We have all been there, that public outing when our child is being “too loud.” We then helplessly watch as strangers invite themselves to offer unsolicited opinions or critical looks. I used quotations because I think many people have forgotten that children make all sorts of noises, especially when they are not absorbed with some kind of electronic device, but I digress. Typically, we feel an instant rush of embarrassment pulsate through our body. Or, maybe annoyance creeps into our minds and it flows swiftly off our tongues as we bark a directive at our child. Why?Many of us have tied our own reputations or identities into the behavior of our children. We believe their performance is somehow a performance review of ourselves. This tends to lead to us trying to control our children’s behavior, rather than cultivating their hearts.
Being a life-giving parent is something I have thought a lot about, both in my current season of mothering, and when reflecting on my relationship with my own Mum. As a young child, I remember feeling like a blessing to my mother, regardless of my current mood or behavior. I was not spoiled, but I was honored, and there is a huge key difference. I was taught to be a team member in our family, to show gratitude, and to express empathy toward others. I was never given things just for the sake of it, I was given something far better: my parents time. I honored my parents, and still do, not because they demanded it, but because honoring one another was part of our family culture.
As I grew up, my mother patiently waited during seasons of distance or testing, which made me feel like I had space to explore my own thoughts and ideas. I wanted to share my heart with her because she offered wisdom, guidance,and grace – not judgement or attempts to control. As an adult, she let me spread my wings and become a young wife, all while welcoming my husband in as she would her own son. My husband and I love doing life with my Mum and Dad, and sharing in the joys of our own children as we watch them grandparent with the same unconditional love we have always felt.
I know that so many of us do not have a flourishing relationship with our own parents, and my heart breaks for those of you who have been hurt by the very same people who are supposed to protect you. Trust me, I GET that pain, because I have watched those I love most in this world have to experience it, but that does not mean we cannot seek to build something different with our own children. It all starts with…
Cultivating Hearts, not Controlling Behavior
- The younger years MATTER: We sometimes lose sight of that in the repetition of nursery rhymes or the “never-ending” need for diaper changes. You are not just keeping small humans alive, you are building the foundation of their entire lives. You are creating habits, because children thrive on routine, so why not make it count? I am not just talking about a solid “going-to-bed” routine, I’m talking about practicing gratitude and grace. Do you pray for others with your children? Do you have them decorate cookies with you and drop them off to a lonely neighbor? It is never too early to start living the way that you hope they will continue to live as adults.
- Your child’s behavior is NOT about you: Remember the scenario we talked about earlier, and that feeling of embarrassment or annoyance that we get when our children act out of turn? Do not place your identity on your children’s ability to behave well. It is easy to pat ourselves on the back when our children act lovely, and it is also easy to project our own expectations on them when they do not. Neither of these tendencies help us respond to them in a way that points their hearts to Jesus, instead of at us.
- Listen first, talk third: My daughters cannot talk much yet, but even now I try to leave room for them to show me what they need, or give them a chance to respond when I talk. As they grow, I am 100% convinced that they will be better off if I pray for them more than I talk at them, so I will strive for praying to always proceed talking. I want to listen to them, allow the silent moments to help them dig further into their thoughts, and help them feel safe to tell me anything. Children need space to find themselves, and sometimes to think out loud without interjection. Guidance is always more effective when partnered with grace, and nothing pushes someone away faster than the need to control.
- Figure out when to be a shield and when to be a hug: This sounds redundant, but it needs to be said. Children need a childhood. We tend to expose them to way too many adult-sized issues, before providing them a safe place to grow in truth and love. Whether it is through movies, media, or even unsafe situations that we dismiss in order to keep the peace with others; children are often put in the middle of things that corrupt the necessary innocence of childhood. Richard and I have been shields several times already. Now that we have little eyes watching and little ears listening, we only welcome love into our home and push back the rest. We have had to create space if people cannot keep adult issues between adults, and we make sure our own adult-sized stresses are discussed AFTER our girls go to bed. We also know though that we will not always need to be shields, but instead we will need to be the hugs offered after sanctification has occurred. Our children need the freedom to make their own mistakes, or suffer their own heartbreaks. We intend to be the open arms that will walk with them during those times, knowing we cannot and should not prevent the hurt, but instead be present in whatever way they need us to be when those seasons occur.
- Pray they love Jesus and nothing more: If our children love Jesus with their whole heart, then glory to God the rest will take care of itself. When my husband and I pray with and for our girls, we pray for them and their future spouses to love Jesus. That’s it. I do not care if they make straight A’s, go to good colleges, or have killer careers. Releasing my hopes and self projections NOW will help me love them without conditions or expectations when they are making all of their own decisions.
Is it always easy? No. Is it always worth it? YES! There is something truly magical that happens when we release children from our own expectations. This post was as much for myself as it was for you, because these are all things I will never be done learning and growing in. So here is to journeying in Un-Expecting Motherhood together, cultivating hearts, and leaning in to who God created our children to be.
Read more of my posts on parenting here: