If you’re like me, some of your most difficult moments have come from raising children. No matter how much blood, sweat, and tears you invest, you may always feel inadequate and imperfect. Because you’re reading this, I’m sure you want to improve as a parent (as do I).
Yet even with our pure motives and diligent efforts to improve, I have noticed a disturbing trend among us parents. Too many of us say we want to improve and change — but only if it fits into our assumptions and experiences. However, the number one thing you can do for your children is to seek truth and then parent accordingly. Yes this is simple, but not at all easy. It will be the hardest thing you will ever do.
Let me share a few of the many ways in which this occurs.
I Turned Out Okay!
Every semester I hear the same thing from several students who challenge a parenting idea that they personally disagree with. They may take issue with the fact that traditional time-outs or bribes are counterproductive to character building. Or that you don’t have to punish to discipline a child. The rebuttal comes in many shapes and sizes, but it usually comes down to one idea:
“But my parents did ____________ with me growing up (fill in the blank), and I turned out okay!”
Even if we don’t say it or think it, we’ve probably fallen victim to this philosophy more than once. Research and common sense have made it pretty clear that—for better or for worse—the way we were raised will be the primary source for how we will raise our children. Too often these built-in biases go undetected.
I get the “I turned out okay” challenge so often from students and parents that I preemptively address it by inviting them to seriously reflect on four questions:
- How am I defining “okay”?
- Am I really okay, and could I have been better than okay?
- Don’t I want better than okay for my children?
- If I am willing to dismiss research and doctrine because of my own biases, am I really as okay as I think?
Before I go further, I need to offer two important disclaimers. First, I believe that the majority of parents love their children completely and second, they are doing their very best with what they know. I believe that’s true for both you and your parents.
Conscious & Unconscious Traditions
In her book For Your Own Good, the psychoanalyst, Dr. Alice Miller observed: “Many people continue to pass on [false ideas, unhealthy attitudes and parenting practices] to which they were subjects as children, so that they can continue to idealize their parents.”
She goes on to say that we have a powerful, unconscious need to believe that everything our parents did to us was based in love, informed, and in our best interest. We often use the same parenting strategies with our kids to ensure the truth of our assumptions.
However, there are traditions and are based in truth and their are false traditions based in habit.
Case in point:
The Power of the Anecdote
Another barrier to accepting truth is the almighty power of the anecdote or personal experience. In the documentary Minds of Our Own, recent electrical engineering graduates of an Ivy League school could not solve a basic electrical problem in trying to light a light bulb. The reason is simple: their personal experiences and assumptions had overridden 4 years of training. They were ultimately unwilling—consciously or not—to let go of those assumptions.
Frankly, I get a little tired of debating with students who reject research simply because it doesn’t fit into their personal experiences. Even more frankly, although this seems to be part of human nature it can be somewhat egotistical.
When the opinions others conflict with our own, we often assume that the other person is misinformed, crazy, or even purposefully trying to deceive. We fail to consider the possibility that their ideas could actually be useful! Unfortunately, this tendency can spread to all areas of our lives—anywhere from sports to family relationships.
Now you may be asking, “Dr. Tim, aren’t you egotistical because you think that you have the truth and most parents don’t?” Although I’m passionate about learning and living truth, I am also flawed and human. I have to constantly work through my own misconceptions!
If we really want to improve as parents, we have to be willing to throw out tradition or personal experiences that aren’t evidence-based. That is the challenge!
Truly we can resist the change that we need most without even being aware of it. So I have to ask a question. Are we causing unnecessary problems and pain because we fail to see our parenting biases clearly?
Doctor, is There a Cure?
I hope that none of us wait until our children are grown to be humbled by our false beliefs about parenting. Just like our food choices, let us go after healthy sources for our parenting nourishment.
May each of us have the heart and the courage to change what is necessary. Let our traditions, upbringing, and experiences be held to the candle of what is best and proven rather than what is automatic and comfortable. I know this is within the reach of every parent because this is the most important work you will ever do.
While it may be uncomfortable, carefully examining your parenting practices can make all the difference. After all, your kids deserve to turn out better than just “okay.”
By Celeste (guest writer from athingcalledloveblog.com)
Last Thursday I had kind of a rough day with the kids. I was tired from staying up a little too late and the kids’ energy was just doing me in. It was one of those days when I was counting down the minutes to 5:45 pm when my knight in shining armor would come rescue me and my sanity.
The only problem was when he came home from work, he was tired too. Funny how that works. So, instead of relieving me by coming home, playing a couple of rounds of UNO with the kids, making dinner, folding the laundry and feeding me grapes (as I wistfully imagined the scene playing out), he instead came home, got on the computer and relaxed.
I was miffed. I let my miffed-ness bleed into my interactions with him that night, into the next day and even the next (without telling him why of course), which then had the effect of spreading my grumps to him. We were off for a few days.
