Parenting is hard.
Hours after we had celebrated the birth of Jesus in Chicago we decided to take our kids bowling with grandma and grandpa. The first few frames went as expected, but by frame six our four-year-old son decided that bowling still belonged in the 60’s. Instead he wanted to eat all of the chips the bowling alley offered for sale. Given that we ate lunch prior to our bowling excursion and our son chose only to nibble, Dana and I were committed to chipless bowling.
As our older kids finished up their bowling games, our son’s whining turned to crying and his crying turned to flat-on-his-back wailing. We eventually loaded everyone in the car to head home and raptor-like shrieks could be heard for blocks. As we drove away from the bowling alley, grandma sought to soften the chaos with gentle words, “we’ll get you a snack when we get home, o.k.?” Our son, 48 hours removed from the Silent Night, not so gently exclaimed, “shut your mouth, grandma!”
There are only four children on earth that God has entrusted to our care. And one of them just told grandma to “shut her mouth.” Ooops.
Ironically, over Christmas I had been reading a pre-release copy of “Raising the Challenging Child: How to Minimize Meltdowns, Reduce Conflict, and Increase Cooperation.” The book is written by two leaders at Chaddock, a faith-based organization who has served children considered to be among the most challenging in the nation since 1853. Chaddock offers support and training to parents around the world.
Though the book targets parenting the “challenging child” you don’t have to believe your child is a “challenge” to benefit from it. Every child is a “challenge” sometime.
The book is divided into three parts – the parent, the child, and the parent and child together. It strategically balances the responsibilities of the parent, the uniqueness of each individual child, and the dance of parenting. Rather than negligently simplifying parenting to a few universal parenting blueprints the book teaches parents to pay attention and respond to their own and their children’s emotional barometers.
“Visible behaviors are clues to invisible emotions.” (Pg. 98)
For instance, one chapter deals explicitly with “hangry” kids and the strategy of having a few healthy snacks on hand to help young children navigate the furor that comes with craving chips at a bowling alley. There is no doubt that our son was making bad choices at the bowling alley and in the car, but it is equally true that he is four and we as parents must work to create environments where he is best equipped mentally and physically to make good decisions.
This balance of parental responsibility with the validation that kids are emotionally volatile are what make this book unique and powerful. Not since I read Eugene Peterson’s, Like Dew Your Youth, have I thought so introspectively about what God might be teaching me through my children. My children’s behaviors that most frustrate me are often the areas that require the most change from me to channel their behavior in healthier directions. If I want to see change in my children, I must make changes to the way I interact with them.
For instance, the authors write, “the tone, volume, and cadence of a parent’s voice matter more than their words.” (pg. 205) Too often I verbalize “it’s o.k. . . . it was an accident” in a tone that communicates “that was the dumbest thing any human has ever done!” I’m careful with my words, but my expressions make my words hollow and worthless.
Raising the Challenging Child doesn’t spout irrelevant parenting proverbs from the sidelines, but provides real-life examples, stories, and strategies for navigating a child’s best and worst moments. It’s approachable, clear, honest.
It’s easy to scroll through Facebook and Instagram and to be overwhelmed with everyone else’s Pottery Barn perfect kids and think you are the only family with kids that tell grandma to “shut her mouth.” The truth is that every family is messy. Every family messes up. Every family has a list of things they are working on. The battle isn’t for perfection, but for growth.
On those days when I feel an especially poor parent, I pull out my Bible and remind myself that Jesus’ parents once left God’s kid alone in a City and didn’t even notice for a couple of days. (Luke 2:41-52) Then I pat myself on the back because at least I remembered to bring my son home from Chicago.