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Your Child Is Not Your Enemy

SOURCE:  Brooke McGlothlin/Gospel Centered Mom/FamilyLife

Here are eight ways we can fight for, not against, our children in their hard-to-handle moments.

When the days of mothering grow long and make a girl weary, and when what you really want to do is lock your child in a bedroom and throw away the key, it’s good to remember this: Your child is not your enemy.

Our goal for our children isn’t to create super kids, nor is it to strip them of all the quirks and traits that make up their personalities. Our fight is to help them grow toward Christlikeness, into the best version of them that they can be.

With that in mind, here are eight ways we can fight for, not against, our children in their hard-to-handle moments.

1.Tell God He can have you. I made this number one because it’s the most important. None of the other steps matter much at all unless you’re willing to let God change you first.

I’ve learned firsthand the importance of allowing God to strip me of old, sinful habits that hinder my ability to fight for my children. In other words, most of the time the battle for my boys involves battling with myself. I’m the parent, and I can’t win if I allow myself to be dragged down to their level. My goal is to rise above and invite them to come with me.

2. Get in the habit of prayer. Every one of us wants to know what God wants us to do so we can just do it and be done. I sometimes feel frustrated because it doesn’t seem like God gives me clear direction when my heart is ready to do whatever He tells me to do. But I’ve come to this conclusion: Most of the time I’m too busy talking to actually hear when He is speaking to me.

That’s why taking a break to pray before I speak, before I react, and before anyone else gets up in the morning, and praying throughout the entire day is so important. God wants to give us direction and comfort, but we’re often too busy juggling life on our own to ask.

3. Embrace the power of a mommy timeout. It doesn’t necessarily take long to recharge if you know what works for you. What gives you a healthy sense of relief almost instantaneously? Is it music? A good book? Reading your favorite Bible passage? Getting on your knees in prayer? Whatever it is—and it may vary from day to day—do that.

You cannot parent your children well when your heart is frazzled. Even if you have to take five-minute mommy breaks multiple times a day, do something to focus your attention on Jesus. Remember that peace has nothing to do with what’s happening around you. Peace comes only from relationship with Jesus Christ. You can’t manufacture it with things or even changes in circumstances. It comes from within as you surrender your life to Christ.

4. Prepare ahead of time. Just as I have my own triggers, certain things tend to agitate my sons. After studying them for years now, I’m beginning to recognize these triggers and to be physically, mentally, and spiritually prepared for the inevitable.

When it’s time to leave the pool, I get their attention about 20 minutes beforehand and let them know we’re leaving in 20 minutes. Then I give them updates every few minutes so that when it’s actually time to leave they’re not taken by surprise.

I don’t think I can overemphasize prayer’s importance as an in-the-moment tactic as well as part of the advance preparation. I pray a lot. For my response as well as for my sons’.

5. Be stronger. When they were very young, I would often pick up my boys and carry them, despite their flailing and kicking, to a safe space for them to calm down. Now I can ask them to go somewhere safe, and they will, albeit not always without emotional drama. We’re fast approaching the day when they’ll be much stronger than I am, so what I’m talking about here isn’t physical strength so much as emotional and spiritual strength.

You may have heard it said that a leader can take his followers only as far as he has traveled. As a parent, you are, by default, a leader. God gave you to your children to teach them, train them, and make it as easy as possible for them to know Him. To lead them well, you don’t have to know the answers to every theological question or have your whole life together; you just have to be a few paces ahead of where they are.

6. Love harder. There are a lot of amazing things about my boys, things I know God will use one day for His glory and purpose in their lives. But for right now, they’re raw and unrefined and often drive me crazy.

One day, they’ll fight for something instead of against it. Until that time, it’s my goal to love them harder than they fight me. If my boys go to bed each night feeling more loved than fought and more a treasure than a hindrance and know there’s nothing they could ever do to make me not love them, I call that day a success.

7. Be a student of your child. There’s no one-size-fits-all method when it comes to raising godly children. Sometimes, I wish there were. Other times I’m glad it’s not up to me to change their hearts. God can do a much better job of that than I can.

