A Picture of Parenting
Cassey and Jack were in the thick of parenting. With two kids in middle school and one in high school their lives lived and breathed their kid’s schedules. Juggling sports, drama, and 4H club meetings, both Cassey and Jack adjusted their life to accommodate their kids’ involvements. Theirs was a back yard dotted with soccer balls and inside the home 4H projects were doubling as décor in a way that only parents understand. Maybe this describes a scene familiar to you.
In the midst of raising very busy kids, Cassey and Jack found themselves facing new struggles in parenting. Every parent knows raising kids is no easy task, but as children grow and approach the teen years the trials change. When once kids were generally compliant, accepting mom and dad’s direction as law, now they add their own input and often consider alternative options for doing things, even challenging their parents’ direction or plans. This was causing interactions for both Cassey and Jack to be more frustrating with their children. Perhaps you too have found yourself in situations like these?
A Common Struggle
As children get older they become more responsible and independent. This is appropriate and sometimes you can even exhale for a few seconds knowing your kids can take care of things and think wisely on their own. But with this growing independence your children may prefer their way of doing things. They begin to challenge “the way it always has been.” As a parent you expect your children to behave, respond, and make choices in the manner that aligns with your guidance and parenting. When they don’t, things can get difficult. This is what Cassey and Jack were experiencing and what caused them to seek out counsel. They were feeling frustrated with the surprising push-back that sometimes came from their children. What I shared with Cassey and Jack were four simple words.
Don’t take it personally.
These four simple words were helpful while parenting my own children. It is not a broad brush to cover all parenting conflicts, but I believe it is something all parents need to consider more often when raising children in the preteen and teen years. Let’s explore what this means and how it can help interactions with your children.
A Paradigm Shift
When raising kids in this stage it is easy to feel like the conflict is about you and them. Since most of the interactions we are talking about are actually between you and your child it makes sense to think this way. But what if you avoided taking what was happening in your parenting personally and instead viewed it as an opportunity? No matter how frustrating or disappointing the interaction, it is an opportunity to know your child more, to understand how they are interpreting life, and to hear their heart. You may not like what you are seeing or hearing as they interact with you, but that is where you have to hold onto the four words. Don’t take it personally.
If parents can change the way they view discordant interactions and consider them less about a personal attack it opens the doors for better engagement. It can now become an opportunity for you to know your child more. It is an opportunity for you to image Jesus as you interact. Think for a moment of all the interactions Jesus had where He could have, with much justification, taken things personally. Instead, He chose to engage the person. (See multiple verses of Jesus interacting with the twelve disciples. What a great picture of parenting!) By not taking things personally you become less defensive and you will be open to learn more about your child and explore the struggle in their heart. It is with this disposition that you are most ready to engage your children. Not taking things personally allows you to get out of the way and get better perspective on how you need to parent them, what the real issues are, and how to better address them. It is at this point you can actually speak into the situation and deal with the heart issues.
Specific Words for Mom and Dad
In talking with parents like Cassey and Jack, I have found that moms and dads have specific struggles with seeing conflict with preteens and teens as personal. So in the spirit of an honest game of plank/speck (Matt. 7:5), here are some common pitfalls for both moms and dads to consider regarding their own hearts in order to avoid taking things personally.
Moms can take things personally when they feel their investment is not appreciated or that that their child is sabotaging parenting success. Dear mamma, your work is unto the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58). Avoid the pitfall of finding validation or comfort in being able to control your children’s success or failure. Entrust them to the Lord in your heart and know that He sees your loving labor. He is committed to your child’s good even more than you are. Rest in Him.
For Dads, taking it personally can come in the form of misconstrued threats to their authority or respect. Daddy, here is your time to shine. Remember that you can give your children a picture of how gracious and longsuffering our Heavenly Father is in moments like these. Recall the servant leadership of Jesus. He had every right to demand respect, yet he chose to exemplify humility (Phil. 2:5-7).
So parents, consider these four words the next time you engage your growing children. Again, this is not a for-every-parenting-moment approach. But it is something to consider a little more often. It allows you to align yourself with Jesus and know He has ordained these circumstances as opportunities for growth.
Questions for Reflection
How would these four words change the next challenging interaction with your child? What in your own heart makes it difficult to avoid taking things personally and to see conflict as opportunity?
Eliza Huie is an author and biblical counselor serving in the DC/Maryland area. She seeks to bring gospel hope to those hurting or seeking change.