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Parenting with Love

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Parenting with Love

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There was a time when I would not have appreciated his gift because I was focused on the wrong things. It was a tiny key chain made of craft foam, paper and tape. In childish pencil writing, complete with a misspelling, he had scribbled “We CONECT.” My eyes filled with tears when my nine-year-old son handed this gift to me. It made me deeply satisfied to know that he felt connected to me.

I have always loved my children, but could they feel my love? Did they trust me and feel safe emotionally? Or was I only focused on outward behavior and appearances? These are critical questions parents can ask of themselves. It can be easy to judge a child harshly as he learns to control his emotions, especially when we are being pushed to the limit by his behavior. But treating a child that way can never have good results in the long run, even if outward compliance is achieved. It’s vital that we learn to parent in a loving way.

Secure In God

So often, we are not able to help our kids feel safe because we are living in insecurity ourselves. If we feel like a failure, sometimes we unknowingly take it out on our kids. Yelling and shaming are obvious examples of poor parenting, but sometimes it can take form in less obvious ways such as working too much or being overly controlling.

Between trying to launch a career, keeping up with bills, the stress of social media comparison, overcoming personal issues from childhood and more, it can feel impossible to actually feel secure and confident. The key is not that we get to a place where we never feel insecure anymore; rather, it is recognizing that in our human frame, we have weaknesses (Psalm 103:14).

Instead of hiding these concerns, we need to bring them to God (1 Peter 5:7). He calls us His children and He already sent Jesus Christ to die in our stead for our sins. His love for us is almost incomprehensible. Perhaps we shy away from really considering the depth of His love because it feels safer to instead dwell on what we can do for God. However, dwelling daily on the love of God is transformational. A parent who loves God and has inner safety in the love of God is a secure parent.

In her book, Love Centered Parenting, author Crystal Paine discusses the concept of “living as loved.” That is, when we remember that we are loved by God, how do we conduct our lives?

“‘Loved me’ would stop stressing over saying things perfectly, making sure people liked me, or psychoanalyzing people’s responses. I would . . . confidently love others well . . . When my kids were arguing amongst themselves and saying unkind words, I asked myself, What would ‘loved me’ do? Not by feeling frustrated at myself that I had apparently dropped the ball in parenting my kid or snapping at my kids with angry words like ‘I expect better from you!’ Or worse, yelling at them for yelling— anyone else been a hypocrite like that? ‘Loved me’ would stop, take a deep breath and calmly address the situation” (pages 87-88, Bethany House Publishers, 2022).

Focusing on the love of God does not mean that we stop repenting or recognizing our sins. It is instead a posture of security in God, His promises and His plan for our life. This type of security leads to parents who can parent without needing their child to behave a certain way in order to make them look good.

It’s Not About You

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of shame when your child misbehaves, especially in a public setting in front of people whose opinion you really care about (like church!) In the process of parenting, kids are going to do a lot of things that embarrass you. Even though it is the parent’s job to discipline and teach children, in a certain sense, it's important to detach from your child’s behavior. They are an individual who will do and say things that you will need to work on with them; however, those things don’t necessarily reflect badly on you. Remember that your worth is in being a child of God, not in the behavior of your child. Remain calm and don’t obsess about what other people may think.

Most importantly, don’t hamstring the relationship with your child by becoming rigid and authoritarian in order to have children who look good on the outside and have outside compliance but are inwardly angry or disheartened because they sense their behavior is just for show. Raising children is messy and you will have good days and bad days, but that doesn’t mean you are a bad parent. It’s just life raising a living, breathing child!

Don’t Be In A Rush

If it sounds like parenting this way will take a lot of time, you’re right. As much as possible, pare down your schedule so that you have time and mental energy to really communicate with your children and to respond with love and patience when issues come up. In general, families today are overscheduled. But all the activities in the world are not going to make up for the lack of a calm, self-controlled parent who is able to patiently teach God’s ways in the moment (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). Do you have time every day to greet your children, hug them and talk to them for a little while? It is really important to consciously make time to sit still and just be with your kids. Play games, let the dishes sit for a while, laugh and enjoy being together!