What is within my power is to study my son, to really know him—his personality, what makes him happy, what makes him tick, what sets him off, what makes him feel loved. When a mom knows those things, she can tailor her parenting to the specific strengths and weaknesses of the child. It empowers the parent to reach the heart of the child, deep down inside, instead of just trying not to be inconvenienced by his bad behavior.

8. Refuse to give up. I know you’re tempted daily to give up. So am I. When things don’t go as planned, when children continue to be resentful or disobedient regularly, when the clutter grows unmanageable, and the pile of laundry threatens to avalanche, we might be tempted to say, “I quit. I’m not even going to try anymore.”

The circumstances we’re in today are not forever. If we stay the course, we will reap a harvest, even if it happens on the other side of heaven. There’s more waiting for us when we get there. The choices we make today to press on and fight the good fight will make a difference in generations to come, influencing who among our family and friends will get to join us with Jesus. Do not give up.

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6 Hurtful Childhood Lessons That Linger into Adulthood

SOURCE:  

Children are, by nature, helpless and dependent human beings whose existence and well-being is dependent on the adults around them. This means that they have no choice but to trust their caregivers (parents, teachers, priests, family members, elders). Moreover, children are in development and new to the world, and therefore they are naturally ignorant and impressionable.

Because of all of this, the caregiver-child relationship is exceptionally momentous to us when we are growing up. Whatever people say to us, good or bad, often stays with us for a very long time. The way people treat us sets a precedent on how we see ourselves and how we see relationships and the world in general.

In this article, we will examine a few common messages children hear that haunt them long after they’re adults, and sometimes for their lifetime.

1. It’s not a big deal

Here the child’s feelings are minimized. What may not seem like a big deal from an adult perspective can be a very big deal to a child. If a child’s feelings and experiences are invalidated, they become confused, anxious, or dissociated.

As an adult, the person is often quick to dismiss their own feelings, wants, and desires. They are also out of touch with how they really feel and think, and why.

2. You always mess things up / You’re such a failure / You can’t do anything right

In this instance, the child feels hurt and anxious. Being treated as if you’re worthless teaches the person to believe that they are worthless. As a result, this person may struggle with self-care and low self-esteem in later life.

They routinely feel anxious because they are worried that they are doing something wrong, and apathetic because they feel like a failure no matter how hard they try.

They often feel self-loathing, sometimes to the degree of severe self-harm or even suicide.

3. Don’t pretend / You don’t mean that / That’s not how you feel

This is another form of invalidation and confusion. Often, if the caregiver doesn’t like something the child does, feels, or says, they tend to negate it by simply saying that the child’s thoughts and emotions are wrong or not real.

The person learns that it’s forbidden or even dangerous to feel certain feelings and express, or even have, certain thoughts and observations. In order to survive, they will also learn to dissociate from who they are and develop a persona that is at least marginally acceptable to their caregivers.

4. You provoked me / You made me do it / It’s all your fault

Here, the caregiver is engaging in victim-blaming, where they put the responsibility of being abused onto the child. Not only the child was hurt, but they were blamed for being hurt too. This is incredibly cruel.

As a result, the person learns to ignore and accept toxic behavior from others. They also internalize that if people mistreat you, then it’s your own fault, that you deserve it for being “bad” or “inherently defective. They learn to self-blame.

5. You’re too sensitive / You need to toughen up / This will teach you a lesson

This is in relation to being abused or otherwise expressing hurt. The caregiver is minimizing the child’s pain and fails to empathize with them.

Another lesson here is that the child’s emotions are wrong and that they should feel less of whatever they are feeling. That they should be “stronger,” “more mature,” meaning that you should repress your emotions, dissociate from them, and accept abusive situations as normal.

6. You make me look bad / Think about how I feel / Make me proud

Here, it’s all about the caregiver (meI). The caregiver explicitly lets the child know that they should live their life as the caregiver wants and meet their expectations even if that’s not what the child wants. Sometimes the child gets so lost and erased that they are convinced that living the scenario their caregiver imposed on them is what they actually want.

