A toddler throwing a tantrum in the grocery store = a bad mom.
A teen who breaks the rules or the law = a bad mom.
An adult child who abandons the faith and your moral standards=bad mom.
Those of us who have been blessed with children have felt like failures when our kids don’t act perfectly. When I had a toddler who pitched a fit in a grocery store, I was devastated. I had taught my boys, or so I thought, to “use their words” to express a need, but that hardly ever worked out. It was weeping and wailing when something didn’t go their way. I remember once, in particular, when one of my boys (I’ll let you figure out which one) had a melt-down in the cereal aisle. Of course, it was at the most crowded time of the day. I was in a hurry, too, so a quiet confrontation and appeasement didn’t seem feasible. Just then, a woman from our church rounded the corner and I knew that judgment was coming. After all, my husband was the minister at the church where her husband was Chairman of the Deacons! I was expecting a stern look of judgment. Instead she just smiled at me and spoke sweetly to the wailing child and then patted me on the shoulder and said, “It gets better, shug.”
Well, she was right. Wise words. The conniption fits in public did get better and eventually ceased altogether. Sometimes, however, there was pouting when one didn’t get his way, but at least pouting didn’t make much noise or draw unwanted attention.
A few years went by and my little rebels found another cause. Homework. Grades. Misbehaving in class. The question was, “Where did I go wrong?” when my boys brought home less than stellar grades or got “written up.” It was my fault, I told myself.
We all got through those school hurdles and into college, even though I had threatened them that their grades would determine their abilities to get into college. I was wrong. They both got in great colleges and even with scholarships. But when they went away to school, the real fun began. They had their freedom and truly started calling their own shots. (Oh, to go back to a screaming toddler in the grocery store!) At different times and in different ways both sons “challenged” our parenting. So…we had failed. No, I had failed. I was the mom. I was the stay-at-home parent for all those years, so I had warped my kids so horribly that they found it necessary to go their own ways. I remember the words of another mother whose child was acting out say to me, in tears, “I left my regular job to the full-time job of raising these children and now look at them. I should be fired!” And sometimes it felt that way to me, and sometimes I kind of wished someone would fire me. But no, I pressed on although I still felt like a failure at times like these.
Through these experiences, I learned a lot. When a child rebels it’s not necessarily personal. Some rebellion is natural even where children are raised in a “good Christian home.” Our internal selves are at war sometimes with what our minds say is right. Sometimes we stay the course and sometimes not. Even good ol’ Paul, the Apostle rebelled.
“For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.” Romans 7:19 (The Message)
Of course, the Bible is full of stories of rebellious and sinful deeds committed by some of the greatest people who ever lived. So, calm down when rebellion happens; it’s Eden’s curse, remember.
However…when a child gets in trouble at school, with the law, or with another person…it’s easy to be embarrassed and even go into denial. Sometimes the behavior is the indication of a bigger problem that needs our total attention. Sometimes it’s not. Maybe it’s just an isolated incident. Knowing the difference is the catch. Do I punish? Do I ignore? Do I seek help? Do I “fire” myself and move to Bimini?
One mom’s blog says,
“The only way to fail at being a mother is to not be available when your child needs you.
I’m not telling you to always rush to your child’s aid or to hover over their activities. I’m talking about the moments when your child feels lost inside a mountain of a problem, or feels like [he or she] is being swallowed up by emotion…This is the only way to fail.”
Though I agree with this statement, it’s easier said than done. Usually it’s not until bad behavior makes a hurting child’s needs come to the surface that you realize you need to take action. Here’s what worked for us.
- Don’t start blaming yourself for your child’s every rebellious act. Take into account that this might be an isolated occurrence.
- Don’t make it more than it is, but don’t minimize destructive behavior either. How do you know the difference? That’s when you pray for wisdom. James 1: 5-6 in The Message says, “If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought.” How many times did I pray that prayer?
- Also, take yourself out of the picture. Reacting with anger or shame to this child I’ve carried in my body and given everything to only puts the focus on you. It’s the child who needs help at the moment, so focusing on him or her takes priority over your outrage at the rebellion.