Last week when we posted our new About Us page. We encouraged parents to pursue joy in their homes by learning along with our family the wonderful depths of love. We got this email asking a very good question:
HOW does one parent with love? I am struggling with wanting to do anything BUT raise my kids. I am expecting [another child] and I want to run away. I try to spend time in prayer and God’s word but my heart is not changing. This is not a new thing – I’ve felt this way for more than a year.
Wow, this is intense. Chris and I spend so much time trying to persuade people that they should love. Funny how we have to do that. But once persuaded, how do you love? The answer to that could fill a book. Let me share with you the steps I suggested to this online friend who asked an honest question, “How do I parent with love?”
1. Step 1: Recognize that there is a problem
It’s much too easy to fall into a blame game when there is tension in the home. We dodge responsibility in our attempt to justify our frustration. Don’t do that! Instead, be honest with yourself and admit that there is a problem. When we admit that a problem exists, we can take the situation to heart. You’re already on the road to finding an answer to your struggle.
This also keeps us from being mean to our kids, our spouse or ourselves. We tend to beat ourselves up for “feelings.” Having the “feeling” of running away does not make you a bad person. Running away does, but all of us have “take me away!” Calgon moments. Don’t beat yourself up for that.
Feelings are like pain. They don’t do anything but expose a problem. Feelings are just, well, feelings. We shouldn’t give into them, but see them as indicators that something is wrong that deserves our attention.
2. Step 2: Separate the lies from the truth
Truth is, you love your children. You wouldn’t say otherwise. Every parent – even the most dysfunctional – will insist she loves her children. You want to keep them fed and clean and you want to protect them from getting hurt and so on. You do love them. They are your sweet little bundles of joy.
Your feelings right now do not measure up with your honest love for your children. You’re fed up (the truth) and thinking of running away (the lie). In fact, shove that irritating lie out of the way; running away is silly to think about. It wouldn’t solve a thing and would blow up your family. It just isn’t an option, so forget it. Don’t stand for the lies of the Enemy who wants to ruin the good life you have built with your spouse and children.
Relax, you do not have to be a perfect parent (perhaps that’s another lie you fell for?) anymore than your children have to be perfect kids (I hope you’re not expecting that).
Here are some popular lies vs. truths out there:
- Truth: my child is failing is school. Lie: my child should be perfect.
- Truth: I’m frustrated with my spouse. Lie: my spouse should be perfect.
- Truth: I’m tired of getting my kids to do chores. Lie: my kids are lazy and won’t ever learn to do their chores.
- Truth: my home is filled with little kids. Lie: my children will always be small and I’ll always be running after littles.
- Truth: we’re going through a difficult time. Lie: we’ll always be going through a difficult time.
See how the lies derail you from focusing on the problem? You end up overwhelmed, helpless, thinking the only way out is to run away. Refuse to give into the lies. When you refuse, you’re more apt to come up with solutions.
3. Step 3: Change what you can
It may seem awkward or wooden at first, but do the things that you know you should do. First think it, then do it. The feelings will follow.
In Love in The House I write about that very thing:
“We all have choices to make, and choosing to love your children is the greatest of all choices. Failing to consciously make the choice to love can unfortunately, hinder your relationship with your children.”
For example, perhaps you’ve not felt inclined to treat your kids with affection. It may feel fake at first, but do things that show your affection for your kids. Give your daughter a hug and say you love her, even if you don’t feel like doing it. If you don’t feel like showing affection, at least you can pretend. Go through the motions. You will find that as you go through the motions, your feelings catch up with your behavior.
We can’t live our lives being dragged around by our negative feelings. When we feel it first before doing it, we usually regret our actions. Learn to do it the other way around.
I am amazed at how well this works. Instead of feeling like I used to feel – being dragged around by my negative feelings – I can instead put myself in charge by simply changing my thoughts.
I have felt this way too. I can identify with “take me away!” feelings. If I could give you a hug, I would! Of course, these steps to love are just scratching the surface. Does anyone else have any suggestions for this hurting mom?