Also, if the child fails to be who the caregiver wants them to be then they get severely punished: either explicitly (beatings, yelling, threats) or covertly (rejection, emotional unavailability, conditional “love”). The child learns that the only way they can survive in the world is by being fake, complicit, and self-sacrificing. In other words, by living for others only and self-erasing.

Summary and final thoughts

Many people grow up in an environment where they are mistreated and taught harmful beliefs. When we are developing, our caregivers’ and other authority figures’ opinions and treatments of us are extremely impactful to our development.

As a result, many of us learn bad, untrue lessons and beliefs like “I’m worthless,” “I can’t do anything right,” “I have to please others,” “My emotions and thoughts don’t matter,” “It’s dangerous to feel and express my feelings,” “If people mistreat me it’s my fault,” “I’m inherently defective.” In this article we only explored a few and just from a few angles, but there’s so much more to it.

Overcoming, or even recognizing, these beliefs and their effects can be really challenging. However, it is indeed possible to challenge them and gradually become free of them.

Which Type Of Emotionally Neglectful Parents Raised You? 17 Signs to Look For

SOURCE:  Dr. Jonice Webb

What kind of parents fail to notice their child’s feelings?

Since this type of parental failure (Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN) causes significant harm to the child, people naturally assume that emotionally neglectful parents must also be abusive or mean in some way. And it is true that many are.

But one of the most surprising things about Childhood Emotional Neglect is that emotionally neglectful parents are usually not bad people or unloving parents. Many are indeed trying their best to raise their children well.

Type 1: Well-Meaning-But-Neglected-Themselves Parents (WMBNT)

  • Permissive
  • Workaholic
  • Achievement/Perfection 

There are a variety of different ways that well-meaning parents can accidentally neutralize their children’s emotions. They can fail to set enough limits or deliver enough consequences (Permissive), they can work long hours, inadvertently viewing material wealth as a form of parental love (Workaholic), or they can overemphasize their child’s accomplishment and success at the cost of his happiness (Achievement/Perfection).

What makes these parents qualify for Well-Meaning Category 1 status? They think that they are doing what’s best for their children. They are acting out of love, not out of self-interest. Most are simply raising their children the way they themselves were raised. They were raised by parents who were blind to their emotions, so they grew up with the same emotional blind spot that their own parents had. Blind to their children’s emotions, they pass the neglect down, completely unaware that they are doing so.

Children of WMBNT parents generally grow into adulthood with heavy doses of three things: all the symptoms of CEN, a great deal of confusion about where those symptoms came from, and a wagonload of self-blame and guilt. That’s because when, as an adult, you look back at your childhood for an explanation for your problems, you often see a benign-looking one. Everything you can remember may seem absolutely normal and fine. You remember what your well-meaning parents gave you, but you cannot recall what your parents failed to give you.

“It must be me. I’m flawed,” you decide. You blame yourself for what is not right in your adult life. You feel guilty for the seemingly irrational anger that you sometimes have at your well-meaning parents. You also struggle with a lack of emotion skills, unless you have taught them to yourself throughout your life since you had no opportunity to learn them in childhood.

6 Signs To Look For

  • You love your parents and are surprised by the inexplicable anger you sometimes have toward them.
  • You feel confused about your feelings about your parents.
  • You feel guilty for being angry at them.
  • Being with your parents is boring.
  • Your parents don’t see or know the real you, as you are today.
  • You know that your parents love you, but you don’t necessarily feel it.

Type 2: Struggling Parents

  • Caring for a Special Needs Family Member
  • Bereaved, Divorced or Widowed
  • Child as Parent
  • Depressed

Struggling parents emotionally neglect their child because they are so taken up with coping that there is little time, attention or energy left over to notice what their child is feeling or struggling with. Whether bereaved, hurting, depressed or ill, these parents would likely parent much more attentively if only they had the bandwidth to do so.

But these parents couldn’t, so they didn’t. They didn’t notice your feelings enough, and they didn’t respond to your feelings enough. Although the reasons for their failure are actually irrelevant, you have not yet realized this yet. You look back and see a struggling parent who loved you and tried hard, and you find it impossible to hold her accountable.

Children of struggling parents often grow up to be self-sufficient to the extreme and to blame themselves for their adult struggles.

