Monday, March 28, 2011

On Parenting

Heart to Heart: A Mom's Perspective

Ever since the days of my own childhood, I have vacillated between not wanting to have any children to looking forward to being a mother of teenagers. I secretly longed to do all the things I felt my parents didn’t do or should have done with me. Now in that season of parenting four amazing, world changing teens that range in age from 20 to 13, I no longer feel that I know all of the answers or have an upper hand on all of the current parenting methods of the day. Truly, I often find myself praying for strategic wisdom and creativity from the Holy Spirit and receiving the Lord’s grace to parent our children.

One such occasion happened four years ago. Our eldest was then a sophomore in high school. We recognized that in a few short years, she would be on her own attending college somewhere. As Christian parents, Doug and I had heard the all too often told stories of Christian kids leaving home for college and going wild with their new found freedom. This was not our heart for our daughter so after years of sheltering her from the harms of the world, cartoons and movies that may expose her to the demonic, secular music that might corrupt her soul, and anything else that could tempt her away from her Saviour, I began to ask the Lord for wisdom in how to prepare her in two short years for the freedoms she would experience.

As life lessons go, one day as I was zooming down I-264 towards Norfolk at the jolly ole speed of 70, I saw a state trooper and immediately put on my brakes to slow down to a respectable 55 miles per hour. Immediately, the Holy Spirit began to use this experience as a teachable moment. He said to me, “Felicia, why do you speed?” I answered, “Because I like to get where I am going.” He said, “No, you have no value or understanding for the rule and so you choose to break it. When the Enforcer is not there to enforce the rule, you don't follow the law.” Then He asked, “What makes you obey my rules?” I answered, “Because I love you and I wouldn't want to do anything that would hurt You, or Father, or Jesus.” To which the Holy Spirit responded, “If you will deepen and protect the heart to heart connection between you and your children in the same way that you protect our heart to heart relationship, you will not have to live in fear of them falling away from the things you have taught them.”

The sky opened. The music played. I had an aha moment. Eureka! I sped when there was no one to enforce the law. If pulled over, I simply accept the penalty for my wrongdoing and pay whatever fee is assessed or go to court and ask for mercy. I recognized that I had not experienced a consequence severe enough to keep me from speeding. What consequence would be great enough to keep our daughter from exploiting her freedoms and disregarding all that we had invested in her for the last 18 years? There had to be a great value on our relationship. It had to be her choice to love us so much that she wouldn’t want to hurt us; that the things that are important to us would remain important to her. It had to be her choice to take personal responsibility for her part of our relationship and protect our heart.

Armed with this revelation, our first test came when she successfully obtained her Virginia driver’s license. While most of our friends were issuing curfews with their teenager's driver’s license, we chose not to set a curfew right away. We decided to give her the opportunity to manage her freedom and see how she handled it. We celebrated her accomplishment, made her aware of the Virginia law for teen drivers – how many could be in the car, what time they required her to be off the road, etc. Only twice in her final year of high school did she come home later than we would have liked. Both times, she called to make us aware that she would be thirty minutes late and in both instances, she was not personally driving. It was fun to watch her handle her part of our relationship with respect and honor.
The atmosphere in our home is modeled after 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love cast out fear: because fear involves torment (punishment). He that fears is not made perfect in love.” By choosing to train our children in self-control and protecting our heart to heart connection, we no longer demand obedience or conformity. Is this hard? Yes! Yet, we have decided that it is more fun to raise kids who are personally responsible for their choices, empowered to think for themselves and capable of managing their freedoms.

2 Corinthians 3:17 says, “Now the Lord is Spirit; where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty (freedom).” Why were there two trees in the Garden of Eden? I believe it was because love and freedom always requires a choice. It's not freedom if there aren't options. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (self-control).” God gave us all self-control to manage ourselves and handle freedom. When you can't manage you, you are out of control. As parents, when we see our children out of control, more often than not, we begin to operate in a spirit of fear and try to control the situation.When we believe parenting is about obedience and control, we miss the opportunity to partner with God in teaching our children how to clean up their messes. In doing this, we actually sow a lie into the core values of our children that says, we can control others and others can control us. When the truth is found in Galatians 5: 22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is...self-control. Against such there is no law.” Teaching our children to control themselves sets them up for a lifetime of wisdom and freedom. A Murrell mantra in our home, “On a good day, you control you.”

