I would often like to fire myself as a parent. But since there's no one else biologically qualified for the job, I try to content myself with learning from my mistakes while developing what I hope is an increasing dependence on the grace of God.
I think one thing that means is reflecting a bit on what previous (and current) failures might indicate about my own heart deficiencies, as well as how they might be mitigated in the future. The following includes a few short thoughts on some of the challenges and hurdles I've faced as the father of three young kids. I offer them here for two reasons. First, perhaps you'll feel some solidarity being reminded that your experience of parenting as difficult and humbling is far from unique. Second, if your particular challenges are similar to mine, I hope you'll find something below to be helpful in your situation (and you can always give me good advice as well).
So here are four overlapping areas I've noticed of late. It goes without saying that this list is anything but exhaustive:
1. The tendency to over-correct by over-talking
Maybe you've been there. Your child has just done something that needs some kind of significant correction. It might even be something that you've already spoken with him or her about on any number of occasions. You think to yourself, "I've got to do something to really convey how important this is. My child simply has to get it." And for the lack of a better strategy, your solution is talking … and more talking … repeating and emphasizing and on and on and on.
Your clue that you've perhaps overdone it: your child starts to become distracted and/or frustrated with the process … and she actually has a point. Or much to your increasing chagrin, there are even times when he can't even remember why he's in trouble in the first place.
There is a real need to explain clearly to our kids what went wrong and what needs to happen next time. And no, they don't always respond to correction like they should, which sometimes necessitates further conversation and discipline. But more times than I care to admit, I've bought into the idea that multiplying my words will produce a better effect. This not only exasperates my kids unnecessarily, but it's often indicative of my self-sufficiency and/or a desire to take out my frustration in a less than helpful way. Far better to communicate clearly and concisely about the matter at hand and then move to praying both for and with my child. That way, we’ll at least be talking to the person who can change both our hearts.
2. Tone and volume
I don't necessarily doubt that there are appropriate times for parents to raise their voices or otherwise speak sharply to their children. But I'm even more convinced that it's most often not appropriate when I do it.
There is power in firm, yet even speech, and that should surely be the norm. Moreover, I've found that I sometimes resort to raising my voice simply because I don't really want to expend the effort to get up from whatever I'm doing and give the situation the attention it really deserves. A good question to think about: over the long haul, will my children see the way I talk as evidence that my advice, correction, and discipline is consistently motivated by my love for them?
3. Saying no by default
Kids are constantly trying to stretch boundaries. They want to try new things and, very often, take whatever freedom they have entirely too far. Particularly when kids are young, a parent is obligated to say no quite a bit.
But I've found that I often say no by default. If for no other reason, it's simply easier. My own peace and comfort is often well served by me refusing to grant my child's request. Then again, my role as a parent isn't primarily to secure my own ease. Rather, I'm entrusted with the responsibility of shepherding my children toward maturity and personal responsibility. And so saying yes often means serving in any number of ways: playing, giving attention and assistance, teaching, encouraging, cleaning up the resulting mess, etc. Additionally, these ways of serving are all good investments in our father-child relationship, which, whether I want it to or not, will likely have significant bearing on how my kids view their Father in heaven, both now and in the future.
4. Forgetting how the Lord treats me
Related to all of the above, it can be terribly frustrating when your kids don't respond to you or others in the right way. Loving them deeply sometimes only increases that frustration. And I've been struck by how easy it is for me to linger in that mindset.
But I'm reminded of the repeated biblical refrain: "the Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love." Remembering how my heavenly Father treats me is an effective antidote when I'm annoyed or even angry with my own children. Toward that end, I've been praying that these aspects of Lord's character would be increasingly reflected in my own.