Be Supportive

Just as we can have character traits we struggle with all our lives, our children are often born with natural reactions that they do not plan. So it is important to parent from a posture of respect for them as a fellow child of God with us. We should never mock our children (Ephesians 6:4). Instead, we should lovingly coach them. Sometimes discipline will need to be tough, but it should always be done privately, and it should be sandwiched in between loving words and hugs. The Bible says, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13a, New International Version). Remember that your compassion should help your child to learn the compassion of God.

We must also parent from a posture of overarching unconditional love. The Bible says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NIV).

As parents, we need to keep showing our love to our kids, even during the hard times. There can be times when a child is not very pleasant to be around, but parents must always strive to see the good in their children. Remember, you set the tone for the relationship every day, making sure that yesterday's frustrations do not bleed into the next day. Start the day with a big hug and smile each time you see your child. Discipline the bad behavior but always see your child in light of the potential they have. Make them feel loved. See the good.

Helping Children Process Emotions

When one of my children was about six years old, she lost a helium balloon. She was holding it by the string when she accidentally let go and it drifted into the sky before I could stop it. She began to cry angrily and uncontrollably. I remember thinking my child is out of control! How can she ever expect to survive in the world if she emotionally overreacts to everything? I can’t remember exactly what I said to her but it was probably along the lines of “Stop crying, you are getting out of control!”

Yes, children do need to learn self-control and how not to overreact emotionally; however, children also need to learn how to process their emotions. At her age and having never lost a balloon in this way before, my daughter had not yet learned how to calmly process this loss. This is where parents can use the skill of emotion coaching to help their child. The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Training a child to process their emotions over a lost balloon today will lead to a child who is better able to process emotions over a broken friendship as a teenager. There are many teenagers who struggle with their emotions, and it's a lot harder to coach them than it is to coach a small child. So put in the time while they are young—it’s worth it.

In the book Safe House Joshua Straub, doctor of philosophy, explains: “There are two ways we can respond to our child’s misbehaviors: (1) opening the door to our child or (2) closing the door on their emotions. Closing the door is when we dismiss our child’s emotions. Parents who routinely close the door may think negative emotions (like sadness and anger) are toxic for their child. They may reprimand a child for being upset, even if she doesn’t act out. ‘Go to your room until you can be happy,’ they may say. ‘I don’t have time for your crabby attitude. Get over it and move on’” (Safe House, Waterbrook Press, 2015, pp. 114-115).

In the storm of a child’s emotions, we parents can often just want it to be over now. But as much as possible, slow down and sit with the child for a bit. Do not allow any violence, but it is okay if a child needs to cry for a time. Emotions are not evil. God Himself experiences anger, sadness and frustration, and we are made in His image.

The Bible says, “Be angry, and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26a). It is our job to teach children how to do this. The Bible does not say, “Always pretend you are never angry!” Even the Psalms, written by David, a man after God’s own heart, are filled with negative emotions being expressed directly to God. Negative emotions are a part of being human and our children need tools to manage them.

So how do you handle a child's big emotions? You could move your child to a private location and say “Do you want a hug about that?” and you could hold your child while they cry. Not all children want to be touched when they are upset. In those cases, you can say, “I see you are upset and I am listening to you.” In a reasonable amount of time, you can try to guide and direct your child to accept what went wrong and help them to work through solutions to their problems. It’s so important to give children time and space to process their emotions and then place options in their hands concerning what to do with the emotions they are experiencing. This teaches emotional awareness, regulation and self-control.

There is no perfect way to coach your child in processing emotions. Often our own emotions almost overwhelm us at the sight of a child having a tantrum. So don’t despair if you don’t do this perfectly. In fact, when our emotions get the better of us as parents, it is very helpful to apologize to our children. There is a lot to respect in a parent who is humble enough to say they are sorry for yelling or losing their temper.

There is an old saying that if you listen to your children about the little things while they are little, they will confide in you about the big things when they are older. There is no place for condoning disrespectful and disobedient behavior, but as shown in the Psalms, there is a place for expressing emotions and being heard by a loving parent. Listen to your child now. Yes, have standards, rules and obedience, but do it in an emotionally safe way that opens the door of your child’s heart to you.

In summary, do your children feel your love? Do they feel safe emotionally? We cannot be focused only on outward behavior and appearances. It’s vital we learn to parent in a way that models godly love. I pray all the parents among us are successfully directing our children towards God and all He has to offer our families.