When I got married at the age of 27, Stephen and I knew it wouldn’t be terribly long before we would start our family. We knew we wanted two or three kids and we had no idea if getting pregnant would be easy or difficult for us. So with only about five or six months of marriage under our belts, we started trying. By God’s grace, after only a few months we found out we were expecting our first baby, and the following May our Bishop Anthony arrived. A perfect 7 lb. 11oz. bundle of pure joy. I remember just sitting and watching him sleep. At different times, Stephen and I would look at each other and say, “What did we ever do before he was here?”
Well fast forward nine and a half years and two little brothers later, and I can list for you about 364 things we used to do before he was here. Things like . . . go see a movie after church every Sunday, eat at a restaurant for under $25 and with almost no meltdowns, drive little cars with 2 doors and tiny gas tanks, and sleep uninterrupted ‘til 10:00am every Saturday. I wish I could say that there’s never a single moment that I wouldn’t give anything to go back to those days, but I’d be a liar. Because the bare-naked, raw, honest truth is that over the years we’ve moved from “What did we ever do before they were here?” to “Why did we have children again?” We are just in a really hard and trying season of parenting. I realize that every season of parenting has it’s own struggles, but for us right now, with energetic boys who are 9, 7, and 4, even the thought of going out in public with all 3 of them sends me into the fetal position. Just about every night I go to bed disappointed that I let another day go by without managing to control myself and my responses to the boys. And just about every morning I wake up praying that maybe this would be the day I don’t let them push me over the edge.
Right now we are wrapping up a three-week stretch of winter break from school. Their old school in Texas got out a week earlier than their new school here in Tennessee, which means their new school starts a week later than their old school. So for 21 solid days we have had zero structure and to make life crazier, we made the biggest move we’ve ever made in the middle of it. And I don’t know about you, but we are a family who thrives in structure and without it we sort of fall apart at the seams. Needless to say, Monday morning could not come fast enough for me . . . I mean, us.
Lately I’ve been going to the Lord and pleading for Him to show me how to be a better mother to these boys; to give me more patience as I deal with their defiance, more understanding as I mediate their arguments with one another, and more of a desire to enjoy them during this season. Something I felt Him say to my spirit is that I’m way too hard on myself. I’ve set my expectations for myself, and for the boys, way too high. I compare our family too often to other families. Then it hit me . . . I give myself zero grace so why on earth would I have any grace left to extend to our children? I strive every day to parent on my own strength, by my own standards, with my own expectations. Until I can get to a place where I’m willing to lay that down, nothing will change.
I can’t expect to be able to model and teach grace to our boys if I refuse to receive and really embrace it for myself. Does this mean that I just let my shortcomings slide when I give in to my frustrations? Absolutely not! But it does mean that I can allow myself to take a step back and change how that moment of weakness will affect the rest of the day. I am so guilty of letting an altercation with or between the boys dictate the tone for the next several hours, when they’ve moved on within about 5 minutes. So then, when they are back to being silly so quickly, it just makes me even angrier, as if they should still be stewing over what had just happened. Then I realize at some point that our roles have reversed. Suddenly my children are teaching me. Oh, that I could move past a flawed moment so easily, with no grudge or grievance.
There are dozens of books out there about how to parent our children with grace toward them (the children), but I think it’s important that we learn how to parent our children with grace toward ourselves as well. We are going to fail, sometimes epically. We are going to break down, give in, and lose it. If we don’t learn how to walk in the grace God has extended to us, inevitably our children will reap the unfortunate consequences.
2 Corinthians 12:9 says . . .
“And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
2 Timothy 2:1 says . . .
“You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
And 2 Corinthians 9:8 says . . .
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”
It looks to me like grace is the key that unlocks a world of freedom when it comes to parenting these little people the Lord has entrusted to us. Something else that the Lord revealed to me recently through these verses is that grace is just as much proactive as it is reactive. If I can manage to enter into each day having prepared my heart with the grace necessary to lead and guide these boys well, reacting with grace when things don’t go well will be much easier.
That all sounds well and good, but what are some practical ways to prepare our hearts to lead and parent well? Here are a few ideas that I’ve seen work in our family at different times and I’ve even put them in a good ol’ southern Baptist acronym for you. This is by no means an exhaustive list. This is just a starting point if you are in the same place we are, where you just need some action steps to get going.
1) Get up first!
I won’t pretend that I practice this every day. But I can say with full confidence that there is a notable difference between the days that I do and the days that I don’t.
2) Reduce distractions during family time.
It is nothing for me to sit on my laptop and keep working into the evening during those few precious moments when our entire family is together. I do notice a shift in the atmosphere when I intentionally put away my phone and laptop and just spend time with the boys, attention undivided.
3) Avoid filling up too many evenings in a row.
There are obviously going to be seasons where this is impossible, but as a norm, we do better when we protect our evenings and are not out of the house more than 2 in a row.
4) Cut off screens during meals together.
We got into a terrible habit of having the television on during dinner in exchange for the boys staying in their seats. Then we moved into a house where the dining room wasn’t near the living room so watching TV wasn’t an option while eating together. It took a while to break them, but once we did, our mealtimes changed dramatically.
5) Expect bumps in the road.
At the end of the day, these little guys and gals are still learning how to use their self-control muscles and will fail often. My controlling nature wants to expect our boys to get it right every time and when they don’t, I’m overcome with disappointment. But when I go into a situation anticipating hiccups and interruptions, I tend to react much more calmly.
Like I said, these five suggestions and habits are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to parenting tips. I also realize that I fall incredibly low on the list of mothers to run to for advice. But I feel like there are many of you moms and dads out there who, like us, just need some encouragement that you are not ruining your children and their futures, but with a few tweaks to your “normal” can redirect your family’s path toward a more thriving place.
Jesus said in John 10:10 . . .
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
For parents, the enemy knows that one of the quickest ways to cripple us is through our children and our relationship with them. Let’s vow today to no longer let Satan have that inroad, but instead claim the abundant life the Lord desires for our families.
What are some other practical steps you take as parents to keep peace in your home? I’m asking for a friend – wink, wink.