B doesn’t happen until A does. It’s advice I read in this dog-eared parenting book that I’ve kept next to my bed for years.
Last week A was “Do your chores.”
B was “Hey, Mom, can I go to my friend’s party?”
Ah, a parenting equation. It was simple. But it was hard.
Because really, it wasn’t about A, B or C; it was a battle of wills. Most parenting moments like these are about control. But I learned a long time ago, it’s better to give our strong-willed kids the power of choice.
I’m not as hardcore as that worn book told me I should be. (Say it once and let the consequences fall where they may). No, I reminded and encouraged every time I walked past my child all day long. Because I wanted them to go to the party. I was in their corner cheering them on, “You can do it!”
But when it came down to it, there were two things working here: 1. My child simply didn’t want to clean and 2, I’m pretty sure they didn’t believe I would follow through on B.
And that’s when it gets hard for those of us dishing out all those alphabet letters.
Because we’ve drawn a line in the sand and the ball is in our court: Will we follow through or will we give in?
As the clock ticked, the chores remained undone and my kid seemed to get more excited about the party. I wavered between being sad and mad. I reminded myself that this wasn’t my choice. But I’d stood on this ledge before and I knew there wouldn’t be any winners here.
I will spare you the gory details- but there wasn’t a party and those chores finally were completed because someone understood that parents mean what they say.
But just between us, it will go down as one of my hardest parenting days. I will also remember it as a good one. Not because my kid lost something they really wanted. That was hard on both of us, but because they learned an important life truth: Choices have an effect on consequences in my life. Oh, and momma means business.
Just look around at our culture, we have schools-from preschool to universities- filled with kids who didn’t have consequences for their actions and they have a hard time functioning when natural ones are doled out for bad behavior and lack of good choices.
Standing our ground in parenting is hard. But it is so important. Because what we do now-when we give in too soon or too often, affects our kids for a very long time.
They are pulling against us and the older they get, the harder they pull. We can’t let go. We have to stand firm.
What Is Bad Parenting Anyway?
It’s basically when parents don’t make decisions that are in the best interest of their children—this ranges from not meeting basic needs to complete overindulgence.
My husband told me about a conversation with our son. I heard the uncertainty in his words, the way his sentences ended with a question mark. I listened to the voice of a father who loves deeply but feels inadequate when he can’t protect his children from hurt.
I responded with reassuring words and reminded him he was enough. And then I gave voice to my concern over our daughters, my own self-doubt, and mom guilt. I forced down a sob when I said the words, “this parenting thing is so hard.”
I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
And so we did the only thing we could think of-the only thing that really works, we prayed for our children together and fell asleep with their names on our lips, tangled arms, and legs, in this together.
We have great kids-there’s no subliminal message here, but they are human and they push for freedom we aren’t ready to give, they say things that hurt, they are wounded by friends, and face discouragement and failure. So, basically, we’re all a big human mess.
And we’re navigating this journey together, sometimes it’s loud and riveted with pain and it’s always messy.
During a particularly challenging day in which my entire clan was angry at me, I felt like God dropped this truth in my heart and now I’ve got a death grip on it:
Hard parenting doesn’t mean bad parenting. If often reflects good parenting.
Let’s face it, we’re sinners raising little sinners. That’s a whole lot of flesh. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. And sometimes when it gets hard, it’s because they are fighting against us and ultimately God. And sometimes it’s just plain hard because it’s normal.
Hey you-yes you, that child who refuses to sleep and the one that sucks the very breath out of the room with her drama, that’s normal.
Here Are 4 Bad Parenting Signs (and How to Change for Good)
1. Refusing to let your kids be themselves.
I’ll never forget when my son was in the fourth grade. He came home one day, stood in the kitchen, and delivered this verbal blow: “I’m the weird one, Mom.”
I grabbed his hand, the one with marker stains and chewed fingernails, and refuted his words. “There’s nothing weird about you!”
Then he opened up his heart, admitting how different he felt from most of the other boys his age at school who were using cuss words and bullying other students in an effort to look tough.
