People say that parenting is one of the most joyful, exciting, challenging and yet discouraging journeys a person goes through. Have you ever felt this way? I remember looking at each of my sons when they were newborn and thinking, “Wow, this is a new person. Can I do right by him?”
Fast forward a few months then years later. I would definitely agree that the years have brought much joy, excitement, challenges, and yes, discouragement too. Mostly it is the relational dynamics that make me feel discouraged about my parenting. And the biggest struggle has been when I have felt disrespected by my kids. My response is usually to get angry at them, and then we end up arguing with each other and both feeling bad. I come up with action points to avoid falling into the same trap, but alas, I still tend to, at least now and again.
Then I read Love and Respect in the Family: The Respect Parents Desire; The Love Children Need by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs which has really helped me on my journey as a mom.
I had already read his earlier book, Love and Respect, and found his main principle, that a wife needs love and a husband needs respect, very true and this insight is helpful for my marriage. In fact, since my children are all boys, I had also tried showing them more respect, assuming that although they are not my husband, as young men, they will also appreciate it. But the main thesis of this book is that children want love and parents yearn for respect. When one or the other doesn’t show love/respect, then we react in anger, starting a “crazy cycle” of being unloving to our children and disrespectful to the parents respectively.
Unlike the first book written for both husbands and wives, this book was written for the parents, with a reminder that we are the adults. We have the greater ability to choose between causing an explosion or defusing a situation. Among other things, it encourages us to have realistic expectations of our children, and also to decode what is really going on in different situations. The biggest impact on me was the question of whether our children are really being disrespectful every time we think they are. I have one son in particular who tends to raise his voice a lot. More often than not, this is not out of anger or disrespect but passion or excitement about something. Even if I know he is like that, I tend to get offended and feel disrespected if we are discussing an issue and his voice starts getting louder. Sad to say, my voice then tends to get raised too, and I sometimes say harsh things or dismiss him with a rebuke even if the issue is not yet resolved. Now, I try my best to quiet myself down and ask myself, “is he disrespecting me or just being his excited self?” More often than not, it’s the latter. I was also struck by one of his statements that being irresponsible is not the same as being disrespectful. My sons are all responsible kids, but of course there are times that they may act irresponsibly, just because they are still young, and learning all the different facets of responsibility. Sometimes I have given specific instructions about something and have found that they were not followed. Is the offending son being disrespectful? Did he decide, “Since mom wants me to do this, I won’t.” No. Usually there are circumstances beyond his control that kept him from following the instructions, or he didn’t understand them all, or he just forgot. That does not make him a disrespectful boy.
But what to do if and when they are in fact being disrespectful? Do we really want to react angrily and continue the crazy cycle?
The second part of the book discusses ways we can balance the situation and in effect start a “Family Energizing Cycle.” This cycle says that a parent’s love motivates a child’s respect, which motivates a parent’s love, and so on. Much better than the crazy cycle. Dr. Eggerichs suggests the acronym G.U.I.D.E.S.: to give, understand, instruct, discipline, encourage, and supplicate (pray). There are also chapters in this part of the book that talk about the need for parents to work together as a team in parenting (they should see us standing as one unit, not a set that they can divide and conquer) and some advice on how to show love to our daughters by giving them extra love and our sons by respecting them. (So I was on the right track after all!)
The book ends by talking about the “Family Rewarded Cycle” which emphasizes that a parent should show love regardless of a child’s respect, and a child should respect their parents, regardless of the parent’s show of love. The perspective here is that we are parenting “unto the Lord” (Mt. 25:40). In fact our focus on parenting is not so much child-centered but Christ-centered. As we love our children and seek to apply GUIDES each day, we should be more conscious of Christ than our children. We should be focused on pleasing Christ. This is God’s call to parents. This is also freeing in a way, because the author also reminds us that we shouldn’t be focused on results, that is, measuring ourselves by whether or not our children are “good and obedient”. We do our part as unto the Lord trusting Him to work things out for good even if there are pitfalls along the way. Our parenting, when unto the Lord, is never wasted.
As we apply these principles, may love and respect abound in our families.