It seems like new parents often have to learn to get balanced, like learning to ride a bicycle — some are comfortable with authority and wobble to the side of being too rules-oriented and need to balance that with more grace and flexibility and others are natural nurturers and wobble to the side of being too permissive and need to balance that with firmness and authority.
One nice thing about getting older is that I find I have so much in common with parents no matter which side they wobbled to early on — in the end caring parents generally are balanced out.
Did you find you “wobbled” a bit to one side or the other in your earliest parenting years? Did you find you overcompensated as you found balance? What ideas helped you find balance? What encouragement do you have for other mothers during the wobbly years?
On Mothers’ Day earlier this year I heard Colin Buchanan, singer/songwriter and one-time Play School presenter, pay tribute to his mum. He described a carefree childhood in which all his needs were met, and said that it was only when he became an adult and parent himself that it dawned on him just how much his mum had been doing and how hard and constantly she had worked to give him the happy, healthy and secure childhood he’d enjoyed. He likened being a kid to being on a holiday cruise, in which food automatically appears at regular intervals, as do clean clothes every day, and a warm bed each night. Entertainment too, and activities were organised for him, so he remained oblivious to the fact that there was a very busy Engineer, his mum, powering the cruise, making it all happen, and putting heaps of energy into maintaining the voyage.
Kids are supposed to enjoy childhood. I’m glad Colin recognised the efforts expended for his sake. But I wonder whether many C21st mums and dads would be entirely happy with that model? Do I really want to be Captain, Engineer, Cook, Launderer, Cleaner and Entertainment Officer rolled into one, and is it even possible? It would take the skill of a Cirque de Soleil juggler to keep all those balls in the air. And where is the enjoyment for the parent?
I prefer the analogy of the Wheel of Parenting, where the spokes are all those functions and facets of what you do, but where there is a central role that keeps it all going. The Hub is the single most important job you have – to develop a loving, connected relationship with your kid. All your other roles are secondary, but they radiate out from this Hub of Connection, and depend upon it, really. It won’t matter if some of the spokes get damaged, or go missing – the Wheel will still roll.
Kath Kvols, writer of the Redirecting Children’s Behaviour parenting course suggested a daily mechanism to keep the Hub in good order. With a nod to Dorothy L Briggs’ idea of Genuine Encounter she has coined the anagram GEM, Genunie Encounter Moment. GEMs are short interactions of authentic connection – precious indeed, because they almost magically infuse a parent/child relationship with joy and wonder and solidarity.
Some parents already use this mechanism without having been taught, and find that the resulting closeness makes everything easier as a parent.
But let me tell you how it works. Your child rushes up to you wanting you to respond to something he’s just gotten excited about. Normally you are on auto-pilot, smile briefly, say “That’s great!” and get on with what you’re doing. A GEM is a bit different. This is what you do:
- You get on your child’s physical level by crouching down, or sitting together or lifting him up to your lap. Take his hand, or stroke his arm or back gently.
- You make good eye-contact with your child, and soften your face into a friendly, loving gaze.
- You listen intently to whatever he is saying. Push out of your mind your internal “To Do” list, adult agenda or preoccupying anxieties and tune yourself into what is going on for your little one. What is the expression on his face? Amazement? Wonder? Okay, imagine what that feels like, and let yourself share it a little.
- Now that you are interested, and can see how important it is to your child, express your shared enthusiasm, or ask a couple of interested questions. But you don’t want to put on your teaching hat too quickly and take over the conversation with a lot of information. It’s your child’s moment – and you are there to enjoy it with him.
- Enjoy the glow of mutual love and connection!
Yes, it takes some more energy initially, but this is a FAST way of making your child feel loved, valued and secure. GEMs help your kids feel affirmed and noticed, so their need to get your attention in negative ways decreases. Your energy levels will rise as you enjoy your child and remember what it’s all about. By focusing on your child and meeting their emotional needs for connection you are actually taking care of yourself at the same time. It takes only a few minutes to have a GEM, yet the positive effects last for ages.
Best of all, GEMs help create the kind of connected relationship we parents want with our kids. It ennobles your role as a parent. You are not just an Engineer, constantly busy fulfilling a relentlessly repeating set of tasks. You are a person developing an ongoing relationship with another unique person – your child. No-one else can connect with your little one in a more significant way than you.
So, several GEMs a day keeps the parenting blues away, and keeps the Wheel of Parenting rolling on track. Oh, and they work just as beautifully with partners too!
At this stage in my life, so much of my reading and studying is filtered through the perspective of mothering. This includes my studying of the Bible and theology. I find the deeper I dig into God’s Word, the more light it shines on my life–and how I ought to mother.
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
“Brothers. . .” This passage is written to Believers. As parents, God has given us special responsibility towards our children. But they are also our “brothers” and in the Covenant.
Kristen recently wrote,
We went to Ash Wednesday services at the beginning of Lent with Kate at the episcopal church around the corner (we missed liturgy) and when the priest put ashes on her little forehead, it really made an impact on me. As much as I am her mother, I am also her sister in Christ. This has been really helpful to me in thinking through parenting issues. Most Christians wouldn’t serve wine to a fellow Christian who was a recovering alcoholic. Why do they discipline their children and then set them up to do the same things again?
In his commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther clarifies that “caught in sin” is not speaking about doctrinal errors, “but about far lesser sins into which people fall not deliberately, but through weakness.” As our children are learning right from wrong, they will sin. As they are growing through various stages of development, they will have greater or lesser control over their impulses.
Luther goes on to say, “is caught in imply being tricked by the devil or sinful nature.” Sinful nature, temptation, weakness, developmental stages–remembering these sins of our children are part of their weakness helps me respond to them with compassion.
