For me, back to school means one thing: New Year’s resolutions in September. Summer is over, and its my time to begin reflecting on a Summer’s worth of parenting, the memories we’ve made over our holiday from school, and the goals and direction for our family. Now that school has begun, there is quiet in the house all morning, and I already start to forget our laid back Summer mornings of sleeping in and making plans for the day. I’ve always loved this time of year, but this year my heart felt so heavy with the back to school hustle of the last couple of weeks. Someone once pointed out “we only get eleven more Summers with our kids once they begin kindergarten,” and it has always stuck with me. I begin asking the same questions at the end of each Summer. Did we make the most of it? Did we check off all the items on our Summer bucket list? Did we make lasting memories? Will they remember our adventures together? Did I teach them anything new? Did I point them to a deeper relationship with Jesus? Do they still remember how to do Math? This is our first year with two kids now in Elementary school, and I feel like we are entering into a new season. The realization of having less than eleven more Summers together has definitely sunk in.
Although my heart craves these long, Summer days with our kids, they are not always free from sibling arguments and boredom. This Summer also came with some new parenting territory. I have talked lately about how I feel like our oldest is growing up so fast and especially in the last 6 months he has seemed more independent than ever. I felt this more deeply this Summer as he headed out to play with the neighbor kids everyday and desired this kind of autonomy more and more. I also felt this pull as he expanded his interests from Legos and monster trucks, to wanting to discover things like Pokemon and Spiderman into the Spiderverse. We want our kids to grow in both independence and autonomy, which makes all of these things so healthy and good, but as parents can also make you step back and re-evaluate what your family is about and what things you do and don’t want apart of your family. There also can be some discord when decisions are made that your kids don’t agree with, in regards to this type of freedom. These moments can be hard but are also so crucial and often a pivotal part of parenting.
When Derek and I were first married we were gifted the book, “Love and Respect” by Emerson Eggerichs. I am so thankful we had this foundation to begin navigating communication as 23 and 24 year old newly-weds. If you haven’t yet read that book, I would highly recommend it. The basic principle in the book is that communication and relationships work in a cyclical rotation. In many marriages this rotation can be fueled by the wife needing love and the husband needing respect. When either one of these needs are ignored or forgotten, one or both people in the marriage can begin feeling frustrated which then starts the unhealthy wheel of resentment and negative communication. Eggerichs talks about this and labels it the “crazy cycle”. The “crazy cycle” spins on and on as the wife reacts to the lack of love poured out and in return is disrespectful to her husband, and it continues on as the husband withholds love for his wife as he reacts to her disrespect. You’re probably asking yourself what this has to do with a Summer bucket list and parenting. I had an ah-ha moment with our son this Summer when we were discussing what our family’s values were in regards to TV shows and things that he wanted to watch. As I sat back and took in our interaction, I realized that the little boy sitting in front of me needed the same kind of respect that I give to my husband. A quick, short response on my part that lacked thoughtfulness could lead us into a type of cycle that was not so different than the type that Emerson describes in his book. Our son, possibly feeling a lack of understanding and respect, would then respond without a loving tone towards me. Talking with my girlfriends about their relationships with their sons (and daughters) I know that we are not alone in regards to this type of negative cyclical rotation and how easy a trap it is to fall into.
When I stepped back and viewed it in this light, instead of just labeling it as disobedience and becoming frustrated, I realized one very important thing. As the mom, I played a very significant role in this cycle. I had the power to begin this crazy cycle of disrespect and short interactions or I had the power to disperse it before it even began. It comes down to being prepared with a response instead of a reaction. By nature my whole being hates conflict. I always have, and I always will. To my core this is how God made me. When I was little, I would do anything in my power to disrupt and solve conflict between my siblings. This is harder to come to grips with as a parent because we all know God has placed us in our kids lives to teach, train and love our kids and this does not usually happen free of conflict. In these moments, when a boundary needs to be established, it is so much more honoring to everyone involved if I respond out of love rather than reacting to it. We have expectations that our kids will respond to one another with grace and understanding but if we are not modeling this in our interactions with them, it seems very unfair to expect this of them. It also helps them to learn how to have good boundaries in their own lives, if they feel freedom to say no and have hard conversations but also know how to do it in a loving manner. I know that there are times I will excel at this and I know that there are times I will forget or something will catch me off guard, and I will look back and realize that I could have done better. This is where we get to lean into grace and really live out the gospel for our kids. Apologizing and explaining that we will never get it all right on this side of eternity but that we can purpose to live out our daily lives and respond with this type of love and grace.
I realized early on the impact that my attitude and mood has on my husband, but now, years into parenting I have realized that I GET to have a great impact on our kids as well. It sometimes feels like a lot of responsibly but it is such an honor to get to set the mood for our house and most days it feels like a gift. My husband and I have been talking a lot about how important it is to learn who it is that God has made you, your gifting and passions and to discover who our identity’s are in Christ (thanks Jamie Winship for lots of great podcasts). As we go through life, we are many times labeled lots of different things. Some of these labels come from ourselves and some come from other people. Good or bad these labels stick with us and can often define who we are and what impact we make in this world. As parents, we are the first voice, speaking into our kid’s lives, often shaping and forming these identities. What a huge responsibility we have to either speak words that bring life or words that break down and bring death. It’s so daily, it can feel unimportant and overwhelming but I feel encouraged to stop and remember this more often before I respond to our kids and possibly impact their idea of their identity in Christ.
I’m so thankful that God doesn’t expect for us to get it all right every time but that we get to choose to grow alongside our kids. It’s often humbling and almost always thankless but I’m so grateful for this opportunity. I hope you know that you are never alone as you walk this parenting journey and that more than anything you know it is never too late to change old ways of communicating and for new life to grow in our relationships with our kids.
I’m so honored to be on this journey together!