My fellow weary mothers, how many times do we find ourselves overwhelmed and at our wits’ end, feeling pulled in too many directions at once? Our obligations are endless as we’re expected to be wearing multiple hats at any given moment- cook, secretary, chauffeur, nurse, referee, maid, teacher, counselor… SO many hats! How are we to keep from being constantly frazzled and depleted? I’ve identified only FOUR main hats that moms should wear. In Part 1 and 2 of this post series, we talked about the first two mom-hats, being a MASTER GARDENER and MANAGER of the MONKEYS (I don’t mean your kids). We’re ready for the VISIONARY hat and the final hat of BAROMETER.
Have you seen the newest non-animated version of Cinderella (Disney 2015)? Near the beginning of the story we see Cinderella receive a small but powerful message at the deathbed of her birth mother. Five simple words, “Have courage and be kind,” guided Cinderella throughout her difficult early years when she had plenty of opportunity to be resentful, vindictive, and angry.
At the end of the movie, when she has married the prince, we watch her humbly and mercifully forgive her step-mother. Cinderella’s mother had spoken life into Cinderella’s soul, blessing her with love by visualizing Cinderella’s character as kind and brave. She could see it in her mother’s eyes and hear it in her voice that her mother truly believed that Cinderella would be brave and kind, that she had the ability to be that caliber of person no matter what would come her way, and it is that visionary blessing that carried the young girl through all of her many hardships.
Scripture says that we hold the power of LIFE and DEATH in our TONGUE (Proverbs 18:21). The words we as parents choose make all the difference in whether or not we are CASTING a VISION of abundant life – the look in our eye and the sound of our voice as we’re saying we believe our child was created for good things (motivating her to excellence in efforts, kindness in interactions, and bravery in the adventures of life which all lead to abundant living). Or we hold the power of death in our words – diminishing the child’s worth, demotivating them from striving for seemingly unattainable excellence, demanding a good behavior on the outside while not shaping their heart for good on the inside. (Matthew 23:27). I am sad to say that I have learned many hard lessons about the power of word choice, tone, and the look in my eye when speaking to my kids and I will always regret these mistakes. This is the area in which I have failed the most as a mom and God has helped me to overcome so many incorrect perspectives about this area of parenthood.
Because my natural personality type is Dominant – someone who tends to think that they’re always right and their way is always the best way – you can imagine how difficult I have made life for my kids from time to time, especially before I started to recognize the great importance of our words and attitudes, and our vision for our kids. My strongest-willed son was also my firstborn son. Sadly, I had not learned the importance of being a visionary with my words when he was younger. I would scold him with words like, “Why do you always do that?” or “Stop always horsing around,” etc. My tone and the look on my face only further repeated the harsh statements. I was telling him that he was those negative behaviors. Compounding that was that the other kids would hear me say those things. How terrible! I didn’t realize it at the time but it hurt his self-worth even more that his siblings heard those negative words spoken over him and it would affect their words of him as well. Sarcasm, condescending answers, or negative jokes are all examples of the negative power of a parent’s tongue and all are things that I’ve had to work on personally. While I have done everything I can to rectify and repair the damage that I caused him and our relationship, this remains one of the biggest regrets of my life! I am convinced that regret is one of the most miserable feelings in all of humanity because there is no hope for a re-do in regret. Some things in life, actually for most things in life, we don’t get do-overs. I heard a wonderful quote that has helped me a lot in managing my regret, which said, “While it is good to look at the past to learn from it, don’t ever feed the past. Feed the future.” I will always have to live with this regret, but I am determined to put my efforts into having an abundant relationship with my son and to give him now the blessing and vision that he deserved all along. Thankfully, God is a God of transformation, making beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:1-3). Multiple times in my journey of motherhood, I’ve experienced the gift of forgiveness from my kids, and seen God remake the brokenness that I had caused.
Here’s another example of being a VISIONARY to our kids:
* It’s Wednesday morning and Eight-year-old Emma’s laundry day. She brings down her laundry and I stand with her in the laundry room while she sorts items into categories as we talk about laundry do’s and don’ts. I notice that she had put a dress into her dirty clothes that wasn’t actually dirty. Would you believe this is a positive opportunity?! This is a great chance to help her develop her character and learn more about God’s design for her life -even to let her know that God fashioned her with his careful, intentional design because she is so highly valued by Him, and that her actions should match that intentional care.
