A Letter to the Guilty Parent

I know you’ve heard it. Older, wiser people telling you that consistency is what makes discipline effective. I agree with that statement one hundred percent because it has proven true repeatedly in my own parenting journey. I go through seasons where I’m really good about being consistent in discipline and during those seasons, I enjoy my “Threenager” so much more than during the inconsistent seasons. But then I get lazy and stop being as quick to correct and admonish. I start justifying his actions with excuses about him not acting like his normal self, being tired or sick, or even questioning whether he heard me or not.

Before long, his behavior gets so out of control and having tried everything I can think of (because in my mind I have been disciplining….I just ignore the fact that I don’t remember when the last time was) I reach out for advice from pretty much anywhere I can think of. And it always comes back to the same thing: consistency.

So simple.

To a normal person this might be a relief, only having to work on one thing essentially. But to me, this advice leads to even more frustration. I have a tenancy to make things more difficult and refuse to believe that anything as complicated as my three years old’s attitude could be resolved with such a simple solution. But before I resolve to do better, I usually take a moment to get mad at myself. It’s so frustrating to go looking for some complex psychological solution and come up with a simple one word answer. It’s maddening because I had to ask someone for help on something I probably figured out before but ignored.

Pretty soon that initial frustration morphs into guilt and failure. I start telling myself lies about how I should have seen the answer sooner and how if I had just taken things one step at a time, they wouldn’t have gotten this bad. I convince myself that letting things go as far as this before addressing them makes me a horrible mother and so on and so on. Now, you might think I’m being a bit dramatic for the purpose of making this post more interesting, but this really is how my brain works.

Guilt: the Arch Nemesis

I struggle with guilt on so many levels, several of those levels belonging in the parenting category. This battle with consistency is just one example. And anytime I receive advice on how to do something or correct a problem, I instantly jump to guilt, counting myself as a failure. Instead of simply learning from my mistakes, I keep track of these little failures, viewing them as marks of inadequacy to the point they weigh me down so much I don’t see any point in trying at all and then I feel guilty for feeling guilty.

Slaying the Dragon

One doesn’t just snap out of this mindset. It’s a vicious cycle that enjoys tormenting you with your own weakness and humanity. So what does it take for me to come out from under the cloud of guilt?

  1. Prayer. Often tearful, sobbing prayers that occasionally take place quite literally on my knees. It’s here that I confess the fact that I have come to the end of myself. It’s here that I surrender to my own human weakness and recognize God’s divine strength. It’s here I do what I should have been doing all along: cry out to God for strength and wisdom to train my children.
  2. Meditate. The biggest challenge is combating the lies I’ve been telling myself with the truth of Scripture. The challenge for me isn’t recalling the truth, but letting it sink in and refresh my heart. I remind myself that there is no condemnation to those who belong to Christ (Romans 8:1) and that His strength is made perfect in my weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9). Essentially it’s remembering that He is God and I need Him for all things.
  3. Learn. Finally I’m ready to learn from my failure and work out a solution to get me back on track. In the case of consistency, I’ve recently decided to write down the two or three things I want to work on with Paul M. I write down the issue, the biblical name for the offense, and the appropriate consequence. Not for his benefit, (He’s only three and can’t read yet.) but for mine. Because now, I have a physical reminder of how to handle a disrespectful tone. It also helps me remember the exact consequence so I’m not changing it up on him all the time.

Grace for all things

The antidote for guilt is grace. I have always been very hard on myself in basically anything I do. Not sure why because experience has told me that it never ends well. But when I reach that breaking point and crawl back into the arms of grace, I praise God that His love for me is not based on my performance. The blessings I receive are not a result of any effort on my part. He doesn’t keep a report card and refer to it at the end of the week to decide if I deserve a reward or not. He chooses to bless His children because that’s His character.

So how should that knowledge effect the way I look at motherhood? It should bring a great sense of relief. Because if my standing before Christ were based on my performance as a mother, I’d be in huge trouble. But because of Christ and His work here on earth, I stand as an adopted child of God and nothing can change that status. No amount of good will make me more His child and no amount of bad will make me less. And as His child, He promises His strength and grace to get me through any trial in this life, not because I deserve it, but because He graciously desires it.

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