Last week I wrote about finding teachable moments. When I shared that post on Facebook, a parenting conversation ensued. One mom mentioned how easy it is to fall into lecture-mode during a teachable moment. I don’t know about you, but when I think of lectures, I tend to picture the student in the back of class, propping their head up on their hand, elbow on desk, while doodling to pass the time. This can be our child’s heart attitude during conversations with us about their behavior. And we don’t want to cultivate an attitude of “Here she goes again,” in our children.
I’ve been known to lecture with the greats. I mean, I’ve got the answers. I clearly know what my child did wrong. Now, I just need to lay it out for them and tell them what to change. Right? … Yeah. So, you see the flaws in that approach too. Lecturing seems like a good way to go when we start in, and honestly, it becomes a reactive thing we do as moms. Our kids need to overcome the current challenge, stop whatever is upturning the apple cart, and get it together — preferably by supper time. Our solutions range from lectures to nagging to yelling.
Laying the Groundwork for our Parenting Conversation
Lectures, nagging and yelling don’t produce long term results.
If we nag, we find ourselves on the nag-go-round, repeating ourselves over and over until the sound of our voice feels like hearing the Barney theme song on repeat. When we lecture, we get the blank stare, the “are you done yet?” attitude, and the “whew, that’s over” reactions from our kids. If we yell, we get some immediate reactions (usually), but we also teach our kids to only listen when the volume gets so high and mom’s face is a specific scary shade of red. We also lose their respect in the process.
So, if lectures and nagging don’t work well, and yelling undermines our goals, what’s left for us to do?
I want to answer that, but first let me clear up one thing that’s bound to come up. In parenting we have to have limits. We also have to enforce those limits fairly and with meaningful consequences that get our children’s attention and help them to grow forward and make better future choices. So, keep that in mind as we go into talking about the gift of having the “one parenting conversation” with your children. Conversations never fully replace outcomes or limits. Discussions with our children go along with other methods of discipline. I’ve written about discipline elsewhere, so I won’t go too far into that here.
What is the One Parenting Conversation?
One of the organizations I love and respect very much is Axis.org. They are a group of individuals committed to helping parents raise their teens. They have a key value called the “one parenting conversation.” The idea is founded on how critical it is to keep lines of communication open as our children age. Relationship is the heart of parenting. Conversation is one of the main tools to keep that relationship alive. The staff at Axis interviewed teens and parents about conversation — trying to see how often parents and teens really talk about what really matters. One girl said, “I’ve only ever had one conversation with my dad. It started when I was young and it’s still going on.” That concept lit a fire in the Axis team and they’ve been proponents of the “one parenting conversation” ever since.
How does this conversation work as we parent? Well, first of all, we need to prioritize and set aside time to talk with and listen to our children. These talks are the very antithesis of a lecture. In a lecture, we are up above our child and they are below us, expected to listen like a little soldier, or a well-mannered student in a plaid uniform. In a conversation, both of us listen and share. We are looking to solve problems together, to get to know one another’s hearts, and to grow into intimacy and maturity together. That doesn’t make our roles equal. I’m definitely one of two authority figures in our home.
What conversation does is unlock the heart of our child.
When we engage in conversation, we listen. We take in another’s point of view. Do you see how that helps us guide our child? In my not-so-pretty moments of motherhood, I’ve been more like a bulldozer. I assume the motivations of my child, and I override them as I try to gain control over the home and their behavior. While that may momentarily solve something, in the long run I’ve razed trust and flattened openness when I dominate instead of leading.
Leadership Like Jesus
I want us to think of a few key principles which were modeled by Jesus (and still are the way He leads, even though He’s not physically here with us).
Jesus serves those He leads.
Jesus told His disciples not to lord their leadership over others. He didn’t tell His disciples not to lead, but to do it in a way that serves the ones they lead. Parenting is leadership. We need to consider what it looks like to serve our children in love.
Does us serving them mean they kick back with a platter of brownies while we run around like a glorified Cinderella making the beds and cooking? Um. No. It means that we need to hold our leadership in a way that serves their greatest interest and honors them as people.
We can lead without being bullies. Ouch. I know.
As a matter of fact, if you survey your own life, looking at jobs, ministry commitments, and school experiences, I would guess that the leaders you admire most led with servant hearts and truly invested in and served their followers. Servant leadership is still in charge, but it’s a type of in-charge that comes alongside in humility instead of overriding due to pride and fear.
Jesus’ kindness leads to repentance.
God says that His kindness leads to our repentance. We often act as though our tough, dominating approach is what will turn our child’s heart and behavior around. Using a dominant approach often ends up gaining (temporary) compliance instead of (long-term) obedience.
Empathy makes all the difference with our children. We have a High Priest who sympathizes with us. He feels with us. He says, “Cast your cares on Me, because I care for you.” If this is Jesus’ attitude toward us, can we take the same attitude of empathetic kindness toward our children when they mess up or as they grow into learning new behaviors?
I think we sometimes fear that kindness means mollycoddling our children and being doormat parents. Nope. Let’s just cut that idea off at the knees. It is possible to be both kind and firm. As a matter of fact the combination of kindness (compassion, empathy, and self-control), and firmness (limits are limits, and we say what we mean and mean what we say) is parenting GOLD. A gentle answer turns away wrath. When we can be gentle in our “answer” to our child’s misbehavior, we turn away their wrath. I’ve found this truth to have long-range impact. Do I want to stir up my child’s wrath over time, or turn it away? I have a choice: the power of the gentle answer.
Jesus asks questions way more often than He tells people what to do.
As we look at the life of Jesus throughout the gospel accounts we see Him asking people questions way more often than we see Him telling them what to do. Or, after He tells them some truth, He asks them something to help that truth hit home. The Socratic method of learning (using questions to expose untruth and truth) was used by Jesus as he encountered opposition.
He asked questions to those He discipled and encountered as well. Questions like: “What do you want Me to do for you?” “Who do YOU say I am?” “Why are you anxious?” “Which of you is without sin?” … led people to self-reflect and to engage. What do we want from our children more than that? We want them engaged in their own growth and looking at themselves. Questions help.
Asking questions is a surefire way to keep from lecturing our children. When we ask questions, and then really listen to the answers our children give us, we gain access to their hearts. When our children see that we want to hear what they are thinking, how they feel, and what they need, they become far more open to trying to change what isn’t working. Questions are a key part of our parenting conversation.
I’D LOVE TO POUR INTO YOUR MOTHERHOOD WEEKLY.
If you are having trouble reining in your impatience, temper, or need to control as a mom, believe me, you are NOT alone. I am here and I have been there, done that, got the T-shirt, laid my head on a pillow of regret, beat myself up, and then finally grew, fell down again, and on I went. Motherhood is a growing experience. Let’s do it together.
I’m working on a new series of what I call Mini-books for Moms. These are books you can read in less than an hour. They give you a shot in the arm for your motherhood, giving you encouragement, a dash of humor, and practical tips you can apply that same day.
The first is called Ten Keys to Avoiding Power Struggles. When you sign up for my email, I will send you your copy of that mini-book for FREE.
You might also like to read “The Two Keys You Need to Calmly Discipline Your Child Every Time” if you want to read about my four-step approach to calming both myself and my child.
I have a five minute video on my YouTube channel about these keys to help you as well.