“Self control is not simply saying no, its saying no to say yes to something that is more important”
Danny Silk, Loving our kids on purpose
I used to live under the illusion that loving my kids would be easy and require little effort. I bonded very quickly to our babies when they were born and thought that the euphoria brought on by immense pain and hormones might carry me through all 18 years. I experienced something I hadn’t experienced any other time in my life, a love that was born without the other person doing anything to bring it out of me. I think a more “natural” reaction to child birth would be cursing and being pissed off that you now had to feed this person who had ripped your body apart. Most of the time though, moms drift through the first few weeks almost blissfully unaware that they are giving their all to a little person who my husband and I lovingly referred to as a pet rock for the first two months. Eventually the haze of hormones wears off and you are just tired and maybe a little bit teary and overwhelmed and wondering if you will ever wear pants with a zipper again.
That early love is not so much love as it is an intense feeling. The real love we have for our kids comes when they start to really test us, when they push every button on your control panel and you’d be totally justified in ripping their heads off but instead, you smile and offer them dinner. The love we feel in the beginning has to grow and morph into a real lasting love. Just like when you were dating and feeling the love was so easy you had to stay in public places to control it. Then you got married and the love morphed into something that had to be tended to, worked on, and often fought for. The love we have for our kids is not all the different, it requires hard work.
Briggs is currently in a very challenging phase. He is both parts energetic and moody. He comes home like a ping pong ball that can’t be stopped, bouncing off every surface it hits and leaving in its wake a trail of shoes and school papers. He is also having a hard time with a boy at school which prompts him to come home and take his pent up frustration out on his sisters and me. I have to brace myself for the hours after he is off the bus. Every day I face a constant borage of questions that then changes into disrespect when he doesn’t like my answers. For the first few weeks of school I thought this was a discipline problem, and if I swiftly handled every offense he would correct his behavior and shape up. I soon saw though that this was a heart problem and my attempts to change his behavior wouldn’t change his heart. I felt defeated, realizing that the only thing I could do was put boundaries up for the disrespect and then lean in hard on the love. I saw my son for the broken little heart he had instead of the big problem he was being.
I decided to change my approach (mostly thanks to a book my friend Kelly sent me.. this is why we have friends!), which quickly showed me that I too had self control problems. All I had to do was shut my mouth. I needed to let him bounce off the walls (maybe encourage him to take it outside), help him see how powerful his words were to his sisters, and then just love him. I wasn’t just saying no, I was choosing him instead. I was focusing on the root of the problem and not simply the behavior… and it is hard. I have literally had to walk into my closet and do breathing exercises so that I don’t let my tongue get the best of me. I have had to close my mouth and pray “Jesus please don’t let an unkind word come out of my mouth.” And to be real, sometimes I loose the battle and say something I have to apologize for.
I believe though that God made me to do hard things and sometimes loving our kids is hard. Sometimes they are in less than desirable seasons and we can’t change it we can only love them. Now I am not saying discipline won’t also be required but I’ve learned anger and discipline are not the same. Briggs doesn’t need my anger, he needs my loving guidance. He needs me to do what God does for me, the incredible and brutal love that Jesus offered when he stood in the gap between my sin and God. When he reached out his hand to me and said “daughter, this isn’t the way you want to go, take my hand I’ll help you find the way.” That kind of love is hard, that kind of love cost Jesus his life. It will cost us much less, it will cost us pride and self control. It will cost us not getting to say the quippy thing that would be like a dart in their little heart. It will require us to lean in when we want to run for the hills. It will require breathing exercises behind closed doors and barely whispered prayers. It will require for us to love them when we don’t feel like it. This love will require self control on our end, the kind of self control that says, I am choosing you instead of choosing myself. That kind of love will change my sons heart, it won’t be immediate, but I believe it will be impactful.
Lets be honest, when we reflect on the people who changed our lives, the people who fought for us, the people who really loved us what were they like? Did they show up with their one liners and offense list ready to tell us how we were wrong? Were they the teacher who lost her cool because we just couldn’t stop talking (I spent 4th grade with my desk in the corner)? Were they the coach who was always disappointed in us? Or… were the people that really changed us, the ones that loved us and believed we could do better? Were they the adults who walked into our mess and knelt down beside us and helped us clean it up? Were they the coaches who pulled you aside after a bad game and told you that you’d do better next time? The really impactful people in my life were the people who loved me in the middle of the hard not when the hard had passed. The adults who spoke to my own broken heart at a young age weren’t the adults who reminded me how broken I was, no, the ones that I remember are the adults who offered their own scars as proof of healing.
We can do hard things and we can start by loving our kids in the hard places.
The book that inspired this post was “loving your kids on purpose” by Danny Silk and I highly recommend it