My Great-Grandfather raised nine kids. Reflecting back on his years of parenting, he said, "When your kids are little, they step on your toes. When they get big, they step on your heart."
If you're a parent, there will be times when your kids let you down, hurt your feelings or even break your heart. There were certainly plenty of times we let our parents down along the way too! How we deal with those disappointments is one of the most critical decisions and defining moments of parenthood. Our longterm relationships with our kids will be directly shaped by how we react in our moments of disappointment over our kids' choices.
Every child is unique, and every parent is different, so it's difficult to prescribe a "One-Size-Fits-All" approach, but I'm going to do my best by drawing on some timeless wisdom from the Bible and the life experience of many people with decades more experience that I possess. I hope these principles will help us all as we navigate the most beautiful (and most challenging) task we'll ever have...Parenthood!
7 things to do when your kids disappoint you
1. Love them
Never let your kids feel that your love is conditional and based on their behavior. Your unconditional love must be the foundation for your relationship and always let them know that your love for them is bigger than their biggest mistake. Always communicate your love for them before AND after you communicate any disappointment in their behavior.
2. Tell them plainly why their behavior was out-of-bounds
This will clearly look different based on whether your correcting a two-year-old child or reasoning with a twenty-year-old son or daughter. In either case, don't rely on non-verbals to get your point across. Tell them plainly what they did and why it hurt you or damaged your trust in them.
3. Admit your own shortcomings
Some people adopt a theory of parenting where we should never show weakness or admit imperfection, because it would somehow discredit our authority as parents. I believe that looking for perfection, but they are looking for authenticity. If you'll talk about your own struggles and faults, your kids (at any age) will be more willing to open up and accept responsibility for their own poor choices.
4. Temporarily remove some freedoms*
Again, this will obviously look different based on the child's age and the nature of the offense, but temporarily giving up some freedoms is an important part of the process. When my son broke his arm, he had to wear a cast and restrict his freedoms to allow healing to take place. When trust is broken (just like a broken arm), some freedoms must be temporarily given up to allow the healing process to begin.
*With this delicate part of the process, think "loving correction" instead of "punishment." When we "punish" we're often motivated by causing pain because we've been caused pain or our pride was wounded. Corrective discipline is still uncomfortable for all parties involved, but it comes from a place of love and a desire for restoration; not from a place of pride or anger with a desire to cause pain.
5. Allow them the opportunity to make it right
Give your child the opportunity to make amends towards anyone who may have been hurt through their actions. When one of our kids taught the neighbor kid a cuss word, I walked with him to the neighbor's house and made him apologize for what he'd done to the boy's parents. It's was an awkward and difficult moment (for me too!), but it was also a moment of growth and those neighbors gained respect for him, because he was willing to admit fault and humbly ask for forgiveness.
6. Forgive them
Let them know that you're not going to hold this infraction over their heads or use it as leverage or as a way to continuously punish them. You're forgiving them freely and fully, embracing God's grace and working with them to restore healing and trust. It often takes time to rebuild trust, but forgiveness can and should be given immediately.
You can't pray for your kids too much. When possible, pray with your child (out loud) and let you child hear you thanking God for him/her, confessing the sin and embracing the limitless grace and healing God's love makes possible. Even if your child is grown and out of the house, pray for him/her and send a text message right afterwards just to say, "I'm praying for you. I love you. I'm so thankful to be your Mom/Dad."
This article was originally published on Patheos. It has been republished here with permission.