Our kids are going to be under authority their entire lives. With the exception of a few horrid dictators of suffering countries, everyone on this planet is under authority of some kind. (Jesus is, too.) Offering our kids the gift of submission is one of those keys that opens doors for the rest of their lives.
It was after lunch. We stood on the curb before we walked out to our respective cars. She’d divulged some hard stuff, stuff that could easily be embarrassing outside of the little table we’d shared inside. I was about to step off the sidewalk—and then I thought what it might feel like to be her.
I think I said something really astounding, like, Hey. Thanks. For just, y’know, sharing hard stuff. That is always a gift to me. (My husband taught me that part. He says it’s always a holy gift when someone shares their heart with you.) I know you could be tempted to feel kind of naked after all this. But thanks for just trusting me to keep stuff like that safe. I’m going to be praying with you.
She looked me in the eye and said, “I hope I’m that place for you when you need it.”
The power of shame continues to make my mind fizz. (Yours might, too: This post on shame in parenting has drawn more readers than any other post on this site, bar none.)
But now all those thoughts are bubbling over what shame might look like in a marriage; in our most intimate concentric circle of community. See, I know shame—this idea that I’m not worthy of connecting with someone—immediately leads me to cover up.
Take the typical fight with a spouse. First reaction is not typically, You’re so right. I’m snippy, and I have a profound case of PMS. It’s more along the lines of blame-shifting (Well, if you’d stop overreacting like some kind of hypersensitive Pomeranian). Denying (I didn’t say you were arrogant! I said you were cocky). Hiding (If I don’t say anything, it will look a lot like peace and taking the higher road).
Joking aside—this predilection to hiding means the manifestations of shame are endless. For me, it led to a profound insecurity (you can read how that affected our relationship); to people-pleasing ad nauseam, to the extent of a near eating disorder.
It was a low moment in my parenting—so I’m still a little flabbergasted for the high point my then-four-year old made it.
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.”
Consider developing a special signal to remind kids to say thanks in all manner of situations: to their teacher when leaving Sunday school, to the person cleaning the restrooms at the mall (“thanks for your work!”), to the cashier at Target, the waitress at a restaurant, and when someone picks them up from an event.
Completely Pretty much hypothetical situation. Say one of your kids—well, one of my kids, anyway—teases a sibling to the point of tears. (I know. Whose kids would do that?!)
Let’s take a gander at a few of our parenting options, shall we?
a. “How could you do that to him/her? You are such a bully. Ugh. I am so disgusted with you.”
b. “Get over here! What were you thinking?! I cannot believe you.”
c. “Hey, we need to talk about this. Take a look at your sister for a minute. Let’s think about what it’s like to be in her shoes right now. What do you think she’s feeling? Have you ever felt that way? Do you think you built her up, or tore her down? What do you think you should do?”
I hope I would choose c; I do. But, when forming this decision in a perfect storm of hormones, loathsome traffic, summer heat, and a full week of kids acting as if they were raised by wolves, I wish I were not so enticed by options a and b.
What’s the difference between leading our kids toward appropriate guilt—and shaming them, otherwise known as (gulp) toxic parenting?
My husband and I have determined that our entire nuclear family struggles with self-control—so I post this week not from a place of mastery. I’m just writing from a family that is intentionally seeking strategies together so our reactions to emotions give love and life—rather than, you know, giving a wrecking ball. Make sure to offer your own ideas in the comments section!
5. Absolutely do NOT give in to manipulation, angry demands, or whining. Help them get to the core of what they want, and ask respectfully. It’s Psych 101: Giving in reinforces that their bad behavior works, like giving a bad dog a biscuit. Whining or disrespect means an immediate “no” to any request in our house, no matter how much I want to give what they’re asking for. Instead, I simply tell my kids they need to ask for what they want. Continue reading
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My husband and I have determined that our entire nuclear family struggles with self-control—so I post today not from a place of mastery. I’m just writing from a family that is intentionally seeking strategies together so our reactions to emotions give love and life—rather than, you know, giving a wrecking ball. Make sure to offer your own ideas in the comments section!
The other day I was tucked on my porch in the muted sunshine, paging through the Psalms, when that five-letter word, shame, leapt at me. It made me wonder. What am I ashamed of?
I was a little amazed at how fast answers pounced on my mind. Shame carries tremendous power to sear itself on the memory, some incidences occurring twenty-five years ago–already forgiven and dealt with, but not forgotten: that cruel response when I was in fifth grade to that kid hurting from family strife . Those seasons when I felt socially just not enough. Lately, it’s the way I continually overreact with my kids.
And strangely related–I find myself wondering about the place of shame in parenting. Watching other parents use shame in discipline has the power to crumple me like tinfoil inside. I want to say, grace. Grace! Oh, teach them grace!
But in my own parenting–particularly in my moments of anger–I think, Wait. There is appropriate shame to be had here. Have you no shame that you just left your sibling like that? That those words just hurled from your own mouth?
Shame, I think, articulates that gap between who we wish we were (appropriately or not) and who we have powerfully demonstrated ourselves lacking to be. It’s a fear of being found out, naked in all we truly are.
I find the contrast remarkable between legitimate shame–a form of grief, really–and illegitimate shame in these verses:
9 …I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.
10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. 2 Corinthians 7:9-11
I’d propose there are universally two forms of shame in us: the legitimate guilt, its hard edges carved out by the realization of the pain an destruction we have wrought from our own scorched-earth, hellbent march to the sea. To tell the truth, I want my children to sense this shame; that grieving that births humble change.
And there’s of course illegitimate guilt, perhaps by someone else’s shame projected on us. Or sometimes it’s our own inability to forgive what others already have atoned, our own standards being “higher” and untouchable by the kindness of grace: You don’t know me. You don’t know what I deserve. And of course, sometimes shame is cast upon us, simply because we’re within range of someone else’s: the wife whose husband chose the affair. The terrified, abused child.
It may take a long time, but I hope my kids and I can eventually identify this impostor brand of shame that deforms nearly all of us, curling us in its heat, hardening us to a twisted shape only slightly reminiscent of what it once was. I long for us to plunge deeply together into that warm, unexpected pool found where there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). I hope we come to settle there, engulfed by favor we did not and could never earn; in forgiveness and utter acceptance that was earned for us, not by us.
So I wonder if perhaps good parenting lies somewhere not in casting and heaping shame from that I would have expected more from you sort of lofty perch–which I, too, often find myself inhabiting–and perhaps more probing, humble questions to acknowledge our mutual need for Jesus, the Shame Eraser.
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Really glad you're here. Welcome to a lingering conversation--about a head-turning, undeserved kindness that's turned my life on its head. This site's about Jesus in a pair of well-worn Levi's: faith walking around in our sneakers, scuffing up against real life and real people.
I hope you'll find some questions worth asking, conversations worth engaging, compassion that's compelling, and practical ideas to knead genuine love into relationships. (...With a side of slightly irreverent humor.)
After five and a half years in Uganda, my family and I have recently returned to the U.S., where we continue to work on behalf of the poor. I write and love on my family from Colorado.