After asking her some questions, we figure out together that she did what was EASY instead of what was BEST. I want to convey with my words, facial expression, and look in my eye, that I believe her she was meticulously crafted by God with all the treasured details that make up our dear Emma and, likewise, her work and creations and actions should be a reflection of that same caliber. Because I’m mom and wear the hat of VISIONARY, I want to give her a vision of herself as one who lives by the standard “I do what is BEST, not what is EASY.” I can give her some examples in scripture of how God blessed the person who did the BEST thing instead of the EASY thing. I can point out some times that I remember when she or someone we know did the BEST thing even though it was hard. And we can pray and ask God to help both of us be strong enough to choose the BEST over the EASY.
To do all of this with my daughter takes a lot of extra time at the moment, but it has long term great benefits for her life development and it wasn’t as destructive to our relationship as scolding her would have been. If this is a topic that I have taught to her previously (especially recently) then I would need to choose a consequence instead of a talk (some reasonable consequences might be to do an extra load of laundry or teach her how to iron her dress that is now wrinkled or have her clean out her closet to donate some items toward a charity to help her remember that there are poor children who wish they had a dress like hers). While I may need to give a consequence for her choice in this situation because I want her to know that choices have consequences, when I deliver the consequence I try to do it with an attitude of, “I am so sad to have to give this consequence but it’s important because you are a person who makes good decisions and this wasn’t a good decision. Our goal is that this consequence will help you to remember to make decisions based on what is BEST, not what is EASY.” As a parent, avoid an attitude of “I have no compassion for your situation since you brought it on yourself.” Mom, learn from MY mistake that a sarcastic tone from the parent hurts relationship and diminishes the character development opportunity for the child. Show compassion in your consequence. For example you could say, “I remember when I was a kid and instead of sweeping the floor the way I knew I was supposed to, I swept all the dirt under the rug. I got in big trouble with my mom for doing that. It’s no fun to be in trouble.”
We look to the Heavenly Father as a VISIONARY to all of us- He tells us who we were made to be (Jeremiah 1:5), tells us He adores us (Jeremiah 31:3, Psalm 17:8), tells us we were not made for weakness and sin (Romans 6:2). God is the Great BLESSING Giver, our Vision-Caster for a life abundant! Just as God tells us that He LOVES US UNCONDITIONALLY beyond measure, we need to find meaningful ways to do this with our children.
The second part of being our child’s visionary is by clearly letting them know WHO WE EXPECT THEM TO BE. For example, my strongest-willed daughter could have been generally labeled “little miss pride pants”- while the youngest, telling everyone else what to do and how to do it “right” as often as she could. (You think maybe she inherited her mama’s dominant personality?) I would have to tell her regularly, “You are a kind and humble girl so you don’t sound bossy to your siblings. You’re not their boss or policeman, you’re their cheerleader. As their cheerleader you say, ‘Wow, good try, Abby! ‘Thanks for your help, Josh’.” I was giving her a vision of who she is meant to be and spoke that positive label over her. By age eight she had drastically improved in being kind and humble-hearted with others. (Yes, there was also consequences along the way to help get her attention on the importance of these matters). She’s not perfect, but greatly improved. We have to be careful with our words, careful to be sure to speak vision of abundant life and not a vision of sin and failure to them. And it shouldn’t just be our words only, but also our tone and the look on our face should also say, “I see this vision for you, my child.”
(For more insight on this topic, read the books THE BLESSING authored by Gary Smalley and John Trent, as well as The Way of the Wild Heart by John Eldridge).
Barometers measure atmospheric pressure. As weather forecasters monitor air pressure, observing these measurements can signal warnings that bad weather is coming or is already there. Just like a Barometer gauges the pressure in the air, moms need to be the barometers of our children, observing how they are doing emotionally, spiritually, physically, and socially. When we see signs of high or low pressure, we need to find out what’s going on. Don’t be quick to make assumptions, but rather ask lots of questions. You might need to get them out of the normal routine to get them talking, maybe go for a drive, put a puzzle together or take them for gelato. Find a happy setting to find out what’s going on. When I was a teenager, the only way my mom could get me to open up was to go for walks together. There was something about not having to look at each other that helped me to open up to her.
We need to remain vigilant on monitoring the pressure in our kids’ lives. (Uncomfortable alert) AND we need to be monitoring if WE are the cause of some of the troubles. Our personality type plays a big role in what kind of parent we are. For instance, a dominant personality, like myself, leans more to being focused on RULES and being weak on RELATIONSHIPS while a more Gentle-spirited or Fun-loving parent type might lean toward RELATIONSHIP and tend to be weak on RULES. We have to balance both Rules and Relationship with our child, consistently LOVING and consistently JUST. Well known author and expert on parenting teenagers, Josh McDowell says, “Rules without Relationship leads to Rebellion.“ I agree, but I also believe that Mercy Only without Boundaries and Consequences ALSO leads to Rebellion. It takes consistency from both to maintain a healthy relationship and a healthy relationship with our child is key to being able to be an effective Barometer in their lives. The Barometer Hat is essential for moms because it truly is a hat best worn by a mother. We know what “normal” on their gauge looks like, we know what extenuating factors may be going into the high or low barometric pressure (perhaps they’re worried about Grandpa who just had a heart attack so they couldn’t sleep last night, or they are having a hard time adjusting to their sister who has gotten married and no longer has as much time for the younger sibling) and these extenuating circumstances are causing some real grumpiness symptoms. You as mom care more about all of the stuff that is going on in their lives than anyone else and thus you’re in the best position to evaluate the attitudes and actions and words that are coming from your child.
