Parenting is a pretty effective classroom I have found. Boy have I learned a lot about myself, about relationships, and about God, directly as a result of being a mother. Today I want to share something that I have found very helpful in facing innumerable parenting situations over the years-- that is, the benefits of being a responsive rather than a reactive parent.
I'll tell you up front that I've tried both ways-- reacting and responding. I'm not even sure these two words are exactly the right ones to use, but they have been helpful to me as a parent in differentiating between two very different parenting modes. The difference may seem subtle, but in the reality of our family life, as well as the realities of my own inner life, the line is not as fine as it might seem.
Intense Needs-- The Highlight Effect
It doesn't take me long to tell the difference once I'm in the middle of a situation. Certainly Stephen and I have had ample opportunities over the years to recognize the difference between meeting a situation with one of our children by reacting, or by responding. When I react, I am operating on a more base level. I allow my initial feelings to direct my actions. For instance, feelings of anxiety, fear, stress, frustration and anger are pretty common reactions for a parent in certain more intense seasons. This is a reality for all parents, but the needs of children who have experienced relinquishment and all that often accompanies that sad fact of their past, put a new spin on the word intense!
And I know that many of you have little ones who deal with RAD, FAS, oppositional behaviors, learning disabilities, physical disabilities......
I've tried to describe the difference between parenting our adopted children and our birth children over the years. My friends who have not adopted will often say that what we are dealing with is no different than their situations, or of someone that they know. It is hard to explain, because on the surface it doesn't sound that different. But for me it is as if someone has taken a situation and put it down on paper, and then come along with a bright yellow highlighter and colored over the words.
There is something different-- it is highlighted, more intense, more urgent. It stands out and draws my parental attention in a more alarming way. And I realize that my feelings, my reactions, are also highlighted. They are more intense, more loaded with fear for this child's future and a deep awareness of the healing work that has yet to be complete. Maybe it is because I see that my biological children have, underneath the difficult issue we are facing together, a solid foundation of unshakable truth-- they know they are loved, they are safe, they are accepted. But when our adopted children are in the midst of a similar life-issue I sense a vulnerability that simply does not exist in our birth children. A behavior that in one may be simply an immature expression of a desire, or a character trait that needs some direction, or a season of testing, in the other is an expression of the residual fear of being rejected, of being unsafe, or of an illogical drive to remain in survival mode long after the need to do so is over.
Reacting to the Child vs. Responding to the Lord
So, when I turn my mothering attention to the issue at hand and I react rather than respond, I find I am operating more unconsciously, and inevitably some level of fear is involved. And let me tell you from experience, parenting in fear simply does not work! It does not work for you, and it does not work for your child.
But when I respond to my child and the need at hand, I realize that I am motivated by love, my love for my child, and even more important, God's love for me and my child. I am consciously aware and intentional about my actions. Responding involves me making choices about parenting decisions based on what I know to be true, not based on what I am feeling. As I often tell my children, feelings are real, but they very often do not tell the truth. Real and True are not the same thing!
When I respond I am able to stay in line with our family's values and vision. It is, I suppose, a matter of control. For it is so very true I have learned, the only thing I can control is myself! And believe me my friends, I have put a good effort into trying to control my children and the situations we deal with! But what I have found is that when I put my effort into controlling what I can, (that is me!) my children and even sometimes the situation we are in the middle of, come into alignment with our values and vision. As a lover of Jesus, I have a PEACE available to me, not based on my quiet time that morning or my good performance as a mother, but purchased and made available to me because of what Jesus did. So, as I access that peace and as I choose to respond to the Holy Spirit, rather than react to the situation, that same peace is diffused into the situation. Pretty exciting stuff!
Responding Results in Greater Freedom
Do you see this substantial difference I am talking about? Subtle on one hand, but significant in the aftereffect.
With reaction often comes guilt, shame, blame, fear and anger. But when I respond to the Holy Spirit and God's truth, I experience peace and patience, and I find acceptance of my child and helpful understanding come quickly after. Responding results in greater freedom, for me and for my child. Reacting seems to narrow my options for moving forward as a parent, and therefore limiting my ability to help my child move forward. But when I respond to the presence of God in me and heed His voice of life, I find there is literally always a way forward. Always. My emotional reaction seems to shut doors and hide much needed answers, but my choice to respond to the Lord rather than react to my child's behavior opens pathways of life for both me and my child. And, answers for what to do in the situation at hand are revealed!
I'll end this post with some practical things I do to help me stay in responding mode, rather than reacting mode. Maybe some of you would be willing to share the things you do in the comment section!
1. Write down the scriptures and promises God has given you over the years about your family and your children. Keep them someplace where you will see them regularly.
2. Put on worship music.
3. Partner with a friend who will remind you of the Truth when you are in a tough time.
4. Speak the truth to yourself, out loud when possible.
5. Take a break. Tell your child you will talk a little later. Then take whatever time you need to put fear in it's place and access the peace that is your inheritance.
6. Rehearse to yourself and your family what God has done, rather than focus on all that you are waiting for Him to do. This will build your faith for the things you are trusting Him for.
This article was first posted in January of 2013.
This article was first posted in January of 2013.