My son has always been sensitive, but before I could chalk it up to his tender personality, he said, “It’s hard being a Christian. It makes me odd.”
I felt my own tears press hot against my lids. I closed my eyes and remembered the feeling of alienation, the one I lived with growing up. I couldn’t discount my son’s words or his pain; I knew they were true. He just seemed so young to feel them.
“Were you ever the weird one, Mom?”
I told him my own stories, “I put the w in weird, honey.” We laughed, and I whispered words of encouragement and prayed. I reminded him that we are called to be the strangers of this world, to follow a narrow road, to live in a way that’s countercultural.
I think it’s important to include grace in this conversation for the times our kids end up making a wrong choice or following the crowd.
“We don’t expect you to be perfect. We know there will be pressure to give in, but we all learn from our mistakes. And we’ll love you no matter what.”
His response struck a deep chord in me that day. “I know I can fit in. I just don’t want to.” It’s been more than five years since that conversation. There have been failures along the way. But he knows in his heart that although being different is hard, it’s also okay.
2. Not apologizing.
My husband and I have made countless mistakes in this parenting journey.
We’ve been too strict when we should have offered grace. We’ve been too lenient when we should have given consequences. We have blundered and we have hurt our kids. Even unintentional pain is still pain.
Apologizing is a critical part of good parenting.
And sometimes the best way to teach our kids how to apologize is to lead by example. I tend to talk too much, and I’m really good at telling my kids what to do. As they’ve gotten older, I’ve realized they know how I feel on almost every subject, and there comes a time when I just need to hush and listen.
We don’t have to apologize for the why as much as the how. I’m not sorry for wanting grateful kids instead of entitled ones. I am not sorry for believing in and teaching my kids absolute truth. But I am sorry for how I go about it at times, how controlling I can be, how my words wound.
3. Failing to listen.
“You just don’t understand!” I’ve heard these words said in frustration and anguish by my kids on more than one occasion.
And my temptation is to respond, “Yes, I do. I understand.” But if I’m honest with myself, even though we can empathize with our kids, we aren’t walking in their shoes. We can’t imagine how times have changed since we were their age. We don’t understand the pressure to conform or give in.
I remember the first time I didn’t give that pat answer to my teen daughter. We were in a heated discussion about her responsibility to manage her time and keep up with her chores in the middle of a very hectic marching band season.
“Mom, you have no idea,” she said. “You just don’t understand.”
My automatic response was on the tip of my tongue but I said, “You’re right. Help me understand. I want to try.”
We had a great conversation, and I ended up understanding more of the pressure she was feeling. Instead of telling her again to clean up her room, I helped her.
There will be times we simply don’t understand what our kids are going through.
But that doesn’t mean we are unable to help them. Any attempt goes a long way.
4. Solving all their problems.
“You are not alone.”
These four words are some the most important ones we can say to our kids, from the first time they experience toddler separation anxiety until we move them into their first apartment.
We all know that at some point in their lives they will, in fact, be physically alone. Being alone isn’t a bad thing, but it can be scary, especially for young kids.
When we drop them off at preschool, we whisper in their ears, “It’s okay. I will be back. I promise,” and then high-five the other moms in the parking lot. We know this kind of “being alone from us occasionally” is a good thing.
But when they struggle with being alone, it is the perfect opportunity to introduce the truth that Jesus always is with them, so they understand that even in times of separation from us, they are never truly alone.
As our kids grow, most of them seem to want time away from us. What they are actually looking for is space. They don’t want us to leave them completely alone, even when they are seventeen, slam their door, and scream, “Leave me alone!” This is when our kids especially need to hear these words because they are probably feeling vulnerable and as if they are the only ones in the world facing their present struggles.
We can hold fast to the promise in Deuteronomy 31:6 that we should remind our kids—and ourselves—often: “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (esv).
We can say to our kids: Not only is God with you, but we are too—our family—you, me, us. We are a team and we will journey this road, navigate the bumps, and overcome the obstacles together.
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