Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Defined by Behavior?
You will find that we speak a lot about identity in this blog. Stephen wrote a post about it in March (you can read it here) and I’d like to continue the thought. One of the most important roles we have as parents is to recognize and call forth our children’s identities. Now, it takes no effort at all to do this if we define an individual’s identity by his or her behavior. If our child lies repeatedly, then we may decide she is a liar. Or if we have a child who is filled with anger and angry outbursts, then we identify him as a child with anger issues. There is a certain logic to this approach, and it certainly yields some benefits as we seek to parent our children well. None of us want our adopted child to remain defined by their behaviors learned in an orphanage! So we patiently (or not!) focus our attention on these behaviors in the desire to set them free.

"Parenting Backward"
Stephen and I have found that parenting with our focus on the negative behavior is limited in its success, however. I see it as “Parenting Backward” in a way. I mean by this that when I focus on my child’s anger, for instance, I become so easily absorbed and enmeshed in the issue of her anger, how it originated in her past, and the depth of the problem, that I find myself struggling with feelings of anger myself, along with anxiety, frustration, and even hopelessness. Being clever, I realize pretty quickly that the problem is far too great for my parenting skills! The pain, lack, neglect, abuse and rejection our adopted children have experienced is far beyond my own experience and understanding.

"Parenting Forward"
Over the years we have become increasingly focused on our children’s identity in Christ and have learned to “Parent Forward” so to speak. Our goal is the same—to bring our children into freedom from the coping behaviors that were born out of distrust, pain and the need to survive. With this approach of “Parenting Forward” however, we identify the problem (never too hard to figure that out!), we acknowledge the connection to the past in our own minds and occasionally with our child, and then we begin to speak aloud to ourselves and to our child his identity in Christ. We call forth his righteousness in Christ and parent into his future, rather than parenting into the issues of his past. In other words, we choose to make decisions regarding our child based on what God has to say, rather than on the sometimes compelling evidence of their behavior. We are careful to speak these truths publicly (even if it is just at the dinner table) and often. As our children have gotten older we have found that texts, emails, facebook messages, letters left on their pillows, etc. are also good ways to "call forth." 
For instance, we believe that one of our sons has a strong leadership gifting, but we often see him waiting to be led and in a place of passivity. Stephen and I have encouraged and even at times required him to take leadership roles as we work at parenting him according to his identity in Christ. When he has failed, we work it through, allowing him to face the consequences, and then try again. This has been a long process with some painful times and mistakes on our part, but one that is now bearing clear and recognizable fruit in his life. 

Focus and Answers
This approach is not always easy. It is counter intuitive for most of us not to place our full focus on a problem in order to solve it. Many of us have even been trained to do exactly that—looking intently at the problem in order to find the solution. But I believe in the Lord there is a better way! As we look intently at our beautiful savior and focus on His words about our child, we will find the true answers to the complicated and difficult issues our adopted children face. Paul did this when he addressed the issue of blatant sin in his letter to the Corinthians (1Corinthians 6). In the midst of dealing with their sin Paul says, “…do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you?....” Do you see how Paul declared to them their identity in Christ here? He did not say, “do you not know that you are sinful fornicators?”, but rather he called out that which was good and true, reminding them of their identity and pointing them to the future, not the past.

Transfixed by the Problem
This Parenting Forward can only be done as we parents set our thoughts and affections on Jesus. I don’t know about you, but I find it quite difficult to do at times. Have you ever been in a situation where you find yourself drawn to look at something you really don’t want to look at and you know you should wrest your eyes away, but you just can’t? I remember when I was in elementary school our family was in a pretty bad car wreck with a hook and ladder fire engine. In the end we were all fine, however my youngest sister had gotten pretty beaten up. I’ll never forget hearing my mother call out, “ Don’t look at Pammy. Don’t look at Pammy.” (She was covered in blood at that point and my mother wanted to protect us from fear and terror.) Well, you know where this is going! Of course, I couldn’t help it—my eyes were drawn as if by a huge magnetic pull to her. I have recently realized that that is exactly the way I am sometimes with my children. I become aware of a behavior that needs our attention, a gaping wound not unlike my sister’s in a way, and find myself transfixed by it and it’s connection with such a complicated past, as well as my inability to “fix” the problem, and I think to myself, “You’ve got to tear your eyes away from this. It is not helping to gaze steadfastly at this problem. Rather, it is producing fear, anxiety and even emotional distance from this precious child.” I sometimes find it so difficult not to dwell on the problem. I know enough about our amazing God to know that when I pull my eyes away from the problem and intently look to Him, that anxiety falls away with ease, solutions come, my heart is warmed again to my child as I catch again some of God’s thoughts about him or her. I am able to Parent Forward into the beautiful, freeing and whole person.

Transfixed by the Answer
Our faith cannot be in our parenting nor can it be in our child. Our faith must be in Christ alone. I have found that when I mistakenly put my faith in my child to behave a certain way, to display a certain amount of progress and healing, then I open myself to be blindsided by disappointment, frustration and even anger. All of these emotions lead quickly to anxiety and emotional distance. However, when I place my faith in Jesus, in what He has called us to and what He has declared over our family-- in essence, when I become transfixed by Jesus, the answer-- then I can remain standing, even when the storms rage around me.


  1. Thank you so much for this great post. I truly appreciate the wisdom and advice that you share through this blog.

  2. Thank you Amy. I really appreciate your comment! It is a true joy to share the things God has taught us over the years. He has been good and so faithful to us!

  3. This is such a wonderful method of parenting...I just wish there was a manual of sorts that can retrain everything we have learned about parenting! Can you list some examples of right and wrong ways in a few articles?

  4. As I read this article I couldn't help but think about how God's ways are higher than our ways and if we seek Him, He gives us the wisdom to parent "counterintuitively". This article was just truth from start to finish. It is when we start to speak God's truth over our children that change begins to occur. They become who God calls them to be when we speak this out. Love the scripture Isaiah 58:11-12 on your blog as this is surely what God desires to do with His beloved orphans - see them saved, healed and delivered in order to use them to restore the waste places and rebuild the walls of their homelands. God is making things aright in this world (Eccl.10:5-7) by taking the least of these and putting them in the palaces of kings (Ps 113:7-8)
    Love this blog! Keep it up.
    Love Colleen

  5. Beth!! I never thought about the implications of Paul's words...directing us to see our wonderful hope-filled identity in Christ! That brought tears to my eyes! Thank you, friend!!

  6. Mindy, thank you. We have definitely found this approach to be life-giving in our family. I will think about sharing more examples on the blog. I always have to be careful not to share too much so I can always honor our children. Colleen, I love those scriptures. I have become convinced that God alone can make these things right and am learning how to rely on him for this, rather than on myself or my children. It's been quit the process! Wendy, I heard this about Paul's words to the Corinthians in a teaching by Rob Rufus about grace and then a book by Joseph Prince all in one week. It totally intrigued me too. I really wanted to share it--I'm so glad it spoke to you.

  7. Thank you for time and again posting what I need to hear! I wonder if you have a hidden camera in our my heart..especially when you write about how NOT to do things. Thanks for helping me look at things in a new way.

  8. Oh Suzanne, I don't need a camera in your house--I've got my own house and heart to learn how not to do things from! I just appreciate it that God does not seem to be limited by my mistakes and keeps teaching me these new and life-giving ways to love these children where they are. So glad it is never too late to change, or we'd all be in big trouble! Thank you again for your encouragement. It means a lot!