a sentence, shame (“toxic”) -parenting disconnects us from our kids because of their behavior. This isn’t the same as a natural broken relationship because of wrongdoing. Instead, Brown writes, kids pick up that at those times, they’re unworthy to connect.
In those deer-in-the-headlights moments where my kids fall epically short, my natural response is to parent out of my fear: of failure, reputation, expectations, my legitimacy as a parent. (What does this say about me as a parent? A good parent would have a good child, right?! I heart this post on raising difficult kids.)
Romans 15:11 still sets a high bar in my book: Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you. When I was rebelling, God pursued me; worked to close the gap, to restore me. Shaming in our parenting translates into managing behavior through fear or control, rather than kindness leading to repentance, as God does to us. Galatians 6:1 wraps it up pretty well: If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
Sometimes I see the opposite in my (usually reactionary) superiority or disdain forcing my kids’ misbehavior into submission. But if I can set this aside, it’s easier to connect with them in humility (as opposed to steamrolling them because of my fear), in constructive questions about their hearts (as opposed to just zipping up their behavior), in purposefully working together against the problem (as opposed to each other). Instead, we’re moving together toward God; toward restoration.
Honestly—I think I’m less likely to shame if my soul’s satisfied in God, rather than my kids’ good behavior.
…One of those is definitely more reliable than the other.
Eager to learn more? Check out this post: Shame on You? Shame-parenting vs. Guilt Exposure.
Also: Brown, Brene. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Tranforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York: Avery Publishing (2015).