With just one simple question, she laid bare the image-conscious, people-pleasing aspect of my character that was poisoning my parenting.
From the outside, everything looked fine. When my kids were young, I remember my sister-in-law telling me, “You all are just the perfect little family!”
I knew the truth. If you peered beneath the surface, the picture wasn’t exactly perfect — for a variety of reasons.
However, when my oldest turned 12, a powder keg seemed to go off. She began to act out and assert her preteen independence. At the same time, my son was struggling with his own challenging issues. I couldn’t seem to fix anything or anyone. In fact, my best efforts only seemed to make things worse.
The “perfect little family” facade was crumbling.
This phase of my parenting was more intense than I was prepared for. It required more wisdom and courage than I thought I had. I just wanted my kids to behave … was there anything wrong with that?
My relationship with my daughter was particularly strained at the time. I often responded to her with anger, sarcasm and controlling behavior. Then I’d feel just awful and overcompensate by trying to do everything I could to please her. It was a vicious, unhealthy cycle.
The overall atmosphere in our home was tense and volatile. And I was exhausted.
Finally, my husband and I agreed on a good family counselor and made an appointment.
Those early sessions were mostly filled with a combination of hostile words and defiant silence.
Then during one session, my daughter asked me this: Do you really want things to be different because it’s best for me or because it will make YOU look good?
Ouch. It was more of a statement than a question. I wanted to argue. I grasped for some words of defense. It was no use. Because instantly, I knew she was right. All at once, she exposed something I didn’t even fully realize about myself.
Who was my desire for everybody to be happy really about? Them or me? My selfish, image-conscious motives may not have been obvious to me, but they certainly weren’t lost on my children. I was fighting battles to change behavior, but I was losing the battle for their hearts.
I was trying to fix everyone else. What I truly needed to do was allow God to fix me.
Our family struggles weren’t all my fault. But that surprising, unexpected revelation revealed a major flaw in my mothering that was poisoning my relationships with my children. I felt deep remorse.
[Tweet “I was fighting hard to change my kids’ behavior, but I was losing the battle for their hearts.”]
That was a huge turning point for me. Right there in that counselor’s office, healing began. I acknowledged that she was right. I asked for forgiveness and resolved that I was going to change.
I began to ask God to help me focus on what was best for my family and quit worrying about what other people might think. Motherhood is messy. My worth and value had to stop hinging on what people — who only knew a fraction of the whole story — thought about me, my kids and my mothering skills. Only one Person’s opinion really counts. And He offers so much more grace than we humans often give each other.
That was six years ago. Do I still focus on behavior more than heart issues? Sometimes. Have I come a long way since then? Absolutely.
Mothering is a journey. My kids are nearly grown and I still have so much to learn about being the mom and woman God created me to be. He isn’t finished with me yet. Thankfully, He never gives up on me.
I will continue to mess up. I will always fight my selfish, people-pleasing nature.
But shining the light of Truth on those dark areas of struggle has proven to be a powerful antidote.
You can purchase our new book, Mothering From Scratch: Finding the Best Parenting Style for Your and Your Family on Amazon and other online booksellers, as well as at bookstores nationwide!
“I was deeply touched by this book and especially loved that it didn’t feel AT ALL condescending, as so many parenting books tend to be, but instead offered practical solutions and a whole lot of grace. I highly recommend it!”
~ Ruth Soukup, New York Times bestselling author and blogger at Living Well Spending Less