This fall, I started reading a book called How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. Each week I meet with a group of women to talk about the book, brainstorm parenting suggestions and pray for each other. Because, man, do we need it.
What we’re finding, through the techniques in this book, is mothering seems to mean changing everything about the way we speak with our kids. So many of the ways we talk can cause them to feel shame, embarrassment, resentment and anger.
Like learning a new language, it takes time. And sometimes the best way to learn a language, I’ve been told, is through immersion. And with parenting, immersion is just part of the deal. Day in and day out, we have chances to work on learning this new language of communicating well, and offering positive alternatives.
Last week, I was reading a chapter called Engaging Cooperation. It discussed speaking to our kids in a way to give them the ability to think on their own to find self-esteem in their problem solving abilities. Each chapter uses an example of putting yourself in the kids’ position to discover how you’d feel if someone talked to you that way. It’s humbling and, honestly, pretty exhausting.
I’d gotten up early one day to finish the chapter before our group met later that morning. Do you ever read something and then feel empowered to change, to start something new? As I finished the chapter, I was pumped.
“I’ve got this,” I thought.
Breakfast went really great. And then, we had to get out the door to drop off my oldest son at preschool. And like our routine goes, he suddenly seemed to be moving in slow motion. He didn’t want to wear his socks. Or shoes. Or coat. Or hat.
“PUT ON YOUR STUFF! WE NEED TO GO!” I boomed.
As this is our normal routine, I tend to boil up pretty quickly, “We need to go NOW. We’re going to be late. It’s important for us to be on time to preschool. Being late is incredibly disrespectful…”
On and on I rambled. After just reading a chapter about not lecturing your kids. Didn’t he understand I needed to drop him off so I could learn to talk and listen to him?!
As we finally slipped into the car and I buckled the boys in, I felt like a failure. I’d read this book. I wanted things to change. And they did—for ten minutes. Of course I couldn’t do it. I suck.
For some reason, in the next moment, I had a realization. I knew I could keep spiraling out of control, letting my anger spill out all over myself and my kids. Or I could give myself another chance. So, as we pulled out, I took a deep breath. I started apologizing. I asked how my angry words made him feel.
He told me how he felt. Then he offered to pray for me.
Right there, on the way to preschool, my son prayed this prayer, “God, make my mommy happy. I don’t like when she’s mad. Amen.”
My eyes started welling up with tears as I apologized again, “I’m sorry for yelling, Ian. Can you forgive me?”
I glanced at him in the rearview mirror and he looked back at me, shrugged his tiny shoulders like it was no big deal, and said, “Yes, mom.”
That moment reminded me my son is full of grace. More grace than I offer him. And way more grace than I offer myself. I think sometimes the best gift of love is actually wrapped up in tons and tons of unconditional grace.
I think we have so much to learn from our kids. Most days, I think I’m the one teaching. But that morning, I knew I was the one learning the lesson. That same situation happens in our house almost daily. We’re rushing out the door, I lose my temper and lecture the whole way to preschool. That day, I said no to my mistake and started over. I asked for forgiveness and watched my son forgive so recklessly, even though I’d done this over and over again. It was beautiful, humbling and so undeserved. His grace showed me I could forgive myself, too.
We’re so quick to notice our own faults, to compare our shoes, thighs, hair color and house to someone else. What if we could love ourselves unconditionally? What if we realized we were worthy of grace? I think this could be a game changer. Not only would we change, but from that overflow of grace and love, I believe our families would change. When we’re full of goodness, our families are full too.
What if the best gift we have to offer our families is grace for ourselves?
We will screw up again. It’s inevitable. But the next time we’re tempted to beat ourselves up over our failures, let’s ban together to choose grace over condemnation. Grace over anger. Grace over comparison.
Because it’s through grace where life is really found. And I’m starting to think love is actually spelled G.R.A.C.E.