Now let me preface this by saying that I believe in forgiveness. I really do. I believe in its power. I believe that in just about every conceivable situation of hurt, forgiveness is the route that will bring the most peace. Why then is it so easy for me to see that if the people around me would just forgive their spouse/co-worker/mother-in-law they would be so much happier, and at the same time so easy for me to forget the principle entirely when I’m bothered by something?
Funny how that works.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about forgiveness lately and I’m becoming more and more convinced I need to do some major construction work on my life in the area of forgiveness. I’ve been reading Forgive For Love by Fred Luskin, a professor at Stanford, who started The Stanford Forgiveness Project. The book has been completely eye opening to me. It feels like Fred is looking me in the eye, telling me all the reasons I don’t forgive and how to overcome those roadblocks.
Generally when I’m hurt or bothered by the actions of others and the idea of forgiveness crosses my mind, some other less-desirable part of my mind comes back with lots of “yes, but”s. I have a feeling most of my roadblocks to forgiveness are some of yours too, so let’s de-bunk them together shall we?
Yes, But What They Did Was Wrong!
True. This can be true. This is often true. Now here’s the crazy thing about forgiving someone who is wrong: that doesn’t matter! You can forgive them anyway!! You can! I can too!
And doing so is the key to happiness in marriage. Learning to let things go even when they bother you, even when you don’t get your way is so so crucial if you want a healthy marriage. (And if you’re aiming for an unhealthy marriage, by all means hold onto those grudges, let all the little things your spouse does that bothers you eat at you day by day. You’re well on your way to an unhealthy marriage already!)
Let’s revisit that situation I described above first through the unforgiving lens and then through a forgiving one.
Situation: Spouse gets on the computer instead of helping with the kids/house.
Unforgiving: Would it have been better if they had not done this? Yes, absolutely. Am I mad about it? Yes! I clean and watch the kids all day everyday! The least he could do is to help out when he’s home!
Forgiving: Would it have been better if they had not done this? Yes, absolutely. Am I mad about it? Nope. He works the same hours I do, just at a different job. He has a right to be tired when he comes home, same as me.
See? If I had just forgiven him his very understandable human error right away then I would have been in such a better mood that night and the next couple of days. It would have brought me peace. My dear husband also would have benefited. Our marriage, our kids and our whole household would have benefited.
Yes, But I Don’t Want to Be a Doormat!
So does forgiveness mean we just have to keep our mouths shut tight every time we’re bothered by our spouse’s behavior? No. Does it mean we have to put up with mistreatment or abuse? Certainly not.
Dr. Luskin says that when we feel mistreated we need to decide if it is a “champagne issue.” Many times in life we get caught up in “champagne” issues. He explains that, for example, we get invited to a wedding or a party and we’re bothered that the champagne is too cold or too fizzy or too old or too strong or not strong enough (Note: never having had champagne I can only assume these things would be bothersome). When really, we should be grateful that there is champagne! That we’re at a wedding! That we’re healthy enough to drink champagne! Or that we have friends who know we don’t drink champagne and provide sparkling cider! 🙂
So when we encounter mistreatment, first we must ask ourselves, is this a champagne issue? If it is, let it go. Forgive your spouse their weakness of being human. If, however, it is a bigger issue, then we need to address it with our spouse. (and then still forgive!)
It’s been my experience that addressing these issues at the right time and in the right place is key. We hold a weekly companionship inventory where we first pray, then compliment each other, THEN discuss more difficult issues. This has been so important to set the right tone for hard conversations. Read more about companionship inventory here.
So, with my example of a spouse being online too much- if it’s a one time or sometimes thing- let it go. If it’s everyday all the time, discuss it and try to resolve it together. And then still forgive!
Yes, But What They Did Was REALLY Wrong!
If you’re confronting serious mistreatment, you may need to seek professional help. You will probably need some time to grieve and confront your own emotions. You may need to get out of the relationship. But even then, forgiveness is key to your long-term emotional well-being and happiness. A study on mental health after divorce found that divorced persons who were working toward forgiving their ex-spouse were less likely to be depressed, feel anger or act out in anger than those who were not working toward forgiveness.
So, let’s conclude with a little pop quiz so we can remember what we’ve learned. I know that you could just glance down to the answer key and cheat. And even if you do … I’ll forgive you.
- True or false: Forgiveness means condoning the offender’s actions.
- True or false: Forgiveness means you should not hold your spouse accountable for the quality of your relationship.
- True or false: The quality of my marriage is directly related to my ability to forgive quickly and easily.
- True or false: You are the biggest beneficiary when you forgive others.
- True or false: Forgiving others is hard, but I can do hard things.
Answer key: 1. False 2. False! 3. True. 4. True! 5. True!! TRUE!!!!