Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Learning to parent, the hard way

For the past three weeks (I cannot believe it's been three weeks since my last post!) I have emerged myself in all things parenting, all things parenting differently than I had been.  I took what I'd read from the first 100 pages or so of Parenting... and the first 30 pages of The Connected Child, mixed them with about 8 minutes of a parenting coach's advice (thanks Shannan!) and came out with my new made up way to try and do something different, anything different really, it was time to make some changes around here, something had to give.

Then I began to ask for prayer, I asked my bible study to pray for me, I asked my church to pray for me and may have even have received some prayers from some of you sweet people out there, because if there is one thing I know it is this: I cannot do anything worth doing out of my own strength.  I have felt those prayers this week in such a big way, and that, more than anything I have done that has given me such hope.  I'm still not entirely sure what I'm doing, am sure that books should probably be read all the way through, and know that I could benefit from a lot more than 8 minutes of parenting coaching, but I see God at work in our family right now and there's nothing that makes me more excited than watching God work.

I had a lot of room for improvement when it came to the way I parent my children.  One of the biggest blessings in this challenge God is leading me through is this: if I had birthed all three of my children, I doubt that I would ever have taken the time and energy to stop and take a good look at the way I mother my children.  To stop and pay attention to His small voice asking for something more from me.  I would have been okay with mediocre, with doing what everyone else does.  I would have continued to pat myself on the back that I really, really LOVE my kids and bonus I take them to ChickFilA, the library, the park, and fun trips all the time.

God has been nudging my heart for a very long time about my tendency to yell at my kids, my misaligned priorities (that say getting things done is more important than truly being with my kids), my justifying the wasting of time on pinterest/blogs/facebook, the perfection that often is the source of the decisions I make and the rules I impress on my (very young) children.  I didn't listen, I heard Him and I occasionally felt bad about it, but I never took significant steps to change my behavior.

And then one day I encountered such hurt and loss and anger in the actions of one of the loves of my life, that no matter how I tried (oh how I tried!) the status quo was not going to work anymore.  In fact my parenting was making things worse,  I finally gave up and was willing to try submitting to God's leading.

The funny thing is I always thought I was parenting the way a Christian mother should.  Discipline is my main game, I am consistent to a fault, if you do something wrong in my house, there is a consequence.  I spend countless minutes putting people in time out, disciplining them for screaming in time out/leaving time out, talking to them about why they were in time out.  I have taken everything out of one of my child's rooms for breaking one of their things (on purpose), I have had kids clean cars, pick up dog poop, skip activities, go to bed early, you name it I've tried it. But I have a secret, when I sin, I want grace, I want God to look at my heart and see that I was doing the best I could for the maturity I am at, I want Him to pick up the broken pieces and make everything better.  And He does.  My Daddy God, who is everything good, is slow to anger and quick to listen, He looks at my heart and His mercies are new every morning, He extends grace to me for so long before He disciplines.  And more than anything He desires a very real relationship with me, one He sacrificed everything to have with me.  I have never parented my children the way God parents me.

So I decided that it was time to give it a try, the first thing I did was gave up yelling, gave it up like the bad drug it was, oh don't worry I still fall off the wagon from time to time, but I feel like a new woman (mommy).  It's the coolest thing when you lower your voice when a child makes a bad choice and raise it when they make a good choice (this was my main take away from the parenting coach) two things are accomplished, you stop rewarding bad behavior and you stop getting angry.  Let me clarify, when my child is mad at me and pushes my buttons and I yell they are rewarded, they're game worked, that got the reaction they were going for and that reinforces the behavior.  And the bonus that I didn't expect, when I don't yell, I don't get angry, I feel so much calmer throughout the day.

The second thing I've been doing is so much harder, I began to actually pay attention to my children, each one, everyday.  Let me just continue my run for mom who makes all other moms feel better about themselves, until recently I never played with my children.  Okay I would play with them on occasion for a few minutes, but I wasn't really giving them all of my attention.  I had decided that I didn't really need to play with my children, after all I am with them every single moment of every single day :).  I do the dishes they play around me, I read a magazine they play outside, I drive them to some fun activity while I pretend to listen to their very long story, I talk to the other moms, while they do the fun activity.  Isn't that enough?  No, I've decided, it's really not.  My children need my real attention, they need me to look them in the eye, not glance at them while I'm on the computer and tell them to just wait one more quick minute.  They want me to get on the floor and play trucks or barbies and they need it just like they need healthy food.

This has been hard for me, first because I thought that playing with them wasn't "fun" and second because I thought I didn't have enough time.  And yet, the more time I spend truly playing with them, the more I enjoy it, the more I am amazed by their ideas, and their intelligence, by their hearts and their fears.  When it comes to time, you have the time you have, it's up to you what you do with it, so I've stopped wasting so much of it.  I've been spending much less time on the computer, I haven't put on make up except for church in two weeks, and my house is perhaps messier than usual (not sure if that last one is possible).  I am convinced that if I will trust God with my time, give it all over to Him and honor Him in how I use it He will return it to me in abundance, He will accomplish what needs to be accomplished, I need only to obey.

And you?  How's it going, please keep up the great advice, I am certain I cannot do this on my own.


Yvonne said...

Golly Jenny - we live the same life, I swear. I need to do all those things too and have been putting it off for awhile. Thanks for the words of encouragement and the update on how you are doing. I'm going to have to put some of these into action as well...

thewonderfulhappens said...

Great post, Jenny! So proud of you for making these changes (changes that all of us could benefit from implementing!!!). I really like the advice about not raising your voice when you are mad. Matthew DEFINITELY gets a payoff when he sees that he makes me mad.

Libby Paul said...

So amazing how God puts things right in our paths at the moments we most need them and are ready to hear them. Bless you for getting on the computer for this post. :-) I have been wrestling with the "Christian parenting" class we are going through right now and the ways the discipline and parent-centered approaches are affecting me and our daughter. I just finished reading up on some positive discipline sites and immediately after saw your blog. My mom comes in town next week and is a huge proponent (and expert from 25 yrs of early childhood program directing) of positive parenting. I have been ashamed to think about how differently my parenting has looked lately. I hope to have some candid and helpful conversations with her about all this. Keep us posted on the changes you see in yourself and your kids!