Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Everyday Grace: Firm but kind
by Mary Cronk Farrell
(From the Oct. 3, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)
Thank God, Iíve never been caught by a security camera while disciplining my children. I donít hit my kids, but who knows how I might look to strangers when Iíve lost my temper.
Recent news events have caused me to reflect on the ways well-meaning parents hurt their kids. Can our Chrisitan ideals cause us to over-react, expect too much, come down too hard? When we hear about the dangers of teenage sex, violence, drug and alcohol use and cheating in schools, do we let our fear get the better of us? Crack down on our three-year-old for refusing to share and send him to his room with no dinner? Harangue our adolescent until she bursts into tears? Insist our teenager do it our way, because ďI said soĒ?
I remember when my oldest was two. Mischievous, and refusing to be buckled into his car seat. ďIf I canít get him to obey me now,Ē I thought, ďwhatever will I do when heís 15?Ē I picked him up, thrust him in, and held him down until he gave in, started bawling and I could manage to buckle him tight.
For several years I took his attempts at independence personally. Iím a slow learner, but eventually I realized if kids did everything perfect the first time, they wouldnít need parents. If adolescents arenít pushing the limits, theyíre not doing the work of a certain developmental stage.
We forget that certain skills come with time and experience Ė such as how to make a truly heartfelt apology, with no excuses, no blaming. I catch my nine- and 11-year-old youngsters in the middle of an emotional battle, and I expect them to work it out flawlessly.
The heavy responsibility of raising Christian children can blind me to the power of mercy and love. Fear of not disciplining enough can drive a parent to correct a child too severely.
Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr says it this way: ďYou cannot give yourself away until you have a self. Thatís why the Gospel was meant primarily for adults. The most we can do with children is love them, touch them; cuddle, hug and believe in them. You canít preach a full-fledged, heavy Gospel to children because everything in their psyche and soul is saying grow, experience, develop, run, prove myself, be ambitious. A childís psyche cannot understand the way of the cross.Ē
There is also another side to the equation. Are we too soft on our children? So concerned with praising them and making sure their needs are met that they have developed a sense of entitlement? Are we so busy and stressed we donít have the energy to discipline? Is it easier to give material things, than to spend time together as a family?
I sometimes struggle with allowing my youngest son to experience the negative consequences of his behavior. He has a habit of pitching a fit when he doesnít get his way. As a family weíve agreed on consequences for being disrespectful, for shouting or throwing a tantrum. But Iíve found myself not following through because Iím tired, trying to get dinner on and feeling sorry for him because I know heís had a rough day. Or I donít ask him to do a chore because I know itíll provoke a scene, and I just donít have the energy to deal with it.
This type of parenting is not good for my child. It encourages him to be irresponsible, and reinforces the idea that he need not be concerned about others.
Itís also hard for me to allow my children to fail. In trying to protect them from being hurt, I forget how important it is for children to be able to learn from their mistakes.
Raising our children requires firmness and kindness, both discipline and love. Each day can bring new challenges to our hearts and our skills. Itís impossible to do a perfect job of walking the fine line that joins correction and affection. But keeping in mind they are two halves of the whole, we can continue striving to balance mercy and justice.
(Mary Cronk Farrell is a freelance and childrenís writer living in Spokane with her
husband and three children.)
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