I hear it all the time. Most often it’s when I’m waiting in line at the grocery store.
I listen to the responses of the mamas in front of me. The overly chipper Trader Joe’s cashier will kindly ask, “How are you doing ma’am?”
The mama replies, “Fine, I’m tired. These kids are driving me crazy.”
The look on her face says it all. “I’m exhausted. I’m spent. I’m weary. And I don’t want to answer your questions right now. I feel frustrated, angry, and I just wanna get out of here.”
I was talking with a woman a few months ago who was sharing with me her plans for their summer break. She told me of all the activities she was going to put her girls into. From camps, to classes, to lessons, to sports, to VBS…overnight play dates, a trip to Grandmas and babysitters lined up for the rest.
I must have had a shocked expression on my face because she stopped and then said with a little laugh and an obvious edge of contempt, “I think I’m a 50% kind of mom. I honestly don’t like my kids. I try to sign them up for as much as I can because I just don’t want to be around them.”
I know dozens of grown adults now with families of their own who have no relationship whatsoever with their aging parents. I cannot fathom getting older and not speaking to my children anymore, yet somehow an incredible amount of people in my generation do not have a pleasant relationship with their mothers or fathers.
Why is that? What makes the difference in successful and unsuccessful families? Why do some people have amazing relationships and others would be fine never speaking to their parents again?
Being a parent is hard. Taking care of little people day in and day out is hard. And it’s often a thankless job.
But I promise you this. There is one thing that will surely destroy your home. And no, it’s not the dirty floors with crushed goldfish spread all over, being late to soccer every Tuesday, or the sink full of unwashed dishes. The one thing that will destroy every relationship within your home is hardness of heart.
Hardness of heart will destroy your relationship with your children.
What is hardness of heart?
Dictionary.com defines hardness as “unfeelingness or jadedness; callousness. Harshness or sternness, as of a difficult existence.”
In motherhood hardness of heart can look like this:
-believing that being short tempered and easily angered is just a normal ‘mom-thing’ and excusing it because everyone else does it too.
-focusing on making sure you look good to everyone else at the expense of truly relating with your kids.
-continuing to justify your extremely, overly busy life because of the desire to meet or exceed the expectations of others.
-choosing to think of yourself and your schedule as most important.
-choosing to focus far more on rules and making your kids learn to obey than on teaching grace and making sure they know they’re loved.
-having the mindset that your kids just “figure it out” and when they fail, because they will, rubbing their nose in it.
-tearing your kids down with words.
-blame shifting and excusing your wrongful actions because they deserved it.
-wasting inordinate amounts of time comparing and contrasting your home against others’ and making the judgement that “theirs is worse” or “theirs is better” and allowing yourself to become puffed up when you’ve beat them out, or depressed when you don’t quite measure up.
-lacking genuine sorrow over the harsh ways you treat your kids.
-responding with defensiveness, contempt, or uncontrolled emotion when someone tries to correct you.
-expecting your kids to say sorry first when you refuse to demonstrate it yourself.
-lacking genuine sorrow in your apology and following it up with “but….”
-demanding your kids be perfect because their obedience directly correlates to your identity.
-thinking more of what you deserve instead of what you can give.
-treating your family with contempt when they don’t give you what you think you deserve.
-expecting everyone in your home to be able to read your mind and getting upset when they don’t/can’t.
-focusing more on being right than on becoming righteous.
-solely thinking the picture perfect image, and other people’s perceptions is what equates a successful home.
-giving the cold shoulder, silent treatment, slamming of doors, using sarcasm or the rolling of eyes to let those in your family be aware they have done, or are doing, wrong.
-treating your kids as though they are in the way and making sure they know there are far more important things you could/should be doing.
-the refusal to humble yourself to ask for their forgiveness
-believing the idea that an adult repenting to kids is just ridiculous.
-believing that because you have the title of parent now means you’ve got it all together and no one can tell you otherwise.
-giving time out after time out, or grounding your kids for incredibly lengthy times, because you just can’t stand to be in the same room as them.
-disciplining out of anger.
-discipling without restoration.
-implementing the “do as I say, not as I do” rule, teaching lessons or life truths you yourself have no intent to live by.
-magnifying the weaknesses and minimizing the strengths of your kids, while magnifying the strengths and minimizing the weaknesses of yourself.
-withholding affection until they ‘clean up their act.’
-assuming you know exactly why they’re acting a certain way because you know them better than they know themselves.
-twisting their words, withholding or expounding parts of the details, and telling white lies to make your side of the story come across in your favor.
-forming concrete opinions about their deficiencies/shortcomings and drawing the conclusion that they will always be that way.
-seeing their problems as only their problems.
-justifying your wrongful actions because “they’re just kids.”
-using the line “I am doing the best I can” to excuse your own shortcomings/wrongful actions/sin.
-preserving your own well-being at the expense of your kids.
-spending more time trying to find an official clinical diagnosis to explain away their behavior issues than looking in the mirror to address your own.
-believing that sharing with all of your friends the dumb things your kids do is not actually gossip or slander because they don’t even know what those words mean yet, or better yet, justifying it because you birthed them. No matter how old they get you have full liberty to say whatever you wish to whoever you wish about whatever you wish because you’ve earned that right.
That’s quite a list…
Maybe you found yourself relating with more than you would have thought…maybe you can think of more to add to the list…maybe you’ve never thought of hardness showing itself in those kinds of ways.
