I’d made a phone call to him as he stayed at his grandma’s for the day. I hated I even needed to make it. After shouting at him that morning, I’d done a fairly false, overall lame job of apologizing. I’d still been so stinkin’ angry—and my mind’s eye zoomed in on his own error. (That’s him at four years or so, on the right.) So I picked up my cell and attempted something more like Jesus.
What I will always remember was what he said in return.
“Mommy, I forgive you. And I want to let you know that even when you do bad things, I still love you. And I want you to know that even when you do bad things, God still loves you.”
Now I felt really bad for blowing my top.
After we’d repeated this to him over and over–I think the power of this moment was in my 4-year-old repeating the Gospel back to me. And really, him reiterating God’s acceptance of me.
In this post on Shame-parenting vs. guilt exposure, I wrote about one of the key underlying messages of shame. That has exponentially surpassed in traffic every other post on this site: I think this topic resonates strongly in so many of us. In a word, Dr. Brené Brown writes, shame is all about disconnection. Because of what we’ve done—which shame welds on to who we are—we’re rendered unworthy of being accepted; of connecting.
Last night, as I lay in bed during a voluminous thunderstorm, my thoughts blew back to another central relationship where our sense of connection had taken a turn for the worse. Here I am, 36 years old, and I realized that in a period of relational stress, I’d longed for a single vibe from this relationship: I accept you. Even if you don’t meet my standards of performance, even if your kids don’t meet my standards, even if I’m stressed—you are embraced. You don’t have to meet my standards to connect with me; to feel worthy in our house. (I still think the hard part is actually identifying the fact that we parent toxically. It’s a lot easier to identify who makes us feel that way, right?!)
There’s a critical message every child—and adult—longs to hear echoed throughout life, at every age: I accept you. As pastor Tim Keller relates in this podcast, every person’s greatest fear is to be fully known, but not fully loved. And our greatest desire? To be fully known, and fully loved.
Accepting our kids doesn’t mean we’re giving the green light their sin or weakness. Acceptance doesn’t mean “I condone your behavior.” On the contrary, like my little boy did, it reiterates the Gospel to them repeatedly: That while we were still sinners, God loved us. Romans 15 reminds us, Accept one another just as Christ accepted you. That level of acceptance is a pretty tall order for any parent. It’s also a vital truth constantly embedded—or not—in each of our kids. (I appreciated this communication in this recent post for missionary parents of LGBTQ kids.)
It makes me wonder:
- Which of my kids is most likely to feel rejected in our family? Maybe they’re the target of most of the jokes. Maybe they’re into totally different stuff, or have a completely different personality.
- In what mélange of circumstances am I most likely to let loose with the shame talk (a.k.a. toxic parenting) on an offending child?
- What phrases do I use that communicate to my kids they’re beyond the range of acceptance? Not their behavior, mind you—but them, in light of how I’m treating them in their weaknesses? (Check out the chart here if you’re interested more in how this might play out.)
- Which of my kids is most likely to feel rejected by me–whether because of stuff in our past, his or her own failures, a personality clash, my embarrassment, or something else?
- Other than words, what are ways I can convey acceptance to my child? What habits of mine (like a relentlessly critical eye, my own perfectionism, or my own anger problem!) create static that interferes with that message?
Here’s to our kids getting the acceptance memo this week.
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