Christian Parenting Advice
Be a Positive Parent
By Melinda Means
There’s just something about Sunday morning at my house. I wish I could say it was the spirit of quiet reflection as we prepare to go to worship. On some occasions, however, the scene more readily evokes the essence of a raging volcano that propels us out the door to repent. We engage in a battle of “Beat the Clock”, trying hard not to make casualties of one another.
Over the years, as my children have gotten older, the war has waned. However, I vividly recall a stretch of Sundays when my then-nine-year-old daughter was the prime barrier to our peace and punctuality. Miraculously, one Sunday morning she appeared at the door, dressed, and exactly on time – but with a terminal case of bed head. My response was less than enthusiastic.
“Look at your hair, Molly! You can’t go out of the house like that!” I ranted. “How many times do I have to tell you to brush it?”
I immediately experienced a pang of deep regret when I looked at her crushed expression.
“I tried so hard this morning, Mom,” she said quietly. “Don’t I get any credit at all?”
A perfectionist to the core, I’m naturally inclined to be more picky than positive. On top of that, I fight an overwhelming urge to make a mountain out of a molehill. Sadly, being a kid at my house has sometimes been a tough gig.
Thankfully, a number of years ago, God began to open my eyes to how my critical bent was breaking my children’s spirits and slowly chipping away at our bond. He prompted me to ask myself some difficult and illuminating questions.
Do I want Relationship or to be Right?
I was often quite right about many of my kids’ shortcomings. However, the bottom line is this: Constant criticism hinders intimacy. My stubborn insistence to always be right, rather than carefully choose my battles, was sabotaging my goal of creating a home environment of openness, grace, and affection.
What parent was ever more right than Jesus? Yet he never wielded his authority like a battle axe. His correction was instructive, not destructive, providing practical wisdom to help prevent future mistakes.
John 8 tells the story of the adulterous woman who the Pharisees sought to stone for her sins. Christ, however, didn’t condemn or criticize. He didn’t berate her or recount her offenses. Instead, he offered love and grace, while providing clear instruction (“Go now and leave your life of sin.” John 8:11, NIV) and giving her another opportunity to act on it.
Is this about Character or Control?
As I’ve grown as a parent, I’ve realized that much of what I’m tempted to criticize is really about my preference. I get frustrated because my children aren’t doing something the way I would do it or the way I want them to do it.
I began to ask myself, “Does this really matter? Is what they’re doing a character issue I need to address or is this a control issue I need to let go? Is this about them or about me?”
Lying and disrespect, for example, warrant swift and effective discipline. However, constant nitpicking about messy closets or improperly made beds weakens our bond and compromises our influence when we have to confront the issues that matter the most.
Is my goal Performance or Passion?
The Pharisees were the ultimate rule-followers. Yet Jesus compared them to “whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside … are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23:27, NAS)
A critical spirit may result in outward compliance, but it also breeds latent resentment, a judgmental attitude towards others, and a worth that is rooted in performance. Like the Pharisees, our children become adept at looking for the worst first.
Most importantly, continual fault-finding negatively impacts children’s perception of God. They learn to view Him as a God of punishment, not of grace. Instead of trusting, they learn to worry. "I can’t ever measure up to my parents’ standards. How can I ever be good enough for God?"
When we model His love and grace, we point them to a Father who is forgiving, patient, and accepting. Obedience then flows from that relationship, not fear of retribution or verbal assault.
The heart of the wise instructs his mouth
And adds persuasiveness to his lips.
Pleasant words are a honeycomb,
Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
There is a way which seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death. Proverbs 16:23-25 (NAS)
We can’t engage in relationship without exerting influence. We can allow our emotions to continually find their way to our mouths, launching verbal missiles that inflict lasting wounds. Or, our words can be positive and constructive, encouraging our children to grow and soar. The choice is ours.
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Melinda Means is a freelance writer and recovering perfectionist now living under God’s grace. Her articles have appeared in Focus on the Family’s Focus on Your Child newsletters, Clubhouse, In Touch and Lifeway’s Journey: A Woman’s Guide to Intimacy with God. You can visit her website at www.parentingconfessions.com.
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