Thursday, May 2, 2013

Protecting Relationships

Just an introductory note to inform you that I'm writing this post more to myself than anyone else. It's something that I've been thinking a lot about these past few weeks.

This poster (pictured left) will be familiar to World War II buffs. It was created to remind people to beware of unguarded talk which might threaten the safety and security of individuals, missions and countries. I'd like to take a moment to remind myself that it also can be applied to relationships within the family unit. Speaking out of turn, or in an unguarded fashion about our children - in particular - can have disastrous effects on our relationship with them and to them.

When I was a newbie mother, I remember reading an article (or a book? or hearing someone say?) that it is a nice gesture to our children to refer to them in loving ways when we speak of them to others. For example: it's nicer to refer to them as "the children" than "the brats" or even "the offspring" because it's a title which expresses warmth and a position in the home. The idea behind this is the knowledge that what we call them in and out of their hearing will effect their self image.

I recently overheard a mother referring to her son as a "dork." She was speaking to him at a high enough volume that each of her fellow customers in the store received the benefit of understanding their relationship in a moment. She was mad so he was a dork. My children were listening to their exchange (just like everyone else was) and so I took a moment to kneel down and talk to my kids about what we were hearing and seeing. I asked how they would feel if I yelled at them in public and called them names. They said that they would not like it. I talked about how mommies and daddies can sin just as well as children can and it's very important that that mommies and daddies understand when they are sinning against their children. Also, I explained that I never wanted to hurt them in this way, that I loved them very much, and that I prayed to avoid such behavior for myself. That's not being self righteous either. It was being realistic and honest with my children and using a teachable moment, courtesy of someone else.

It can be really tempting to say what you really think about someone in a moment of frustration. Any parent who is active in their childrens' lives can tell you that there are moments when you want to pull your hair out and scream louder than they can (and you probably would if you didn't think the neighbors might hear you). Life as a parent has its moments of intense hardship and it would be silly to suggest otherwise. I'm also not saying here that the way that you speak to and speak of your child will make a difference in their behavior. It may or may not, but that is entirely beside the point.

The way that you think about and speak of and to your children has a direct effect on your attitude towards them.

It's important to keep the negative thoughts inside and take care that only the positive and/or loving feelings come out.

I'm also not saying that there aren't some moments when you will need to seek genuine counsel from older, wiser people in order to effectively deal with a problem area with your child. It is important to seek advice for how to parent well. Some issues require many counselors and they should absolutely be sought out when it becomes necessary to do so. I would just say that seeking advice is different from "venting" and we should be extraordinarily careful in noting and practicing the differences.

You hear the encouragement that "sometimes you just need to vent" from people all the time. Young mothers, I've noticed, are given a lot of leeway to vent as they please. True, parenting young children can try you in ways that astound and you may be surprised by how difficult it is to muddle through the little years. However, I've also noticed that it is easier for me to parent well (joyfully even!) if I refrain from "venting" and choose instead to speak in good terms of my children regardless of the pain I feel that they are currently causing me. What personal pain I feel is most often best dealt with in private conversations between my husband and myself and in prayer. Remember: it's the loose lips that sink ships, not the carefully guarded ones.

Both inwardly and outwardly my desire should be to build up my home and the people in it and not to tear it down. (Proverbs 14:1) Children have the great fortune and the greatest misfortune of desiring to be loved and led by their parents and it is important that they receive both in order to thrive in a healthy manner. Yes, moments in time with them will be frustrating. But it must be remembered that this too shall pass. Rough roads can smooth out and it will be easier for them to do so if we hold our tongues and fight off the desire to wag them endlessly, providing any willing ear with a litany of wrongs our child has committed.

Choose instead to speak well to keep the family boat afloat, so to speak. Keep the children safe by letting them rest in the knowledge that although they will make bad choices and wrong decisions, your love for them will remain through it all. Let them rest securely in knowing that you are not going to air their grievances to all the world but that you will work to guard their hearts and minds as well as your own in remaining silent more often than not. Allow them to trust you by keeping the mouth closed and the heart open to the guidance and direction of the Lord, who loves your child far more than you will ever be able to.

This is a hard thing. But it must be done.