Monday, June 1, 2009

Parenting and Guilt

I revisited some old drafts recently and one in particular deals with something I continue to struggle with, so I thought I'd dust it off and share it with you now.

Isn't it sad to think how much of our parenting is a reaction of guilt about something? You know what I mean... you give the whiny child the extra serving of applesauce-- despite the whining and your attempts to never give them what they whine for so they'll learn not to whine-- because you feel so bad that they got woken up from their nap too early so you could make it to church on time. Or you decide not to spank them for back-talking this time because you feel guilty that you've not spent as much time with them this morning as you usually do. And there's always this rationalizing that goes on in the back of our minds, "I can't ask them to obey when I haven't been a good parent today..."

I think the problem here is a mis-understanding of what parenting IS-- what it's purpose is, what our role as parents is. We are stewards of the Lord's property. He has given us children in the same way that rich dude gave the talents to those guys in the parable. We aren't simply supposed to return the goods uninjured and intact. The man who buried his talents in the ground was roundly rebuked for his faithlessness. I think parents (and I include myself here as a chief offender) are often far too passive and reactive about their parenting.

I don't think that's what God really wants from me. I think I am supposed to challenge, mold, stretch and train my children. We are called to be proactive and deliberate in the way we "invest" our children. Our goal shouldn't be to simply co-exist in a fairly peaceful environment. We need to have a plan for the kind of person we want our kids to be as adults and we need to realize that parenting out of guilt is going to ruin that plan.

If I give in to whining out of guilt over my less-than-perfect parenting today, my child doesn't understand all the nuances of this emotional decision. He simply sees that whining works, at least sometimes. If I go in to nurse the crying toddler at 4 am because I really should have let him nurse longer before bed, only I wanted to get back to your guests; he doesn't understand that it's "just this once because Mommy feels bad...", he's simply seeing that the "rule" of sleeping at night can be bent to his own desires.

The goals that we have are not to make our children more convenient or more socially acceptable, but to instill certain Godly character traits; patience, kindness, self-control, etc. So to accept a temper tantrum because you "understand" your child's frustration at not having a story read to him because you were on the phone with a friend is not "building bridges" by let him "share his feelings" about how mommy wasn't "there for him". It's indulging a complete lack of self-control. And teaching a toddler to respond obediently to the word "no" is not a matter of pride or convenience on the part of the parent, it's the beginning of training that child in self-control.

If you make a decision, in a rational moment, that a certain thing is good for your child-- stick to it! You will never be a perfect person, so don't keep waiting till you're perfect to start parenting.

(not judging any of you, just sharing what I've been learning... talking to myself here)


Matt and Laurie Beardsley said...

Without writing a BIG Loooong comment, this post was exactly what I needed to read today, before I gave in to a WHOLE LOT of (justified, but still not allowed) whining!

Thanks for such a good post!

Herb of Grace said...

:)Any time. Although I always love to read big looong comments :)

Lauren Valentine said...

Definitely a good post Elisa. I have that "I don't spend enough time with my kid" constant guilt going does make it more tempting to compromise on the discipline. Thanks for the reminder and encouragement...much needed at this stage of the game.

Rebecca said...

I like this post. I may not be a parent yet, but I can certainly put this in the context of nannying. I guess it's refreshing to have someone else give voice to the reason behind the training and the discipline. Especially when it seems like a lot of the contemporary "experts" in child rearing do talk a lot about "understanding your child's feelings" and emphasis on freedom of expression. Bleh.