Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bottom Line Behavior

Another facebook message feed erupted on my (and other friends) time lines recently, it was about parenting again. Surprised?

We all take this parenting stuff pretty personally.
Unfortunately, we take it so personally we often times don't go into any discussion with an open mind.

We sense judgement, whether real, or imagined, and so we put up our dukes.

It makes this parenting dialogue so hard.
And I don't like upsetting people, and I don't like defending myself, so I backed out for a while.

But that was fear.
So I jumped back in with another "risky" facebook post that got people up in arms!

One lady even wrote, "I don't care what research or scientists have to say about...."
Okay, we're done then.
If you can't hear facts, without feeling offended, no one can have a conversation.

A pattern arose on my feed, as well as others who posted the same article, people were continually bringing up as their , "proof" that their parenting styles/decisions "worked" was their child's behavior.
"I used ______ strategy and it has worked because my children are very well behaved" (children are under 5 years of age).
"I can tell when other people haven't used _________ strategy because of their children's behaviors."

This really upset me, so I disengaged (part of my attachment past:)
I didn't know why I was so upset by these statements, I couldn't put my finger on it. So I have spent the last few weeks praying about this, and trying to figure out why these behavior statements upset me.
And I came to this question in my mind,

"Is the bottom line to your parenting strategy behavior?" 

And my answer is "Absolutely not!"

To me, aiming for "good behavior" is like the gospel being cut short, like really short, like maybe right before the New Testament starts.

Right before Jesus shows us it's about relationships, and love when it's least deserved, right before we realize that no matter what we choose, no matter what behaviors we display, God is constant.

I believe that parenting is suppose to be a worldly picture of how God loves us. In that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). In that, perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), and that we don't shame or disappoint (Romans 5:5) because we hold the hope of Christ.

This idea that we prove our parenting strategies by our children's behaviors, and ultimately, their choices, is very scary to me.

Fundamentally this terrifies me because if that's the bottom line in my parenting, I have surely proved that my Heavenly Father is a terrible father. I have surely proved that His parenting strategies are wrong. Because my choices and behaviors don't often reflect His heart or desires for me.

And ultimately, I have taught my kids that the love of our Father is based on behavior. That if my ultimate goal in parenting is their behavior (thus my severe punishment or disappointment when they misbehave), that God's ultimate goal in parenting is our behavior. And that is untrue.

If that's what my kids walk away with, when they leave my home, I have done my part in raising children who will never fully believe the Gospel. Who will never fully give or receive unconditional love.  Because they ultimately believe that their faith relies on their choices and on their behaviors, two things that they are responsible for. Not Christ's blood. Not His sacrifice.

I think this form of parenting (specifically in Christian circles), in which we equate our success with our children's behaviors and choices, comes out of an American church that has taught us the same. We don't rest, we earn. We don't show up messy, we cover it up. We can't be honest with others, or even ourselves, in fear of judgement and condemnation.
And so we parent this way. And we judge others parenting from this lens.
(Which makes the church a very unsafe place for parents who have children who are struggling behaviorally.)

Behavior should not be my ultimate goal.
My children's behavior and ultimately their choices, do not reflect on me. My love is constant and firm, despite them. (Just as Jesus loves us, despite us.)

So what is my ultimate goal in parenting?

My bottom line is relationship.

I want to see that when my children misbehave, choose incorrectly, hurt people, throw fits, or disobey, that my relationship is constant. That despite their choices/behaviors I am the same. My love has not wavered, my availability to meet their needs, comfort, rejoice, pray, celebrate, or cuddle, is always the same. Just like Jesus is for me.

Because ultimately, I don't want moral kids who believe they must earn a spot. I want messy kids who are alive in the freedoms of Christ.


  1. Miss Amanda,

    I could not agree with you more. Parenting for "behavior" also has some pretty severe consequences for people who have children with behavior issues. Are we bad parents if we cannot always "control" our kids? Absolutely not. We are just people trying to find a balance in the parent child relationship. You are doing a fantastic job. People will judge your choices, but that is okay. Don't take it personally! Every parent has to walk their own path with their children. No two paths look the same and therefore it makes empathy very difficult to achieve. We can assume that all parents experience the "same" things, and to a degree that is true, but in reality no two families look alike. I know it is sometimes difficult to be confident in your parenting techniques in the face of judgment, but from an outsider looking in, you have every reason to hold your ground. You are a great mom!


  2. Have you read "Raising and Emotionally Intelligent Child" by John Gottman? Its the only "parenting" book (if you can even call it that, truly) that I love. I say this in response because I agree with nearly, if not everything you said here, and there is plenty of support for it. Behavior, in and of itself, is not the indicator of good parenting. Love, understanding, forgiveness, and patience are better indicators. And that's all on us as parents. You can train people to act how you want, but acting is not being. I know that you are not LDS, but we are both Christian, and you are a great human being (and I always admire your motherhood.) That being said, there is a document by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) called "The Family: A Proclamation To The World." It is hardly a denominational document. It is a statement about family and being a family dedicated to Christ.

    There is a part that says:

    "Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities."

    It doesn't say that families are founded or maintained on principles of perfection, good behavior, sinlessness, guilt, and punishment. I studied psychology, and after all I have learned, I believe in my heart AND in my intellectual mind, that parenting is about teaching compassion by showing love and understanding. Showing that its okay to be mad, to make mistakes, and to need to grow. Thats WHY Christ came, and its how we become his followers, by trial and repentance, by becoming perfected in and through him, and by NEEDING to turn to him. So many problems are developed by putting pressure on being "fixed". Thanks for the boldness, Amanda.

    1. Thank you for sharing this, Tyson.

    2. Love this Tyson! I want to read this book! (Another awesome one- the whole brain child by Daniel Siegel, check it out!)

    3. Many Christian people advised me to spank or discipline my child when I knew better. He has a great heart for God, so instead I would pray and love him even when he had meltdowns often in public and always at church. He now is 15 and it is still hard, but I pray for God to intervene , he knows better then me. I love my son, and he is so caring, loving and grateful child. Are those the right things or is perfection what we are striving for.? I pray for all parents with difficult children, who have to rely more on God to raise them. Kim Adkins

  3. thank you. today was a little hard. not extreme. nothing is extreme at our house... except for me. i sometimes try to control things. ugh. i needed this reminder today

  4. YES! This has been resonating in my heart since this summer. Good word...thank you for sharing your heart!

  5. This is so good! Thank you for sharing!

  6. Guys, I just read this article, ad it is so good and has to do with loving unconditionally in the midst of behaviors:)

  7. "Because ultimately, I don't want moral kids who believe they must earn a spot. I want messy kids who are alive in the freedoms of Christ." THIS. You go girl.