Luther states, “Paul therefore teaches how those who have fallen should be dealt with–namely those who are strong should raise them up and restore them gently.” I don’t always feel “strong” or “spiritual.” Often I feel weak and struggling myself. But it is my responsibility to raise my children and be strong for them. We have no trouble with the idea of parents being a “mama bear” protecting her young child. I also want to be strong spiritually to correct them gently, to be the “mama bear” to help my children when they are struggling with sin.
It’s interesting to note that this passage is immediately proceeded by the admonitions to walk in the Spirit and the list of the fruit of the Spirit– love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These should be on my mind as I restore my children gently.
Luther reinforces the idea of this passage reminding us of “the fatherly and motherly affection that Paul requires of those who have charge over souls.”
What does “restoring gently” look like? Luther explains, “when they see that those persons are sorrowful for their offenses, they should begin to raise them up again, to comfort them, and to mitigate their faults as much as they can—yet through mercy only, which they must set against sin, lest those who have fallen are swallowed up with depression.” And “. . .gently, and not in the zeal of severe justice.”
To be honest, at times I’ve had Christian mothers advocate some child-training approaches that seemed to have more of the “zeal of severe justice” than how Luther describes the Holy Spirit’s correction, “mild and pitiful in forbearing.”
After restoring gently, we are told to “carry each other’s burdens.” I see this, in light of mothering, as an especial entreaty to know our particular children and their particular weaknesses.
One of my sons is insecure around lots of guests–and he has responded in the past by getting very loud, climbing on furniture, and even hitting a guest. I’ve found that to carry his burden means I prepare him beforehand for our guests, and I hold his hand when they arrive, until he is comfortable and calm. Another son is prone to lash out at his brothers when he is angry. Bearing his burden has meant praying with him and for him, helping him recognize when he feels anger rising, and giving him strategies to deal with that anger without hitting. And it has meant letting him know it’s good to come to me and say, “Mommy, I’m angry” so I can help him not sin in his anger.
Also in this encouragement to carry one another’s burdens, it strikes me how wrong it is to follow the child-training technique of placing a child in a situation of temptation–to test him and see whether he can withstand it (or be punished.) This method is encouraged by some for training toddlers and preschoolers, and seems to be very contrary to bearing the burdens of temptation.
Luther also comments on this passage that sometimes in bearing with one another, things need to just be let go–“These people are the ones who are overtaken by sin and have the burdens that Paul commands us to carry. In this case, let us not be rigorous and merciless, but follow the example of Christ, who bears and forbears these burdens. If he does not punish them, though He might do so with justice, much less ought we to do so.”
“And watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. . .” For parents, I see this as a two-fold warning. First, to be gentle, not be angry—the caution here illustrates how very easy it is to slip into being harsh.
And also I see the warning not to be tempted to pride. When we become concerned about appearing to be “good parents” it is easy to slip into correcting harshly, minutely. This is one of the areas in which I struggled a lot, especially when my children were smaller. And especially when we were guests in churches and people’s homes. I felt pressure (from myself even more than others) for my kids to be perfect and “prove” we were worthy to be missionaries. That pressure tempted me both into pride in my children’s good behaviour, as well being overly picky and correcting unnecessarily.
The end of these verses is “in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” As Martin Luther said,
“After Christ had redeemed us, renewed us, and made us his church, he gave us no other law but that of mutual love. To love is not to wish one another well, but to carry one another’s burdens–that is, things that are grievous to us, and that we would not willingly bear. Therefore, Christians (parents!) must have strong shoulders and mighty bones, so they can carry their brother’s weaknesses. . . Love, therefore, is mild, courteous, and patient, not in receiving, but in giving, for it is constrained to wink at many things and to bear them.
thanks to mollie for the pic
A father I know and respect shares some personal thoughts. . . and they are just too moving to stay hidden away on a small message board. May his journey be encouraging to us and our children’s fathers.
“. . .he was a lot like I was as a child — precocious, hyperactive, and loud — and he was also extremely stubborn and defiant. As hard as I was to discipline, I had never been defiant.
My behavior toward my son exacerbated all these traits. I tried to provide sound discipline, but I would often lose my temper and shout at him abusively. And occasionally, I slapped him upside the head. I did not beat him as my father had beaten me, and I never slapped his face, but I did spank him WAY too hard, WAY too often, and I did smack him in fierce anger occasionally.
I tried and tried to control it, but it continued for fourteen years. Then I started reading Dr. Sears. And the more I read, the more I saw what I had been doing wrong, and what I could do to make it right. I wept for weeks over what I saw. Then I tried to talk to my fourteen-year-old son, and to ask his forgiveness. He was by then extremely angry and resentful. I really thought our relationship was entirely broken. My wife told me he once asked her, “How can you tell me to respect someone I hate?” I also remember how he would glare at me in defiance, no matter how hard or how much I “spanked” him.
When I tried to talk to him to ask his forgiveness, all I could do was weep. He forgave me readily, but he probably didn’t quite believe me. But I believe he has seen a big change. He is now 22, a senior in college — ambitious and with a strong moral code. He and I are now quite close, although I believe it will never be as it could have been.
As I said, this is causing more bitter tears as I relate it. But I hope there is one person reading this who may be helped.
. . .
I have a late last child — eleven years younger than my daughter. He is now eight years old. I am “Mr. Mom” now, because of my disability, and that means I am his “homeschool” teacher. And we are having the time of our lives. My wife was the main teacher for our first two, while they were young; I took over when they were teens. But now I get to teach my little guy from the beginning!
I confess I have spanked him maybe three times in eight years — and every time I have regretted it. I am strict with him, but I am no longer abusive. I guess it helps that, while he is also precocious and hyperactive, he is much more compliant than his older brother. He and I are so close it’s amazing — and it shows me what it could have been like with my first son, if I had been different.