For a long time I have allowed myself to become extremely emotional as I have parented my children. As they get older the issues become more serious, and some have become so stressful to me that I can feel my heart racing, my adrenaline coursing through me. Stress like that is unhealthy and unnecessary. Today, I was faced with one of those issues that could have easily become the straw that broke it all.
(I think this stress is found in other relationships, not just in parenting.)
I paused long enough to ask myself why I was feeling so angry, so emotional. I wanted to know what was really going on in me because it was becoming all-consuming. The thermostat for my whole day was often set by my children. People, even adolescent people can have so much power over our emotions, if we are not careful. What I was often experiencing felt very close to panic.
Anger and fear. Why? Sure, my kids make me mad sometimes, but this was different. Deeper. Panic? I would discover a bad choice made by my child and I would start down a path of fear. Why?
Control. I have been desperately grasping for control while peace slipped away, leaving me a wreck. I want my children to behave. I want my children to do well in school. I want my children to know Jesus and walk in his freedom. I want my children to be responsible and trustworthy.
But here’s the thing. They are screwing up. Not one of the six is getting it all right. The one that comes the closest will more than likely need therapy for perfectionism.
People are messy. Mistakes are messy. When my children are walking down the wrong path I panic because I am afraid of what could happen, that I won’t get them back. When fear is in the control seat, ugly things like manipulation, overreaction, and shame show up in conversations. Conversations become confrontations as I try to regain the control and outcome that I desire.
Without realizing I get sucked into the vortex of reaction. They screw up and I react. Badly. I give a consequence, and then later I question my decision and even feel bad for my child, even if the consequence was deserved and appropriate.
Today I saw a glimpse of freedom that could be mine. It was like God played a trailer of a new parenting movie that he wants me to star in. I looked good in the trailer, not tired and haggard like I feel lately. I played a mom who did not flip out emotionally when her child posted something stupid on social media. She calmly removed the smart phone from her not-so-smart, but developing teenager, and told him to spend a couple of days considering the power of such technology (that he wasn’t paying for) and how he could use it for good.
The mom I saw in the trailer responded to the children knowing that stupid choices were just part of growing up and not an assault on her worth as their mother. Though she desired peace and a happy ending for each one, she realized that she could not create or maintain either. Her consequences were not born of overreaction, but the result of thought and prayer.
It was just a trailer, but it was enough to convince me that God has a better option than spending my day planning out the perfect thing to say to my child to convince him to live exactly how I want him to so that we can skip through the meadows of flowers together.
See, I get freaked out when there is conflict. It creates insecurity and fear in me, so I try to control. Trying to control brings on the stress. Seeing this clearly has brought hope for change. It’s given me confidence in parenting.
My children will make mistakes. They will disobey, disrespect, and wander down their own paths at times. My stress and worry are only a sign of my fear and my lack of trust in the one who loves my children most. It’s time to let that go.
This will take some prayer and some practice.
Where is your stress coming from? Maybe some good questions could help you find the source and find freedom.
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your weary souls. (Matthew 11:28)
Marianna Dollyhigh is a pastor’s wife and mom to six. She blogs at Messy Journey where this blog post was first featured.
Published May 12, 2016