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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Anne, discipline, faith, parenting, spanking
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