In which I am learning to parent like God parents me

(Anne on baking day, luxuriating in chocolate cake-y goodness out of the bowl.)

I was listening a few months ago to a podcast I quite enjoy (read: it’s life-transforming) called The God Journey. They had two back-to-back episodes with Danny and Sheri Silk to discuss their new book “Loving Our Kids On Purpose” and the principles of it (Part 1 and Part 2, for those interested.) And can I be honest?

It kind of rocked my world. It reminded me a lot of another favourite of mine, Grace Based Parenting but the podcast format, the conversation, really stuck with me.
The premise is that instead of looking to techniques or tactics for raising our children, we should look to this: we need to parent our children the way that God parents us.
(Now this has plenty of room for disaster in my opinion because most people have a very screwed up view of God. Most people see him as either mad all the time or sad all the time. Some people focus way too much on the sovereignty issue or the obedience thing. They expect the heavy hand of the wrath of God, the judge who sacrifices his own Son and demands total obedience. A life filled with narrowness and “Do not” commands. They fear God or they avoid him, they ignore him or they stifle him because they do not know him. If you knew him, really knew him, oh, you would be compelled by love for him.
But this is off my point. Which isn’t surprising if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time. Ahem.)
We practice a lot of the behaviours of Attachment Parenting. Why? Because that is where God has lead us. I saw a lot of the practices of this – like breast-feeding, baby-wearing, co-sleeping, gentle weaning etc. – as having a motivation of unconditional love, of servanthood.
When I think about how God parents me, how Jesus loves me, it’s not behaviour modification focused (just getting me to Behave Right). It’s about my heart, it’s about the how not the what. I certainly experience the consequences of my decision but sin is usually its own punishment.
Do I want quaking instant obedience? Marionettes of fear? Or do I want their heart knit to mine, obedience out of love and understanding, a connection of joy and gentleness, self-control, kindness, wholeness and love?
We heard a fantastic message at church on Sunday about recognizing the voice of God. Honestly, you may want to just give it a listen (once they have it up, I’ll post the link) but the gist of it is that God’s voice is
sounds like the Bible,
is peaceful, steadfast, reliable, single-minded,
glorifying to Jesus which leads me to more like Him,
and convicting rather than condemning.
Any one of those things make me think, make me reflective about how I parent my children so that it lines up. I want the way I speak to them and parent them to be all of those things.
I yearn for the way that I parent my children to lead them to Abba. I want to be a path that they walk with confidence instead of a barrier or stumbling block.
Practically, here’s the thing where it recently came up with Anne in regards to discipline.
We don’t strike our children in any way – no spanking, no slapping, no flicking. I also try not to scream and yell. It’s not hard for me because I hate screaming and yelling. Some people find it satisfying but for me, whenever I hear screaming, I just retreat and shut down. I can’t handle it. It wounds some part of my soul and I can’t function with screaming. So even though I can occasionally lose my temper with the tinies, I am not much of a screamer.
Which means that most of the Traditional Arsenal for Discipline was lost to me. Rats.
How do you make your kids mind if you aren’t spanking or screaming?
I tried time-outs for the last few years. For the most part, it “worked” in that it stopped the behaviours I didn’t like. But my heart would break for Anne. She would cry and cry in her room, devastated to be far away from us. She would come out, red-eyed and hiccuping, apologetic. Recently, she seemed unable to cope with time-outs. I would march her to room, inform her that until she could behave properly, she had to stay in here alone. And then she would lose it over the isolation from her family. Screaming, flinging herself on the floor, crying wildly. It was awful. It was breaking her heart. It wasn’t a major display of temper (I know what that looks like….trust me). It was that her heart couldn’t handle this. And every time I had to discipline her with a time-out, it got worse and worse. I would go in and yell – yell! me! – to STOP IT and SETTLE DOWN and STOP IT. She would cry louder and it would just continue to escalate.
I was praying and thinking about what else to do when I heard that podcast I mentioned above. They mentioned that they don’t like time-outs much because it isn’t what God does. After all, the Father never leaves us or forsakes us. When we run from him, he stays close, waiting. He uses love to reconcile. So instead of time-outs, if it’s not working or hurting your child, try a “time-in.”
It was like in the old cartoons when the light bulb went on over my head.
(As a sidenote, Anne is no longer in daycare. That is a post coming up this week. But part of this issue is related to the behaviours, exhaustion and attitudes that she was bringing home.) The next day, she pushed her brother hard. He was playing with something she wanted to play with and rather than share, she gave him the old-heave-ho. He started crying and it just began to escalate as she tried to shush him up. She disobeyed my repeated insistence to stop. So I marched her to her room as usual for time out. And again, she freaked out. So this time, I put Joseph in his high chair with some Cheerios and went into her room.
She couldn’t get a grip on herself. She was sobbing and screaming. I sat on the floor and pulled her to me. I didn’t say anything, just pulled her close and held her tightly. She was twitching and sobbing but allowed me to hold her. I sang quietly to her and prayed. She quieted down in seconds. Then we sat together, just hanging on for a while while she pulled herself together. We prayed together that she would learn to obey the first time and not hit her brother. She was repentant and tired. She got up and went out to Joseph and apologised. Then we continued on our day without any more incidents.
Since that day, we haven’t had as many issues. And when we do, that’s my cue to slow down, love her and see the issue. After all, tinies aren’t all that different than us. Doing wrong is usually just an illegitimate way to meet a legitimate need. Her needs are usually legitimate, it’s just that she wasn’t finding the right way to meet that need.
Plus we were able to identify some things about Anne and her personality through this. She is desperate for quality time with her family. She could care less about gifts and other methods. She wants time from us. And when she is getting enough time, it’s like her little Love Tank is so full that there is no acting out, no angst from her. The isolation or cutting her off from those she loves most was simply too much for her heart. And, like God, I want to react with limitless tenderness for her.
I don’t know what I’ll do with Joseph. That’s one nice thing about God; he doesn’t parent any of us the exact same way in terms of tactics. So I may not do the same things with him. We’ll see. But the heart is always the same: unconditional love, grace and an invitation to true life, lived in wholeness.
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  • Mary

