We asked Michelle Abbott to share with us some of the insights she has discovered as a parent over the years. She’s the mother of two young adult daughters and is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. We loved her perspective and hope you find it helpful, as well!
By Michelle Abbott
When I was a young parent, I loved Jesus, and so I assumed my two daughters would, too. I also assumed that if I was a loving, encouraging, fair, and patient parent, my daughters would obey. It was subconscious, but now looking back, I realize that I believed I could control my daughters and turn out a successful parenting project = a Jesus-loving, productive, respectful, contributing adult. Was my world ever rocked when my oldest daughter became a teen.
As my daughter searched for her identity amongst her peers and pushed back on our values at home, I started to panic. Her sneaking, lies and disobedience were often only brought to light by the Holy Spirit. However, my confrontations with her weren’t Holy Spirit led. I felt like a failure because of her waywardness. I felt powerless to reach her heart and get her to understand that our rules were for her best interest, not just to control her or keep her from fun. So, when I would find out she disobeyed, I would storm up to her room, poke my finger in her face and let her have it. I’m sure I looked like a cartoon character – red-faced, teeth clenched, steam coming out of the ears! I cringe now when I think how my angry face looked to her! I’m sure she didn’t see any love in it!
I began to realize that anger directed at my daughter was really a cover-up for my own feelings of inadequacy and failure. Those painful and vulnerable feelings made me feel small, and I hated it! Instead, I went to anger. Then, at least, I felt strong. My anger wasn’t bringing Godly change but was sabotaging any possible good. The Lord graciously taught me that my angry responses were not helping to reach my daughter’s heart.
1 Peter 4:8
Love covers over a multitude of sins.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger.
Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.
When my daughter broke a rule, I began to realize how much she was hurting herself. The consequences were going to sting, and I didn’t want that for her. I was filled with compassion. Instead of storming up to her room as an angry cartoon character, I showed her a face of love and concern. I expressed sympathy for the hurtful consequences her misdeeds were going to create. My new response to my daughter’s infractions made a huge difference. In the past there had been anger, hurt feelings, walls of silence, feelings of inadequacy, and despair. When I responded to my daughter in anger, she rarely apologized for her misdeed. When I countered with grace and compassion, she later apologized every time.
I wish I could report that my better responses changed my daughter and she stopped acting out in ways that continued to hurt us both, but I can’t. She struggled through her teen years because she so desperately wanted to fit in. My big realization is that I only have power over one person on this planet and that is me. God gave us children to shepherd, not control. We are called to provide for them, keep them safe and lead them well by showing them the Father’s heart. They create their own inner moral compass through the ways they filter information and experiences, not by us somehow finding their control panel and programming them.
All behavior is communication. Do not take your child’s negative behavior personally as a sign of parenting failure. Instead, work to hear your child’s heart through their behavior. If they are doing harmful things to get attention from peers, hear that they are feeling insecure and are wanting to belong. Find compassion and trust the Lord to lead you to their heart.