Things have been tough at our house this summer. Gone are the carefree days of everyone wanting to spend the day at the park or the pool together. The times when the petting zoo and a picnic provided all of the stimulation we needed to propel us through a warm summer afternoon with the promise of an hour of quiet time watching Little Bear or Magic School Bus have vanished.
Life has gotten complicated and I spend my hours negotiating activities and making decisions about appropriate geographical and metaphorical confines for my almost 13, 10 and 8 year-old all day long.
As parents, when did we decide to adjust the street boundaries of a bike ride Ethan takes with friends? How did we fall into the lazy repetition of allowing the Disney Channel to creep back into our lives for Libby to watch, when we fought so hard to cut it out of Abby's TV viewing diet when she was her age?
Perhaps most disturbing, when did we let down our guard enough to not notice access to social media we'd never even heard of had crept in on our watch?
A wise friend shared a thought with me years ago, and I think of it often. What we as parents accept in moderation, our children embrace in excess.
Is that true in your home? I give permission one time to let the kids take food upstairs while watching a movie...I never again am consulted on that decision. They consider eating in the bonus room standard operating procedure. As much as I object, they wear me down and remind me of 'the last time you said we could' and I'm too tired to fight.
My view as a singular 'treat' is viewed as the new standard and I go along with it to avoid the fight in the moment for 'an hour of peace' - but I begin harboring anger.
The anger grows as I ask the kids to do simple thing...take a shower, put your clothes in the hamper, empty the dishwasher....all of the requests fall on deaf ears.
They do not respond the first time I ask or the second and maybe not even the third. As I ask and am ignored, the only way to get a response is to yell and threaten and finally as my anger spills over like bubbles sliding down the edge of a too full boiling pot, they move.
They grunt or huff or say 'you don't have to yell, mom!' and they get angry at me. It's a vicious cycle just as Emerson Eggerichs points out in his book, Love and
Respect in the Family.
It's easy for me to stomp, steam and threaten and all the while I am regrettably teaching my kids that anger is the only way to get results. Yelling elicits a response and we have slowly moved into a hostile war zone. We are on edge, ready to defend our actions at a moments notice and the smallest irritant, like turning up a song on the radio that another family member might not like, or a request to wipe off the counter, is met with immediate hostility....because I have inadvertently trained my kids that anger gets results.
Somewhere in the battle of wills, life has become a game of survival of the fittest. The one who can throw the biggest fit or launch the loudest counterattack wins, because I am exhausted.
Is there a solution? Have we failed our kids and lost the race?
Fortunately, there is redemption and grace for this tired mom.
In his book, Eggerichs points out,
“My response is my responsibility…My child does not cause me to be the way I am but rather reveals the way I am.”
My response to my kids behavior is mine to choose, and it comes fully loaded with the expectation that whatever I choose, will be reflected back to me in their responses to each other and to me. If I choose anger, it is not a reflection of what they created in me, it is the emotion I choose to react with when I don't feel respected. The 'crazy cycle' circulates when I expect them to respect me when I display behavior that is in no way respectable. Should they respect me just because I'm mom, sure they should, but it's easier to retain respect when you are acting in a way that honors God.
The story of the prodigal son is used often in relation to parenting. The parable is sometimes relayed to offer hope to parents of children who have gone astray. As I reread that verse as a broken mom, I feel God's embrace and comfort in these words from Luke 15:20 "So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." As I gather my Kleenex pile and brush off my knees, I feel my Heavenly Father running towards me and reminding me, parenting is the hardest job on the planet and I chose you for this once in a lifetime opportunity. Get back in the race, I've been waiting to run alongside you.