I am guessing that I’m not alone in being the recipient of that kind of parenting, but I am also guessing that I’m not alone in having participated in parts of it as well. When I speak of hardness I must raise my hand first to say “guilty.” Are you there too?!
But I’m also going to assume here, that none of us want to stay hardened. How do we break the cycles? How do we create a different kind of home/family/dynamic? Where do we even start?
In order for our homes to thrive and flourish we must guard with all diligence against hardness of heart toward our kids. It has no place in motherhood, yet in big ways and in small ways we let it creep in. This hardness often begins so subtly, with the smallest acts of selfishness…but left unchecked can grow to become a raging fire of wrath, anger, distance, slander, hatred and bitterness.
We’ve all heard that being a parent is work. And now that I have five kids I can say I absolutely agree. But that work is far different than I ever imagined and far more challenging than I thought it might become when I was in those blissful, sleepy, fresh out of the hospital, cuddly, baby-smell, newborn days.
When I write that motherhood is work I’m not talking about the never ending demands that come as often as the waves of the ocean, fierce and unceasing. I’m not referring to the countless sleepless nights taking care of sick kids, the piles and piles of laundry that will never ever ever be complete. I’m not talking about the dirty dishes that have been in the sink since last Sunday, the dishwasher you’ve unloaded for the third time today, figuring out where to put the shoes (goodNESS why are there so many shoes???), mastering the meal plans, figuring out the discipline strategies, or organizing bedrooms, calendars, sock drawers, garages, seasonal bins, closets, toys, and fitness plans.
As if all of that wasn’t work enough?!
But, when I speak of the work in motherhood I am talking about the grueling, gut wrenching, goes-against-everything-you-feel work.
I’m talking about choosing to daily lay down our lives for our family, looking for ways to love, to pursue, and being relentless to leave no room for distance between us and our children.
This kind of work is about constantly thinking past what our kids mouths are saying and what our kids bodies are doing, to seek out what it is their hearts are craving and what they’re souls are needing.
I’m talking about loving when our kids are unlovable, and respecting them when they are not respectable, and pressing on with joy and compassion when not a single one thinks of what it is we need in return.
This kind of work is being exhausted from the days schedules yet still making time to be present, to connect, to see, to listen, to care and to be a friend. It’s work to truly engage with the hearts of our kids, to pursue peace and unity within the walls of our homes and to refuse to allow our hearts to become discontent or allow our mouths to grumble.
It’s work to see our children as a gift and to be diligent to treat them like one…even when, or should I say, especially when, they don’t deserve it. It’s work to wake each morning and find new mercy, new strength and new joy and it takes effort to intentionally celebrate the mundane, the messy and the monotonous.
It’s work to defer our own preferences, pushing through our own pain, our own agendas and our own feelings in order to pursue unity, love and compassion. It’s work to constantly, continually and unreservedly lay down what we want for the good of those around us, considering others as more important than ourselves.
God wants us to cultivate what we have been given. But in motherhood the reality of what we have been given is often far more challenging than we ever would have anticipated.
There is pain between expectation and reality.
This kind of work in motherhood IS painful…yet it produces a love that compares with no other, because it comes from an exclusive source: Ultimately that love is a reflection of the love of Jesus toward us, having laid down his life for our sake. We have been loved in that way…selflessly, sacrificially…perfectly.
Learning to love as Jesus does brings about character, joy, honor, patience, steadfastness, perseverance, and maturity. Pressing on through the hardship of motherhood not only binds families together in an indescribably beautiful scar-filled unity, but ultimately sanctifies us and causes our lives to look more and more like Jesus.
Jesus, while we were yet his enemies, endured a brutal death sacrificing himself that we might be brought near. We were ransomed from our futility by his own blood and have been born again into a new hope, a living hope, to be built up as living stones in honor of the one true God. We are a people chosen for God’s possession, for obedience, for joy, and for His glory.
Through the hardship and challenges of motherhood we have the opportunity to see/receive Jesus’ love more clearly and in turn learn to love as He does.
I urge you, dear friend, if you find yourself reading this and you are not at peace with your children, drop whatever you are doing and begin with prayer. What is it you need to hear? Where is it you have lost sight of His love for you? Where does your heart need to heal? Where is it you need to grow? What is it you need to change? Who is it you need to pursue?
Ask the Lord to change your heart first.
This isn’t a list of do’s and dont’s…this isn’t a list of rules and guidelines. This is a pleading for us all, beginning with myself, to not waste any time being hardened at how difficult this role is…and it’s an invitation to not give, or leave, any room for distance. If there is something we need to confess, let’s do it. If there is someone we need to forgive, let’s do it. If there is some way we need to grow, let’s do it. And may we encourage one another in this work…for it’s often far too much for us all to carry alone.
Let’s carve out the time and energy to pursue the hearts of our children and ask God to give us eyes to see them as He does…as He sees us; with love, compassion and joy. No matter the age of our children, let’s ask Him to give us the ability to see beyond what is on the surface.
Let’s look carefully for what might be deeper. Is there loneliness? neglect? fear? shame? rejection? Ask God to heal us first and then to give us words, joy, peace, and resolve to love as He does. May our hearts seek to truly listen, love, repent to, forgive, pursue, and serve those who are in our care.
Motherhood is for our joy, the good of others and for His glory.
Let today be the day we soften our hearts. Let today be the day we chase after our children’s.
…but if I have not love I am a noisy gone or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient.
Does not envy or boast.
It is not arrogant.
It does not insist on it’s own way.
It is not irritable or resentful.
It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.
1 Corinthians 13:1-8