My wife, Lynne, and I blew it a lot. We lost it with our kids. We reacted impulsively instead of responding thoughtfully. We exerted our power in order to control. We disciplined for our comfort rather than in our kids’ best interest. We made demands that had no sound basis, simply because “we’re the parents!”
On many occasions, we said ugly words, made ugly faces and treated our kids downright ugly. We justified these actions because “our kids needed to learn their lessons!”
We were quite effective at disguising our selfish, sinful motives behind masks of authority, logic and even firm, “spiritual” guidance. We found that in spite of the most holy of intentions, our sin still does “easily entangle” (see Hebrews 12:1).
As a result, on numerous occasions we simply did not obey the first part of the boldest biblical imperative to parents: “Parents, don’t exasperate your children …” (see Ephesians 6:4). We condescended. We micro-managed. In the name of “being the parent,” our discipline tended to exasperate and embitter our children.
We have yet to meet a self-aware parent who doesn’t make a similar confession.
Lynne and I thank God that even when our parenting was out of alignment with His purposes, God was still present and active. We’re grateful that the Lord established in our hearts and minds a vision for the kind of parents we wanted to be. We captured our ideas in writing and told our kids. We worked diligently to talk about these guiding ideas—with each other and our kids.
It turns out these ideas have helped thousands of other parents as we share our journey with them.
The result of this hard work to write down and verbalize our vision? When we blew it with our kids, we were more likely to recognize our indiscretion for what it was. And because we’d told our kids our vision—if we were a little slow to see our own misbehavior—our kids helped us out. At that point, we knew we needed to eat some humble pie and confess to our kids and make things right with them.
At first, this was not comfortable or at all pleasant. It still isn’t, but we learned that when we exasperated our kids, it was best to rebuild in a way that “unexasperated” them and also honored the second part of Ephesians 6:4: to “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
We told our kids that reconciliation, true heartfelt apology, forgiveness and restored relationship are what make relationships strong.
This is hard because when parents really blow it with a child and hurt the relationship, they often feel a mixture of guilt for their own actions and resentment of their kid’s behavior. It’s much easier and expedient to offer a quick “drive-by apology” than to go after heartfelt restoration. So parents utter something like, “Sorry I was kind of harsh” and call it solved.
It’s like slapping a little plaster on a crack—a temporary fix of a problem that will reemerge under stress. It may ease the guilt a bit, but it does little to truly restore the relationship or prevent the problem from happening again. In fact, it usually leads to resentment growing toward an even bigger blowout down the line.
True rebuilding digs into the crack and replaces it with fresh bricks and mortar. Confession, hearing the other perspective and together planning a “what I want to do next time” course of action are the bricks of reconciliation.
It’s in the messes of life—the crises—where our theology becomes real.
So the next time you blow it with your kids, be courageous and tell them. Ask for their forgiveness. Tell them how you’d like to do it next time. Then, and only then, address their part of the problem. Tell them you forgive. Ask them what they’d like to do differently next time. Finish with a high five or a hug and a plan to have some fun together.
If every Christian parent learned to do this with their kids, we’d have a grace revolution on our hands.
— by Jim Jackson
Jackson is the co-founder of Connected Families, author, speaker and parent mentor. Learn more at www.connectedfamilies.org.