One really funny example of this from the Murrell parenting archives: our boys share a bedroom and at times, it is nothing short of a disaster zone. Honestly, I often just close the door and let them live in it. But as days would have it, the boys found me on a day when I was over the messy room and thus a choice was presented to them. “Boys," I said, "you have 10 minutes to clean your room or you can pay me to clean it for you.” The boys continued playing their gaming system, craftily ignoring my warning. Because they can trust that I do what I say, when 10 minutes passed, I appeared in the door of the game room and said, “What’s your decision? Are you ready to clean your room or would you like to pay me to clean it?” To which my oldest son replied, “We don’t even have any money to pay you with. So how are we going to pay you?" I smiled and said to him, “Sure you do. I will just sell video games until my cleaning fee is paid in full." With a few murmurs under his breath, he continued to play. My response, “No problem.” No problem in our home really means, no problem for me, possible problem for you. With that, I turned and entered their room and began cleaning it. When they saw the trash bag and the vacuum cleaner, the boys started singing the ‘Mom’ song. We’ve all heard it, “Mooooom. Moooom. We were gonna do it.” After cleaning the room, I went to collect my fee. Stepping into the game room, I asked the boys, “Would like to give me the games you want me to sell or should I pick them out myself?” Needless to say, our oldest son was pretty livid that I had followed through to collect payment.

As a parent, part of me managing me is the decision to not allow the character defects of my children to control me. This revelation is significant in maintaining my heart to heart connection with my children as it gives me the freedom to allow my children to work on their lives and their problems while managing me. As a result, my children are confident of two truths: 1) “If you need my help, I'll be over here.” and 2) Even at their worst, they are safe with me.

Since this sounds good in theory, but really is a process of learning to master the art of telling myself what to do and then doing it, I went on with my other tasks without allowing my son's tantrum to pull me into an emotional vortex. Dad, however, was being drawn in at a steady pace and pretty soon, our eldest son had manage to push and ignite his father’s big red button called DISRESPECT! As the night came to a close and Room Time (our kids are asked to retire to their room 30 to 40 minutes before bed to soak, read their bible, or have some quiet reflection time) fell upon the Murrell abode, our eldest son was still a little bent out of shape about having to pay for his clean room. Dad had finally had enough!
From the kitchen, I could hear voices rising. I went to our boys room and saw Dad standing over the bed with hands on hip, “That’s my wife you’re talking about. You’re not going to disrespect my wife.” Looking up from his bed, our lanky teenager responded, “Well, she shouldn’t have taken my games.” I stepped in the door and said, “ I’m sorry. I thought it was room time. Room time means I don’t want to see you. I don’t want to hear you. Why can I hear you all the way downstairs?" Then looking directly at my oldest son I said, “ Son, are you tired? If you’re not tired, I can give you something to do.” His response was simply to stare back at me. With a gentle tug of my husband’s hand, I led him out of the room and closed the boys door. In the privacy of our room, I admitted to my hero that I was ok. Our son had not wounded me with his behavior or his words. With a few pouts, dear hubby puffed and went back to his reading. I returned to the kitchen. After 5 or 10 minutes I heard, “Felicia, I’m gonna hurt him. He won’t be quiet.” Back up the stairs I went. I stepped into the door of my son’s room and said, “Son, put some socks and shoes on.” As he started to dress over his pajamas, I said, “No need to get dressed, just put on your socks and shoes. I’ve something for you to do.” With socks and shoes on, I asked him to come with me. I directed him to our backyard with a rake and said, “the leaves need to be raked into piles. When you get tired, you are welcome to go to bed.” With an incredulous look, he grabbed the rake and went outside. Since the motion light only lit up one area of the backyard, he stayed in that area and raked the leaves. After 10 minutes or so, I walked out back and asked, “Are you ok? Would you like some water?" And then I added,"When you get tired, you can go back to bed. OK?” With a gruff and a nod, he continued to rake. A few more minutes passed, I heard the screen door shut and looked up to see my son coming through the door. I said, “Are you tired?” “Yes,” he replied. I leaned up on my tippy toes to kiss him goodnight and said, “Goodnight, son.” As he shuffled up the stairs, I heard, “G’night, Ma.”

