Today, Dove (11 year old daughter) came to me crying saying that Seven (7 year old son) had called her a “stupid bully”. Our default is to have Dove express her feelings to Seven and then reprimand Seven and have him apologize. Today I tried something different.
I asked Dove if she, in fact, was a “stupid bully.” At first, she seemed taken aback. She then quickly reiterated that she told Seven not to say that and that he wasn’t doing it out of love. I said that I understood all of that but that she didn’t answer my question. I once again asked her if she was a stupid bully. I could tell that she didn’t know how to answer the question so I opened it up to a broader audience. I asked around the table if there was anyone in the room that was, or had been, a stupid bully. I rased my hand. I shared that I had a history of being a stupid bully. Kami also raised her hand and shared that sometimes she bosses the kids around in anger. Then…… Dove raised her hand. I was able to embrace her with a high 5 and say “Oh, I’m really glad your mom and I aren’t the only stupid bullies around here.” I then expressed how crazy it is that the Bible claims to love us given the fact that we are all stupid bullies at times and far worse. I told her she was loved and has full freedom to accept this and other parts of her identity that are hard to swallow sometimes. Then I suggested that she could actually thank Seven for being honest and pointing this out to her. (He was listening to this whole conversation). She then half begrudgingly/half smilingly/half seriously said “Thank you Seven for bring honest and pointing this out to me.”
Then we talked to Seven about love and his use of hurtful words.
In parenting, we’re learning that modifying behavior and controlling chaos is the easier and far more temporary solution to life. Moments that allow us to teach children about how deeply they are loved and accepted will soften hearts and change a child and a family from the inside out. This is permanent. So, I would like to take this moment to assure you that if you are, or have ever been a stupid bully it is ok. The Bible claims that you are fully accepted for who you are, because of what Jesus has done, and not based upon anything you ever do or anyone you pretend to be.
If we actually were able to embrace our identity as a fallen yet accepted people it would remove the power that we give to others to define our worth. Insults true or un-true will not matter. It doesn’t come from denying reality though, it comes from accepting it.
Yesterday my my two oldest girls and I talked for almost half an hour. They poured their hearts out to me and each other and at one point all three of us were crying. It was one of my proudest moments as a father but it wasn’t always this way. Among parents (and especially among religious, traditional, or intentional parents) there is so much pressure to raise good and obedient children. Our proudest moments are when we hear things like “Oh you’re children are so well behaved” or “You’re children are so quiet”. And, as a result, the majority of our energy goes into reinforcing this behavior and our biggest fears become the moment at the grocery store or in front of friends when a child freaks out or rebels.
But our proudest parenting moments should not be about obedience, they should be about intimacy. This was modeled to us by a God in the Bible who wanted to walk with his children in a garden. He brought them to a mountain to see them but they sent a representative. He wanted to rule them directly but they preferred a king. The more this happened obedience began to replace intimacy in our relationships with God. It has also done this in our parenting.
What’s the alternative? To begin to prioritize the type of relationship with children where we draw them to our hearts. In doing this we model how our God draws us to his heart. Instead of freaking out about disobedience start freaking about the patterns and moments where we resort to behaviors and wrote verbage to feel good. To begin to brag about how close the Heavenly Father wants to be with us and how close we want to be with our children. As our children draw closer to our heart and the heart of The Father they will become obedient. But they will also become more compassionate and humble. And a whole bunch of other things that just following rules never seems to accomplish.
PHOTO: Grandpa with grandkids on lap at Speghetti Factory.
Yesterday we split the kids up for a few hours. They each got a separate experience and when they came back together they each started bragging about how special their’s was. Eden said that she got a full hour on the computer. Dove and Seven said that they got ice cream and hung out with their cousins. Today we sat down and talked about it.
We asked them why that was the first and most important thing to share. Seven blurted out “we wanted the other person to feel bad.” Kami and I asked why. None of the kids knew the answer. So I shared with them why. Deep down we’re all afraid of being loved the least. That’s why it’s hard for us to see others succeed or to have more stuff or happiness than we have. But the way to combat this destructive force is not just to create rules and boundaries. It’s to un-do the lie that each child is not loved the most. So, this morning we asked our kids the question :Which of you is loved the most? After 3 or 4 incorrect answers Seven got it right. He said “we ALL are loved the most”. It’s true. At least we would like it to be. I think the degree to which us as parents believe that we are all loved the most will determine how we can pass this love on to our children. Then they(we) will be able to celebrate in each other’s joy instead of feel threatened by the love that they are not receiving.