Sometimes I feel like I’m in a Hallmark commercial. Maybe I’m watching my teen read to my eight year old, or I notice my daughter helping her little sister do chores. I stand, watching with precious moment eyes, and the world is warm and cozy with fuzzy yellow edges. Other times, though, parenting is a lot of work. It’s like a freight train, thundering down the track with no reference to how exhausted, sick or busy the parents are. And kids are challenging! There are precious moment days, yes, but there are also days when a parent wonders if everything she has ever taught her children has been a complete waste.
I’ve noticed two ways parents can react to these challenges. (When I say noticed, I don’t mean only in others. Over the years, I’ve had to fight both of these inclinations in my own parenting.) First, there is the mother who washes her hand of the whole mess. She’s seen other mothers give all their time and emotional energy to parenting well, only to fail. It’s just time and chance, she decides, so why stress? She may say it’s all grace, but she really means the same thing. Or she may parent out of fear. She has seen parents become so controlling that their kids rebel. She doesn’t quite know where that controlling-line is, so she stays as far from it as she can. This type of parent is really just delaying conflict until the kids are old enough to make unwise, life-altering decisions.
Then there’s the organized planner. This mother will find a method early on and she will persevere. After awhile, though, a new urgency will set in. She’ll start saying things like, “How many times have I told you to close the door! I said get off of the furniture NOW!” Her relationship with her children will become antagonistic. She’ll struggle with anger because the kids should really know how to do it right after all her trouble.
Or, she might have a more passive personality. Instead of being the controlling one in the antagonistic relationship she has inadvertently set up, she will become the victim, manipulating to gain control, “Look at this mess you’re making me clean!” Whether type A or passive, this kind of mothers mother feels her kids aren’t living up to what they should be. They should be the kind of kids who close doors, the kind of kids who put the milk away. They should know how to solve their own quarrels. They should be good kids by now! She did all the things necessary to make it so.
But, it was never her job to have good kids! It’s simply her job to love, instruct and train the children she has. She cannot change their hearts. The difference in attitude makes a huge difference in the atmosphere of the home. If her goal is to have a kids that never jumps on the couch, it’s going to really try her patience to have to remind said kid again, or to apply a consistent consequence again. If her job is simply to instruct or train her children, then who cares if she has to tell them over and over. She’s simply doing her expected job. If her goal is to have good teenagers, it will wear down her patience to correct their many character issues. If her job is simply to shepherd them, than she can look at each issue as another great opportunity to point them to Christ.
The stress melts away because she’s not attempting the impossible. Teaching, instructing and training are all possible. Changing children’s hearts is not. I’m really just saying what the Apostle Paul says. We can plant and we can water, but only God can make anyone grow.
So those are the two extremes. The first mother is permissive and presumptuous. She expects God to make things grow when she hasn’t planted or watered. The second mother, the controlling one, knows she must plant and water, but she then tries to play the part of the Holy Spirit and make them grow.
The answer to all this, the one I must remind myself of, is to work from a state of rest. We water and plant, we discipline consistently and we teach diligently, but we don’t worry about the results at all. We can’t add an inch to our stature, how much less can we change a child’s heart? Even the planting and watering can only be done in His strength.
The permissive mother and the controlling mother are both motivated by fear. Fear of their children turning out badly. Fear of their financial futures. Fear of their children rejecting them, or worse, rejecting God. But fear is a terrible motivator for parenting. It breeds despair in the permissive parent and anger and guilt in the controlling one. Fortunately, God never put these burdens on us. Because He is the one who makes people grow, we are free to parent out of love and joy.