My young daughters definitely exhibit strong emotions. Seven-year old Abigail still sobs if we happen to mention our cat Maddie, who died over two years ago, or when she misplaces a beloved Barbie and is certain the doll is “gone forever!” Similarly, eight-year old Rachel often reacts with angry cries and whines when she feels she’s been wronged – which, given her strong sense of justice, tends to happen several times a day. I’m with the girls virtually 24/7, and I’ll admit to tiring of such “drama queen antics.” And when that happens, I must also admit that I can respond inappropriately – by exhibiting visible impatience, dismissing them with a roll of the eyes, and even (unfortunately) by yelling.
Parenting is very hard. Exhausting even. And so I know that such negative reactions to children’s sensitivities are to be expected, and we all do it. However, I also know that I do the girls no favors – in fact, I actually wound their souls – when I give in to my baser instincts and respond inappropriately. I’m not proud of that; in fact, I despise that reality, and it brings me to tears. But wishing away the truth doesn’t eliminate it.
So if, on the one hand, I hate what my negative reactions do to my kids, and, on the other hand, I know that such responses are common, what can I do? Frankly, the only bottom-line answer is God. Specifically, I’ve seen beyond a doubt that it’s only when I lean on the Lord for strength and endurance that I can consistently respond to my girls’ strong feelings in the right (i.e., loving) ways.
Then and only then can I automatically react to Abigail’s broken heart with softness rather than impatience at having been interrupted. Then and only then am I able to stifle my yells and instead sit with Rachel to calmly discuss something that’s bothered her – and to explain that, while she is (of course!) free to express all of her feelings in our home, there are right and wrong ways to do that…and I can teach and model the correct ways. Then and only then can I maturely help the girls negotiate a disagreement they’ve had with each other. In all of those (God-led) responses, I respect their emotions and also nurture, instruct, and grow their hearts and minds.
As I said, I’ve found no way to consistently demonstrate healthy parenting apart from the Lord. I can do it on my own in short spurts. And I can read parenting books, attend seminars, and observe good examples, all of which are excellent tools of the trade. But just as a well-tuned lawn mower still doesn’t properly cut grass without a full gas tank, so, too, I can only positively parent over the long-haul when my tank is full of God’s sustaining power.