By Cortni Marrazzo, Crosswalk.com
Deep down in the heart of many parents is a nagging feeling that they are messing up when it comes to raising their children. Most of us parents want to be the best parents we can be and it can be easy to be hard on ourselves when we continually miss the mark.
Just like you can’t be a perfect human, it’s also impossible to be a perfect parent, yet some of us find ourselves desperately trying to achieve this elusive standard. In our humanity, we get tired, irritable, say the wrong things, don’t give our kids enough attention, look forward to bedtime, give them too much screen time, etc. and our standard of perfection is shot.
When my son was diagnosed with various struggles like anxiety, ADHD, and sensory processing disorder, his varied behaviors started to make a bit more sense, but I still struggled with reacting to these behaviors in an unhealthy way.
This led me to start seeing a counselor, and eventually my son started seeing his own counselor as well. It wasn’t until we were both going to counseling at the same time and working on similar things (like controlling our anger and working through anxiety) that I realized how important it was to share my journey towards becoming emotionally healthy with him, since he was on the same journey.
Instead of trying to be the one who always knew better and the one who was always the perfect example, I started trying to empathize with my son when it came to what he was going through.
I learned that teaching my kids the skills of being authentic, being honest about their struggles, and just being a real person is more impactful for their future than me doing (or pretending to do) all the right things and showing up like I have it all together.
It’s been a freeing journey for me, and one that I’m still navigating, but here are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way that have helped me be real rather than perfect.
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1. Be Honest about Your Emotions
In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. Ephesians 4:26
Forgiving your kids and managing your reactionary emotions to an event are two totally different things. Both of them are choices, but they are often separate processes.
When you find yourself highly upset over something your child has done, it’s important to seek out what will help you calm down. This might look like taking a few minutes alone to pray and bring God your anger and frustration, deep breathing, a good cry, a few minutes alone in your closet, or whatever it is that can help you regroup.
Once you are able to calm your emotions a bit, it can be very helpful to bring your kids into your process and be honest with them about the emotions you were struggling with, and what you did that helped you calm down.
Be honest about how their actions made you angry or hurt your feelings. When you do this, you model healthy habits for your kids of how to work through their own emotions.
If you feel like you actually overreacted to the situation (which we all do as parents), admit that too. You can share with them factors that led you to overreact, like maybe you had a bad day at work or you are really tired (appropriate to their age and maturity level of course).
This can be really powerful because it not only causes you to admit that you have things going on causing you additional emotional stress, but can also lower the tension between you and your child, because chances are they already know you overreacted and when you deny that fact, it can sometimes lead to distrust.
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2. Admit and Apologize When You Make a Mistake
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience Col 3:12
As a parent, I make a lot of mistakes simply because I am a human.
I get impatient and snappy with my kids, I sometimes yell, I forget to follow through on things I tell them I will do, and the list goes on. Every parent makes mistakes and it’s human nature to want to hide or rationalize those mistakes, especially towards your kids.
But when you take the time to admit when you overreacted, said something you shouldn’t have, etc., it models for your children the importance (and the ability) of apologizing. Admitting your mistake shows your kids that we all make mistakes, and apologizing shows them the healthy response to making a mistake.
Admitting you when you are wrong can also help to soften your child’s heart toward you, as well as helps them recognize that you are trying to be better, and that you are human, just like they are.
3. Quickly Forgive Your Children
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Col 3:1
When your kids make a mistake, you want to be able to model forgiveness, even if you are really upset about what they did.
This can feel especially hard to do when they don’t even seem to feel bad about their actions, but forgiving them despite that teaches them that forgiveness is a choice, and it shows them that they can choose to forgive, even when they are still upset.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that there will not be consequences for their actions. In fact, consequences given from a place of forgiveness rather than anger are more likely to be effective.
Something we are trying to work on with our boys right now is the concept of a “payback”, where they reciprocate an unkind action that was done to them. If I’m not careful to quickly forgive my kids when they make a bad choice, I can end up giving a “payback” instead of a consequence when I am really upset about an action and react in anger by giving a punishment that is out of proportion to the offense.
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4. Spend Time with God Regularly and Seek to Become More like Him
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Col 2:6-7
Purposefully spending time with God and growing in your relationship with Him will result in you becoming more like Him. You will grow and change to be more patient, understanding, and loving, and your kids will see that and take notice.
When I get upset at my children’s behavior and overreact, I try to take some time to explain how I have to work on controlling my emotions, just like they do. This is usually best done when everyone in the situation calms down (including myself), but it’s something I try to commit to circling back to with them.
When I can relate to my son in his struggles instead of judging him for acting the way he does, it shows him empathy. And when I can explain to him that I pray and ask God to help me, and that He does, it shows him an example of how he can do the same.
5.Continually Point Your Children towards Jesus
The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:8
Even in your best efforts to become a real parent instead of a perfect one, you will still fail at times because you are human.
This is why the most important thing you can do for our kids is to continually point them towards Jesus, the only One who is perfect and will never let them down.
You will let them down, their friends will let them down, their future spouses will even let them down, but if they have the foundation to know that God will never let them down, it will carry them through so many struggles in their lives and keep their feet planted when storms come.
When you model a real relationship with Jesus Christ (not a perfect one), it will teach your children more than mere words ever can.
When you share with them the stories of how God has been faithful to provide for you, rescue you, heal you, and all the other incredible things He’s done and continues to do, these stories of His faithfulness will stay with them long after they are grown and out of your house, and will continue on through future generations.
Cortni Marrazzo lives in Spokane, WA with her husband Jason and their two elementary-age sons, one of which has special needs. She has a Degree in Biblical Discipleship and has a passion for encouraging and inspiring people toward God’s Word through writing and speaking. You can contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Instagram or Facebook.
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