    Nice Stuff. Liberty is the same way….her love language is quality time by far. She will even say “I want us to spend time together.” or the one that makes me wince, hard: “you don’t spend enought time with me.”

    • Sarah Bessey

      Isn’t it amazing that you can spot their little love languages so early?

  • gilliebean

    This post (like many others) brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for this image of God’s parental love.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Thanks, Gillian! So happy to “see” you here! It’s been years but I visited your site and it looks like things are going really well for you. So glad to reconnect!

  • Karen

    Parenting is the hardest job in the world, definitely. But I totally agree with what you’ve written. I’ve experienced many different personalities in my dc (9 of them so far) and know that loving the way God does, with no separation from His love, wins over all the other techniques.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Wow! 9! You should be writing this, Karen, not me! You are so right about love winning out over techniques.

  • Megan@SortaCrunchy

    Hey Sarah – I’ve had this post open for the past day, just trying to carve out time to get to it.

    First of all, thank you for the link. It blesses my heart to know that anyone would ever find resonance in what God is doing in my heart about this parenting stuff.

    Secondly, more importantly, I have to tell you that I had the EXACT SAME EXPERIENCE happen with our oldest and time-outs. The isolation of time-outs leading to a meltdown, me getting flustered and desperate for a solution, asking God what should I do, and hearing Him prompt me with the exact same response – how does He respond when I melt down? Does He send me away? No. He draws me close. I’ve been trying to do this more and more in the face of meltdowns, and I can see a definite change in Dacey’s heart.

    Now. She is four and a half and is going through some difficult behavior things right now, and it’s not always peace and harmony when I correct her. That part still stinks. But God is ever, EVER bringing to mind exactly what you have written here . . . how can I parent the way He does?

    This is an incredible post and I am just blown away to hear that God is doing such similar works in our hearts and homes.

    • Sarah Bessey

      It’s getting a bit eerie, Megan. I am so glad that your wee girl is a year older. Gives me a chance to learn from you guys. Ha!

  • Molly

    I love this: “that’s my cue to slow down, love her and see the issue. After all, tinies aren’t all that different than us. Doing wrong is usually just an illegitimate way to meet a legitimate need. Her needs are usually legitimate, it’s just that she wasn’t finding the right way to meet that need.”

    I grew up in non-denominational, charismatic circles, but my upbringing was very different. Long spankings, lots of guilt, fear, praying “over” us instead of praying “with” us. It has driven me away from the church to a degree, I must admit, but this is a beautiful way of describing how God draws us near and how we can do the same for our kids. I had not made that mental connection before, ‘though it bears witness with my heart!!

    • Sarah Bessey

      Hi, Molly! You are so right about “over” vs. “with”…those of us that are from the charismatic circles of the 80s have definitely seen some abuses and weird stuff. But God always draws us near. You are so right!

  • Ladette

    Beautiful post Sarah… I love it!! All 5 of my children are different and require different displays of love and different disciplines… it’s amazing when you find what’s right for them!

  • Genny Heikka

    Found you through Stephanie’s blog, Metropolitan Mama. So glad I did! You have a beautiful heart. I love how you talk about unconditional love and grace! :)

  • Stephanie

    Beautifully written, Sarah! We have a very similar perspective when it comes to parenting/discipline/instruction. We want to parent gently, kindly, from the heart.

    I especially like this part: “She wants time from us. And when she is getting enough time, it’s like her little Love Tank is so full that there is no acting out, no angst from her.” So often, kids act out because they don’t receive the quality time and touch that they so desperately crave. A little bit of love and attention goes a very long way toward encouraging good behavior.

  • Amanda

    Sarah, I just found your blog through a weekly link and I’m about to add you to my reader.  Your values line up so closely with mine.  I have a 21 month old and I believe so strongly in gentle parenting.  I’m just having a hard time knowing how to do it with such a young child.  In another post you metion having too high of expectations for your daughter, but I think mine are often too low.  I’m constatly surprised by what he understands.  We’re just now getting to a point where he’s misbehaving a bit-and not really misbehaving just being so persistant about things-like light switches or stuff he’s not supposed to have, that I grow weary.  Do you have any recommendations for books or methods to try with toddlers?  I know that some of my problem is the fact that I’m so tired that I’m more impatient that is really appropriate.  I’m also desperate for some personal renewal and so I’m not practicing servanthood, but rather trying to steal any moment of personal satisfaction from a day that I can, often to the detriment of my son.  I’m going to check out some of the books you linked to recently.  My problem isn’t my convictions, my heart is in the right place, I’ve just got to find the will to move.