Wearing the Barometer Hat well means: 1. Be Observant. (Are they spending an usual amount of time in their room or sleeping extra? Has their personality suddenly become very closed and withdrawn? Has their attitude become very negative? Are they acting out in uncharacteristic ways? These are all signs that the barometric pressure has risen and you want to find out what’s causing it. Unusually bad behavior (behavior that is not usual FOR THAT CHILD) is not typically a time for consequences, it’s a cry for help. You want to be watching to see how they are doing a) Spiritually, b) Emotionally, c) Physically, d) Socially, e) Academically while you work to get to the bottom of what’s causing the symptoms. Of course, sometimes consequences may be necessary, but if it is not normal behavior for the child, see it as more of a sign to YOU, their barometer, that there is a problem you need to identify, rather than just jumping into a “quick fix” of behavior modification. Consequences are best suited for repeated bad habits or repeated bad actions or passivity, not unusual behavior.
2. Keep the Relationship in good standing. It will take much effort to protect the parent/child relationship during the “storms” that blow into your child’s life but it is so important to maintain that relationship if you want to adequately wear the hat of Barometer. If you are a parent who tends to be DOMINANT and CONTROLLING by nature, work on Filling your child’s LOVE TANK, letting them know you unconditionally adore them If you are a parent who tends to be extra MERCIFUL and EASY GOING, work on developing consistency in following through with appropriate consequences. Parents who are too merciful (showing mercy when they should be displaying boundaries) will often end up with rebellious kids because those children interpret this as insecurity in the parent. Thus, the teenager, believing the parent isn’t respecting his or her own parental authority, is not respectful of the parents’ authority either. My father had strict rules and expected excellence in everything we did, but he also consistently displayed a joyful, adoring, selfless love for us that made me honor him. Even though I didn’t like how strict his rules were, I honored his rules because I respected him. Keeping the parent/child relationship in good standing is a delicate balance of both Consistent Unwavering Standard delivered by Merciful Relationship.
3. Seek More Information. As your child’s Barometer when you recognize a change in pressure, it’s time to investigate, not time to “come down hard on them.” Ask lots of questions but be careful to not make the child feel like he is on the witness stand and you’re judging his answers, seeking to catch him being inaccurate or using his words against him to get him in trouble. Instead, you want to listen without judgement at this point or he is sure to clam back up. Be a SAFE PLACE for him to talk to you. Just listen and pray that God will give you the right words to keep him talking. Sometimes just the process of talking it out can help your child to move past the pressure. If not, you can brainstorm together on solutions. Be sure to give your child the opportunity to identify some solutions for themselves and be sure to cast the vision that you believe in their ability to handle this situation with integrity and wisdom. Sometimes just knowing you, the parent, believes in him is all he needs to muster up the courage to tackle the problem.)
Rather than feeling like we should wear 500 hats at once, Moms need to focus on the four hats that only parents can wear in our child’s life:
MANAGER OF THE MONKEYS,
There is one thing that should be a part of every one of the hats you wear, mom. That one thing is PRAYER. Our Heavenly Father loves your kids even more than you do, and He knows them better than you do, as He made them. He is the source for all the solutions your family needs and you can trust His leading. Isaiah 40:11 says that “He gently leads those who have young.” In everything you do, dear mother, breath prayer throughout every word spoken, breath in prayer through every deep breath of concern or fear or worry or contemplation. Turn all of those concerns over to God because YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THE OUTCOME of your children’s lives.
There is no perfect formula that will always produce perfect children. Ultimately God has given every person free will and once your children are adults, the outcome of their lives are based on their choices (among other things) but what You are RESPONSIBLE for is how you tend the garden of their growth, how you give them the tools to be self-sufficient with excellence, what kinds of vision you cast for their futures, and your efforts at gauging how they are doing emotionally, spiritually, physically, and socially as they grow.
Remember that God isn’t watching your performance with a magnifying glass to catch all your minute errors along the way. No, He is filling in the gaps in your errors (for we all have plenty of those, as we are human). “He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young” (Isaiah 40:11).