My husband was traveling last week and purchased one of those small pocket books you can find in the airport bookstore to read on the plane. As he settled into his seat focused on the book content he soon felt an overwhelming gnawing sense that he had failed. A list of all the things we should be doing as parents caught his attention and one in particular took root — he had failed in making sure that his son always cleaned up after himself.
He kept thinking of his frustration over the last two years of the times he had come into the kitchen and seen dishes left out. He thought about the unmade bed and the wet towels left on the bathroom floor. As most of us would agree, this book confirmed what we know as parents — our kids need to learn to clean up after themselves as we try to teach them to become adults.
None of us want to feel like failures as parents. We can easily take things we read or things another person says about our kids and want to make sure our kids rise to the occasion. At other times we see the success of other people’s kids and try to push our kids to be as good as or better than what we’ve seen.
But my question is simple:
- Are those thoughts fully true?
- Is now the time to act on those thoughts?
- And if you do, what will be the result?
The lie my husband believed is simple. “All teens and 20-somethings should clean up after themselves if they live under your roof and it is the parent’s job to make that happen.”
First you need to understand that sometimes we all communicate things in a not-so-gentle way that can put strain on the relationship. And for those of you who know my husband, the way he handled the situation was so not like him. Typically he communicates in a loving, gentle, laughter-filled way that makes others want to do as he asks. Unfortunately, this time the lie was so strong in his mind that it came across as condemning and my son walked away with a feeling of his father’s disappointment in who he was as a person.
Ugh! So not what my husband wanted.
He just wanted change.
Standing on the sidelines watching my son during the following week after the exchange he had with his father, I heard him as he made sure he cleaned up after himself with spoken words of condemnation. “I need to clean up or dad will come tell me what a disappointment I am. I need to do this now because dad will feel like a failure if I don’t. All the other things I am doing in my life don’t matter except cleaning up after myself. I am such a loser.”
And the record kept playing in my son’s mind as he verbalized it for days.
Yet my husband was getting the behavior he wanted. He was glad our son was cleaning up after himself. Obviously, his communication had worked.
But he hadn’t seen the condemnation our son was heaping upon himself.
And I was watching the anger grow within my son toward his dad.
As I spent time with God trying to sort through the relationship mess that had been created, I asked myself the question. What is true?
- My husband loves his son.
- My husband believed the lie that he needed to fix this “parenting oversight” in his son now.
- My husband had communicated poorly with his son.
- My son was heaping condemnation on himself from the conversation and anger was setting in toward his dad.
- My son has had two surgeries in the last year 10 months and had difficulty with certain movements like bending and twisting (hence the wet towels on the floor, unmade bed, and dishes not put in the dishwasher). He had to make choices–do things that added pain or focus on what he could do to make life easier and get through his day.
- My son was working hard to get back to whatever normal life can be — working part-time, studying for the GRE, and working with the youth group at church all while still on strong medication.
And as I wrestled with God and these truths, I wondered if my husband realized that while yes, his belief was a good one, “teens and 20-something should clean up after themselves if they live in your home”, it could be a lie in this moment.
Given the circumstances, was this a time for grace?
Given the timing, is the relationship more important than the “parenting oversight” my husband wanted to fix?
And I wonder how many of us as parents do the same thing. We believe a parenting truth that could be a lie in the moment.
We might get the result we want, but at what expense?
Are we damaging the relationship in a way that forces our kids to look at themselves as a loser and taking on the responsibility of not living up to Dad or Mom’s expectations? Are they heaping condemnation upon themselves as a result of our words or emphasis on a specific discipline?
Dare you to take inventory of the lies you might be believing when it comes to your own kids. Are you comparing them to other kids and expecting them to be the same? Are your expectations so high that your teen feels pressed in on all sides?
“Parents, do not irritate your children, or they will become discouraged.”
1 Peter 4:8
“Above everything, love one another earnestly, because love covers over many sins.”
“Let go…and Let God”,