Last week was a week of revelations, parenting-wise. In life I find that God tends to reveal truth to us layer by layer as we become ready for more – the old, tired “onion analogy” – and the same seems true in the parenting journey. Suddenly you see more of the picture, and fuzzy thinking becomes sharpened.
The connection between our daughter’s sneaky behavior and her covert rebellious spirit was illuminating. Identifying it was a first revelation; a second revelation was seeing how much addressing the rebellious spirit head-on changed the dynamics in our house. Both got me thinking about attitudes and how they impact behavior. If a little girl’s defiant spirit (in part) causes her to try out sneaky mischief… then why wouldn’t a little boy’s prideful spirit contribute to his bickering habit with his sister? Quickly I became aware of the feeble and incomplete nature of my efforts to address my children’s negative attitudes.
I’ve long understood that what we’re after in godly childrearing is the child’s heart, not their behavior. I get it that the heart, the wellspring of life, needs to be reached and transformed into Christ-likeness for anything truly fruitful to occur in the child. But I ‘ve not actually believed that I could reach my children at the attitude level to any penetrating degree. I haven’t believed that it’s within my power to get them to fully drop the bad attitudes (selfish, pouty, demanding, etc) and thus have settled for their complying, behavior-wise, with my requests. Working with actions is finite; success is clear.
Sure, I’ve spoken to the bad attitudes, telling my children to “straighten up their face” or “try again with a polite voice,” or having them sit out till their attitude has improved. But I have rarely if ever outlasted them on issues of attitude, because I wasn’t sure that this could work. Can one really insist that another person change their bad mood? I wasn’t sure… and hence this arena has barely been touched.
Last week when I saw the link between my daughter’s discreet rebelliousness and her actions, I realized I was short-changing all of us. I had to start working with my kids at the heart level – helping them harness their own will to adjust their sinful moods and tendencies – stemming bad habits and helping them develop self-control in sin areas. I determined to start outlasting them in issues of attitude.
In the beginning it looked the same. My son would provoke his sister; I’d reprimand him verbally, get him to apologize and try again; and carry on. But then the difference.. I watched for any hint of ongoing maliciousness or pridefulness in him, and when it emerged, I was right there. We’d work it through again- another round of practice, another round of trying again… If necessary, some close tomato-staking with nothing to do but sit there bored stiff, motivating him to relent. Finally he realized it was no use, he’d better get over it and give up whatever ill will he might have been harboring. The brilliance of outlasting (which I’ve long been enjoying in the obedience realm) can, I realized, apply to attitudes.
I was surprised at the results. I am beginning, for the first time, to see my son registering some real accountability for his bad attitudes. The rewards of holding onto the sour mood, the entitled mindset, the angry streak are beginning to diminish for him. Both he and I are beginning to see that he has control over his emotions and his responses to events in life that don’t suit his liking. And his happiness quotient appears to be increasing.
Too I’m finding that exhausting an infraction completely, right through to the attitude driving it, is diminishing further misbehaviors and my need for larger scale correction later. We’re going slower, handling each thing more carefully, stopping here – “do not pass go, do not collect $200” – till we get it right. It’s worth it to get it right now. If anything is worth it, isn’t it key character issues like this? We all can learn how to “put off” the bad in our attitude and heart and “put on,” with the help of Christ, virtues and good attitudes. We must get in the habit of denying our impulses to sin as soon as they arise – our pride, self-centeredness, anger, mean-spiritedness.
I notice I feel calmer and less frazzled now. Turns out the hardest parts of my day have actually been unaddressed bad attitude issues with my kids. The frayed nerves I feel at the end of the day, that desperation I sometimes feel for my husband to get home at 5 pm, has stemmed primarily from the underlying, unspoken tensions that whirl around our household. There’s been a sense that things could go to hell in a handbasket at any moment – with me sitting there all the while, powerless to stop it. And I’ve wondered: what is this? Now I think I know. It’s the attitudes. The obedience issue has long been settled – mom is to be obeyed. But harmony is surface-deep only as long as wrong attitudes are brewing, and an ugly one could spring at any moment. Tedd Tripp uses a phrase that has always resonated with me, the “ragged edge of disobedience,;” my house, I’ve realized, is the “ragged edge of harmony.” Whatever harmony we have feels like it teeters near the brink, which a passing bad attitude displayed by one of my kids could push off the edge.
I’m beginning to believe that some of Elizabeth Krueger’s comments – which before have read to me a bit “pie in the sky” – really can apply to our family.
- “Failure to correct all the way to completion will only invite subsequent testing. You must persist until your child’s attitude changes. The more diligent you are, the sooner the testing will end….”
- “Are my children resentful of my correction? Are they angry? Are they still proud and arrogant, but just faking a good attitude? My job is not complete until they have a genuinely good heart and right spirit.”