A lot of things happened that night: 1) As parents, we do not always get it right. But thank God that every day in the Kingdom is a do over day. 2) My son knew that he could trust me. I mean what I say. I say what I mean. 3) My words are like $1000 bills. I shouldn't have to use a lot of them to discipline my children. Instruction actually happens better during times of intimacy. When they are angry,their hearts are closed to receiving your pearls of wisdom. 4) I taught my sons that services cost money in the real world. You don’t have to cook, clean, wash your clothes, wash your cars, etc. You have a choice to pay someone to do those things for you. You have to decide if it’s worth the cost or if you would rather do them yourself. 5) I managed me and did not respond to his anger. No one makes you do or say anything. On a good day, you are responsible for you. 6) I was able to give choices in love and administer the consequences of those choices in love. As a result, now when I ask the boys would you like to clean your room or would you rather pay me to clean it, they remember the consequence of loss video games and choose to clean their rooms. And now, when we say room time, they have a full understanding of the consequence that follows not being tired. 7) Our son and his dad both had an amazing opportunity the next day to clean up their mess and restore their connection. Forgiveness ALWAYS restores the standard.

As for our eldest, she is now a sophomore at Yale University and continues to do an amazing job of managing her freedoms and maintaining her heart to heart connection with us.

We've lifted the lid and given our children permission to think. They have permission to fail. They have freedom to make their own choices. They understand that there are consequences to the choices they make. They are secure in our love. It's a high call to raise up world changers who will influence their culture for the Kingdom of God. We have decided that loving on purpose is more important than getting our kids to behave in a certain manner. Yes, it means they are not always perfect. And yes, even we have been known to raise an eyebrow or two at things they say or do. In lieu of punishment, we've created a culture of honor in our home that allows for confrontation. Our standard of discipline is more vision based than behavior modification. We go after the gold that is inside of each of our children and we parent them by constantly loving them and coaching them into becoming whom God has predestined them to be.

Once, our youngest daughter was chatting with several guys via facebook. Doug and I felt that some of it was becoming inappropriate for our young teen. One evening before room time, we called them into our bedroom and began to remind them of our desire that they keep themselves pure for the mate that God is preparing for them and preparing them for. As parents we have always stressed that purity is more than not having sex. It's the protection of your body, soul and spirit. That night, we talked to the boys about being their sisters keeper and protecting her innocence. Again for us, this means protecting what they hear, see, how they are spoken to and treated by others. Then, we turned to our daughter and began to remind of who she was in Christ. That she was our princess. She was valuable. We just began to lavish her with love and a remembrance of her worth. We said to her any guy who will not honor you or speak to you in a manner that honors you is not worth your time. We don't mind you being friends, but remember who you are and be bold in defining your boundaries. That night, I watched as my husband ministered to our baby girl. Her tears fell and her body racked with sobs as she cried in her daddy's arms. It's easy in the world of technology for our children to lose the vision of whom God created them to be. Instead of punishing her or demanding that she close her facebook account, Doug took the time to esteem her, to remind her of her worth. From that day to this, she carries herself like the princess she is and has a good handle on how and when to set boundaries in her friendships.

We are learning as a family that relationships have two parties and each party is 100% responsible for their part of the relationship. Our goal is to create an environment where there is honor, respect, community, and personal responsibility. If I can keep our hearts connected, even in my absence, the deposit I have made in the heart of my children will guide them. I'm no longer interested in their obedience and their compliance. I'm after their heart. If I can capture their heart, I can empower them to live a fearless life of freedom.
©2010 Felicia Murrell YzCounsel Ministries 

3 comments:

  1. Felicia, Cory and I really enjoyed Heart to Heart on Parenting. This has been so helpful and is going to make us better, more aware and connected parents. We truly love your site and are thankful that God inspired you to do it. Cory and Monica James

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  2. This is such good stuff. You and Doug have such a way with words... a way with life! Thank you for going before us and sharing your wisdom. Much, much love!!!

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