Do you ever feel like you should know what to do by now with your children? Are you feeling frustrated with yourself that you feel confused about how to proceed in a certain situation as you parent your child?
I sometimes feel that way. After all, I have been intentionally practicing these important relational skills for nearly 20 years now, so I even had an awareness of these skills before I became a parent. I sometimes think to myself, “I teach these skills, for goodness’ sake; shouldn’t I be an expert by now on parenting!?!?”
I recently spoke with a friend who is struggling with how to best respond to her 4-year-old daughter. She has been practicing synchronization and skills for a number of years now, and while her daughter often gives her a run for her money, she has seen a lot of great improvements and growth. And yet, she still frequently encounters moments where she is not sure how to handle the situation. She was feeling frustrated with herself because she “didn’t have it all figured out yet,” and she did not feel confident in her ability to handle some difficult situations as they arose.
She was greatly relieved when I told her the feeling is mutual! I shared how I also struggle with similar feelings. While there are principles and guidelines* that can inform our parenting and guide our actions, the reality is there is no “one size fits all” or “one solution fits all” answer in parenting. Each child is unique. Each day is different. We have to rely on the God who is always with us to walk with us through these difficult moments.
Did you know that in each situation, there are at least 10 to the 184th power x 3.4 options that need to be considered in order to know the right thing to do? (This is a reference from Dr. Jim Wilder’s The Pandora Problem.) This means we cannot figure out the “right thing” to do apart from God’s leading!
I admit this is a concept I struggled with for a long time. It was not easy for me to realize I can’t know the “right thing” to do on my own. However, as I gain more life experience and more years “under my belt” as a parent, it is exceptionally true that when I feel pushed beyond my capacity and turn to Jesus for guidance, He frequently surprises me with an approach I would not have considered before—and this often has surprising results. I like to call this an “Immanuel-Parenting” approach because it is simply parenting that is guided by Immanuel’s comforting presence.
How can we survive and even thrive in the midst of the hardest situations life can throw at us? I believe it takes a strong connection to Jesus, where we consistently seek His perspective on life and relationships, where we follow His leading and receive His comfort and peace regardless of the outcome.
This week, I encourage you to take some time to interact with Jesus about some of the good things in your life (or seek His peace about some of the hard things) and listen for His response. In this way, you will have some practice under your belt for the next time you encounter a situation where you need His guidance. You will be better ready to seek His perspective in the midst of your need for His leading and peace.
*While there is no “one size fits all” solution, it is still valuable to have overarching principles in how we approach parenting our children.
Here are a few of the guiding principles I try to aim for in my parenting:
- Keep my relational circuits on during my interactions with my husband and children. (This means take the proper steps to return to relational mode when I fall out and protect my family from my non-relational “ugliness” when I am offline.)
- Synchronize with my children. Validate their feelings before offering comfort or asking them to recover.
- Support my children by teaching them to quiet their big feelings and helping them learn how to use these tools for themselves, so they have increasing responsibility for managing their feelings and reactions.
- Challenge my children to do things they don’t feel like doing and support them in the learning process. This is a child maturity task, and I did not start this with them while they were still in the infant/toddler stage. It is important to learn maturity needs and tasks for each life stage; otherwise, we stunt their growth.
- Do not avoid upset; rather, help my children recover, while also not intentionally aggravating and creating frustration for no reason. (Roughly, the first year of an infant’s life is to be built around joy; it is about the one-year mark when I started doing this. Before this, I tried to focus on joy and help them avoid upsetting emotions.)
- Give healthy shame messages that call my children into their identity by reminding them who God created them to be.
- Make time for joy, play, silliness and fun with my children.
- Create a rhythm of joy and peace in our home and encourage my children to live in that same rhythm.
- Repair when I fail to act in a way that reflects my heart. I model how to apologize and take responsibility for my actions. I strive for humility and “owning” my mistakes. Few things will kill joy levels as much as when people justify themselves rather than humbly ask for forgiveness when there are relational casualties.
- Extend grace to my children, my husband and myself. This means I try to stay tender toward weaknesses in our household.
- Seek Jesus in everything, especially when I lose my peace. I teach my children to do the same.
- Pay attention to capacity. (This includes theirs, mine and our family’s.)