O'FALLON, Ill. (BP) - It is inevitable, you know. Those precious babies melt your heart, and then one day they break it.
Disclaimer: I am an empty-nester, and I was by no means a perfect parent of perfect children in drawing some conclusions from my years of parenting. Knowing that parenting as a team is crucial, my husband took an active role. While many decisions naturally occurred when he was not home, we vowed to have a united front no matter who was leading the way.
We have four children. Two boys and two girls, each one very different. Same DNA from their parents, no drastic differences in their adolescent years, yet distinctively different in personality and perspective in our family unit. While birth order and gender differences account for some of the distinctions, they also account for some of the shared similarities (common memories, shared experiences and even family jokes that only we would understand!).
Two siblings (one boy and one girl) tend to be analytical and often see the world as black and white. You would think, as is often the case, that they would be the "rule-keepers." While this is true for the most part, it wasn't a standard that either could live up to. They taught me to be realistic and to be careful about setting reasonable goals for all of my children.
While the oldest child may be tagged the rule-keeper, the middle child might be labeled as the precocious one. My middle daughter is what I would call "spunky," but truth be told, every child will try to bend and break the rules at some point along the way. It became obvious -- long before they were teenagers -- that each of them would make detrimental decisions -- some that they clearly thought through and others, well, not so much. Learning to be patient and to not overreact when a child makes a bad choice, I saw the benefit of staying calm and loving, yet firm. As a general rule, modeling self-control goes a long way in resolving a conflict.
I knew that it was futile to pray that my children would not mess up. It doesn't take long to discover that you don't have to teach a 2-year-old to climb too high, touch something off-limits or even kick the dog. I decided early on that I would not allow this futility to frustrate me, so I prayed - not that they wouldn't make a mistake - but that they would get caught when they did!
That was one prayer they didn't like so much. But I wasn't just praying for them to get caught so I could punish them. I believe strongly that children need to be disciplined, and that part of our God-given responsibility as parents is to train them to make choices that are good and right.
There is no joy in seeing your child mess up - or in having to decide what type of discipline would be of most benefit in a particular situation. The desire of a parent's heart should be to help them see the consequences of their mistake - and most of all, to learn from it. Yet the joy does come! It comes when they look you in the eye and say, "I'm sorry, Mommy," or when you see them responding in a way that shows true repentance. Watching them humbly make restitution to a sibling they have wronged will melt your heart.
Despite the differences in each of our children, I believe these five principles can apply to any child of any age whenever they make a mistake:
1. Stop and pray.
While a toddler might need immediate intervention for his/her own safety, what I'm referring to here is when you discover a misstep and realize that you have to correct it. It might only be a prayer quickly breathed before you have to jump into action, or it could be that you need time on your knees to get God's perspective and wisdom. I've done both. The important thing is that you respond -- not react.
As we read in James 1:5: "Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God -- who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly -- and it will be given to him."
2. Take action.
After you decide the appropriate way to handle the situation, be clear, be consistent and be kind. While there may be feelings of anger, be sure to keep them under control and focused on the action -- not the child.
Proverbs 15:1: "A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath."
There is no greater demonstration of a parent's love for their child than when they forgive an offense, especially if the child has harmed you personally by insult or assumption. We demonstrate our heavenly Father's agape love most vividly when we take them in our arms and reassure them of our love for them.
Colossians 3:12-13: "Therefore, as God's chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive."
I know you can't remove the memories of the past, but you can LET. THEM. GO. Don't remind them of past mistakes. Don't use idle threats of "If you ever do this again...." Every offense has its own consequence. Don't let the consequence be that you will bring it up time and time again and remind them of their failures constantly. Aren't you glad God isn't like that?
Psalm 103:11-13: "For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his faithful love toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him."
One of the best ways to get past the pain of an indiscretion is to focus on something positive. It is said that the ratio of positive comments to negative should be 5:1. In other words, let your negative words be few and be sure to reaffirm them with positive alternatives. When you choose to focus on the good and the right, you give them the tools they need to make better decisions in the future.
Philippians 4:8: "Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable -- if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy -- dwell on these things."
Being a parent is the most difficult and most rewarding responsibility on the planet. While every child is different, and even the circumstances surrounding their choices can influence the decisions they make, we have an obligation to do our part in being prepared for those moments that we know are coming.
When your adorable little Timmy or sweet little Tammy suddenly turn rebellious, you had better be on your knees asking God for wisdom and direction. Not every child will respond the way you want, and often you won't see immediate results from your laborious attempt to plant and water and prune seeds of righteousness, but I can assure you that standing on the principles of God's Word you will see fruit in due season.
My babies are having babies now and I can honestly tell you that they are great parents. I can only pray that they learned from what I did right -- and what I did wrong. With confidence I can say that I tried. I begged God for wisdom before they were ever born, and trusted Him to guide them, convict them and correct them - and to show me what my part was in all of it.
You cannot be your child's Holy Spirit, but you can be their prayer warrior. Be encouraged today. You are not alone. You are not perfect and neither is your child. That's why we need the Lord. He is the ultimate authority on parenting, and He loves them even more than you do!