4 Signs To Look For

  • You have great empathy toward your parents, and a strong wish to help or take care of them.
  • You are grateful for all your parents have done for you, and can’t understand why you sometimes feel an inexplicable anger toward them.
  • You have an excessive focus on taking care of other people’s needs, often to your own detriment.
  • Your parents are not harsh or emotionally injurious toward you.

Type 3: Self-Involved Parents

  • Narcissistic
  • Authoritarian
  • Addicted
  • Sociopathic

This category stands out from the other two for two important reasons. The first: self-involved parents are not necessarily motivated by what is best for their child. They are, instead, motivated to gain something for themselves. The second is that many parents in this category can be quite harsh in ways that do damage to the child on top of the Emotional Neglect.

The narcissistic parent wants his child to help him feel special. The authoritarian parent wants respect, at all costs. The addicted parent may not be selfish at heart, but due to her addiction, is driven by a need for her substance of choice. The sociopathic parent wants only two things: power and control. 

Not surprisingly, Category 3 is the most difficult one for most children to see or accept. No one wants to believe that his parents were, and are, out for themselves.

Being raised by Category 3 parents is only easier than the other two categories in one way: typically, you can see that something was (and is) wrong with your parents. You can remember their various mistreatments or harsh or controlling acts so you may be more understanding of the reasons you have problems in your adult life. You may be less prone to blame yourself.

7 Signs To Look For

  • You often feel anxious before seeing your parents.
  • You often find yourself hurt when you’re with your parents.
  • It’s not unusual for you to get physically sick right before, during, or after seeing your parents.
  • You have significant anger at your parents.
  • Your relationship with them feels false, or fake.
  • It’s hard to predict whether your parents will behave in a loving or rejecting way toward you from one moment to the next.
  • Sometimes your parents seem to be playing games with you or manipulating you, or maybe even trying to purposely hurt you.

Stop Overindulging Your Children

Advice on how to meet all their needs, but not all their wants.

SOURCE:  Adapted from Raising Unselfish Children in a Self-Absorbed World by Jill Rigby/Family Life

What do your children really need from you? Love, guidance, shelter, food, clothing, medical care, and an education.

That’s it.

Everything else is a want, a luxury: video games, gadgets, phones, the latest fashion—whatever new item their friends have.

Today, far too many parents fall for the “nag factor.” They know their kids are bombarded by ads telling them to buy certain products and that many parents are buying those products for their children. They know the pressure that comes from their children’s peers, and so they buy their kids far more “stuff” than they can even use, all in the hope that their children will fit in and be accepted by their peers.

According to a recent survey of youth commissioned by the Center for a New American Dream, the average 12- to 17-year-old who asks a parent for products will ask nine times until the parents finally give in. For parents of tweens, the problem is particularly severe—more than 10 percent of 12- to 13-year-olds admit to asking their parents more than 50 times for products they’ve seen advertised. Kids have learned if they nag enough for long enough, parents will give in.

Parents, stop falling for the nag factor.

Refuse to overindulge your kids

Sadly, our self-absorbed society has told parents to help their kids feel good about themselves, that it’s the parents’ duty to make their children happy. But underneath it all, kids don’t need parents who make them happy. They need parents who will make them capable.

Dr. Connie Dawson, co-author of How Much Is Enough, writes:

When parents give children too much stuff that costs money, do things for children that they can do for themselves, do not expect children to do chores, do not have good rules, and let children run the family, parents are overindulging.

Here are some other signs of overindulgence. As you read them, watch for your weak spot:

1. Giving them things or experiences that are not appropriate for their age or their interests:

  • Allowing a 5-year-old to dress like a pop star.
  • Allowing a 12-year-old to watch an R-rated movie.
  • Removing curfew from a 16-year-old with a new driver’s license.

2. Giving things to meet the adult’s needs, not the child’s:

  • A mom buying her daughter the trendiest clothes, because Mom believes it’s a reflection on her own style.
  • A dad giving his son the “stand out” wheels at 16, so Dad’s friends—as well as his son’s friends—will think he’s “the man.”
  • A parent giving his or her children the best of the best in order to make the parent look successful.

