There’s nothing like parenting to stretch the bounds of one’s patience, love, and in general, emotional control. My husband and I were blessed with two children, one boy and one girl. And while we love them equally beyond words, one of them has definitely tested these bounds more than the other. In fact, when I was asked to speak at a parenting seminar for a local church in the spring of 2019 it was my experience with said child that inspired my topic.
I was excited for the opportunity to speak, but in order to prepare my presentation I first needed to write about it for myself. I’ve always known I learn well by reading, but over the last year and a half I’ve come to realize that writing has been a powerful way for me to learn and grow both spiritually and personally. Plus, there’s something about writing words that creates a sense of accountability to carry them out.
So what did I write and speak about? Parenting with truth and grace. Essentially, how to respond to your child in those really difficult moments. You know the moments. The moments that leave you (and your child) feeling defeated, frustrated, and angry. I talked about the need in such moments for discipline to be done out of love and with a teaching spirit- to not shy away from communicating truth. And of equal importance, how grace brings restoration to these broken moments. This has been an ongoing lesson in our home for the last 9 years. I am by no means a perfect parent and I have failed over and over again in my responses to tantrums, defiance, and poor attitudes- but by the grace of God He enables me in some moments to extend grace to the ones who call me “Mom.” In particular, to the youngest child.
I had such a moment about a week ago. I won’t go into all the details out of respect for my son’s privacy, but it was an instance in which his temper and subsequent behavior left me feeling extremely frustrated, and honestly, disappointed. Additionally, my emotions were intensified due to the fact that this had been a replay of a scenario which had occurred 4 months prior. Exact same situation. And let me tell you, that had been a big deal.
With the first incident I was very direct and spoke some hard truths my son needed to hear (after first taking time to ensure I was calm and thinking through what I was going to say). This had lead to an evening of tears and repentance on my son’s part in a way that was unprecedented. My husband and I were shocked by how he had responded because this was seriously unlike anything we had ever seen from him! And while there was definitely grace extended that night as well, truth had been the main teacher.
So here we were again. I sat on the couch mindlessly scrolling through facebook as I collected my thoughts about the best approach to take this time. I wanted to lecture. But I knew he knew what there was to be said. The talk we had four months ago was impactful enough that there would be no point of saying it all again. He knew he had been in the wrong. I also knew he was mad at himself and that he was likely feeling ashamed. As I walked up the stairs to his room the word grace came to mind. With each step I silently repeated this word- and felt myself inwardly soften.
I gently knocked on the door and walked into his room. I was greeted with a familiar scowl as he laid on the floor half propped up by the large Cubs pillow he had gotten for Christmas this year. I had brought his bedtime things from downstairs- his favorite Cubs blanket, a stuffed shark, and a cup of water. Without saying a word I lovingly made his bed and placed the water on his nightstand. I pulled a blanket over him and laid down beside him on the floor. I could feel his frustrated and angry tension as I laid there with my arm overlapping his. After a few moments of silence I got up and turned on his radio to play his favorite Christian music station. I then turned off the lights, leaving on his star-lamp nightlight. Although no verbal words were spoken, I walked out of his room hoping the message of grace was communicated loud and clear.
I thank God that He uses my imperfect grace as I parent my children. But even more so, I thank Him for His matchless grace. The grace I give fluctuates and is limited. His is infinite and perfect. As I laid beside my son in the middle of his anger, shame, and frustration, I wondered if it was a small picture of how God lovingly and patiently sits with us in our wreckage; of how He is moved with compassion at the sight of His children’s pain; of how he is near and full of love even when our hearts are angry and hardened.
Later that night I sat again with my son, this time on his bed. His head was on his pillow and his brown eyes were filled with tears. As we talked he expressed words of sorrow and regret and I words of (what I hope were) grace and truth. I kissed his forehead when I told him goodnight and could feel his sadness. Although I felt a great deal of compassion for what he was experiencing, I also knew that it was a necessary part of repentance and growth. Romans 2:4 tells us that the kindness of God leads to repentance. I would like to think the same is true when we parent with grace.
The next day as we sat on his bedroom floor working on a puzzle I asked him how he was feeling about the previous night. He said he felt better. At that time I had just finished writing last week’s blog post, The Remedy for Discouragement, and was able to share with him what I had written about God’s grace. Those were definitely some of my favorite moments of the week. While it’s important that my son experiences grace from myself and his dad, it’s everything to me that he knows and experiences the grace of the God who created him.
Without a doubt, raising children is a hard business. In times of parental frustration and distress may we ever stay mindful of God’s grace to us in our salvation, in the everyday blessings of life, and in our failures. As we recognize the outpouring of His grace to us, grace will overflow from our hearts into the lives of our children and those around us. We won’t always get it right, but in those broken moments we can take heart: For if we, imperfect parents know how to give grace to our children, how much more does our perfect Heavenly Father give grace to us?* As our Father, He is heaping grace upon us even when we feel we have blown it. Let us then relentlessly draw near to the God of all grace who has given us all things at all times, so that having all that we need, we will abound in every good work.**
* from Matthew 7:11
**from 2 Corinthians 9:8
***For more on my presentation about parenting with truth and grace, check out my interview (Part I, II, & III) on Julie Rupp’s podcast, Parenting Tomorrow’s Leaders. You can find the link under the media section of this website or at parentingtomorrowsleaders.com