3. Neglecting to teach children the life skills they need to survive in the “real” world beyond their home:

  • Tying shoes and dressing 4-year-olds who are perfectly capable of dressing themselves.
  • Doing the laundry for teenagers who are more than capable and need to learn to do it for themselves.

I admit that I slipped into overindulgence in raising my sons in more than one area. It’s important to realize the harm this can do to our children. According to one study conducted in 2001, children who are overindulged are more likely to grow up to believe the following:

  • It is difficult to be happy unless one looks good, is intelligent, rich, and creative.
  • My happiness depends on most people I know liking me.
  • If I fail partly, it is as bad as being a total failure.
  • I can’t be happy if I miss out on many of the good things in life.
  • Being alone leads to unhappiness.
  • If someone disagrees with me, it probably indicates that the person doesn’t like me.
  • My happiness depends more on other people than it depends on me.
  • If I fail at my work, I consider myself a failure as a person.

So, for the sake of your children, stop overindulging them.

Instead, teach them the difference between a need and a want, and then make them work for their wants. For instance, rather than buying that new video game for your children, give them two options: Tell them they can place it on a wish list for a birthday or Christmas present, or they can do extra duties to earn the money to buy it themselves. If your children are willing to work for their “heart’s desire,” they’ll take better care of it, be more grateful for it, and think long and hard before turning a “want” into a “need” in the future.

Repairing the damage of overindulgence

Parents, you can begin to remedy the damage done by overindulgence by doing two things:

1. Help your kids cultivate patience. The truth is parents often prevent their children from learning patience. We’ve gotten just as caught up in our fast-food society as anyone else. We’ve forgotten that real life problems aren’t solved in 15 minutes, that it takes time to find solutions to everyday struggles. We’re the ones who try to speed things up for our kids.

So don’t be so quick to solve your children’s problems for them. A bit of a struggle is good for them.

2. Give children opportunities to develop responsibility and to feel valuable. Your children need your help if they are going to learn necessary life skills. They need you to give them regular chores or duties and to hold them accountable for taking care of those duties. In so doing, you will help your children become adults, not just grown-ups.

All children will at times engage in a power struggle when it comes to carrying out chores or duties. But if parents give in and don’t assign age-appropriate duties for their children, their kids will grow up to be irresponsible, which is heartbreaking for the parent and tragic for the children. No matter the age of the child, any duties you assign them should encompass these purposes:

  • Helping your child learn life skills.
  • Helping your child become a valuable member of the family.
  • Helping your child become a valuable member of society.

By giving your children opportunities to help and serve each other within the family, you’re preparing them to take care of themselves and go out and serve society.

Now that I’ve asked you not to overindulge your kids with their wants, I want to encourage you to overindulge them with love, real love. Love that molds and shapes them into the young men and women they are meant to become. Patiently help them develop patience, and with persistence and persuasion give them age-appropriate responsibilities. As you do these things, you’ll be preparing their hearts and minds to accept the responsibilities God has planned for them.


Adapted from Raising Unselfish Children in a Self-Absorbed World by Jill Rigby. Published by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Copyright ©2008, Jill Rigby. 

Parenting: Making “Getting Ready For School” Work

SOURCE:  Prepare-Enrich

First-day Blues

It’s 7:00 AM on the first day of school for your kindergartner. She is sound asleep, it’s still dark outside and you have to wake her up to prepare her and yourself for the adventure this day will surely bring.

You’re anxious. Let’s face it; you are terrified to let your baby leave your sight. She is not getting out of bed as fast as you would like and even though she picked out her outfit for the day, the weather changed overnight and you clearly cannot send her to school in shorts and sandals.

She finally awakes, and much to your surprise, she isn’t hungry for breakfast; you can’t let her leave the house on an empty stomach. You’ve read all the studies about fueling the brain and body. In typical childlike fashion, you can see the temper tantrum that will erupt and the tears that will certainly follow.

What is that noise? Is the bus at the curb already? Oh no, you wanted to take a picture of her stepping up to the bus waiving back at us with her cute, smiling face.

Drat! We missed the bus!

Time to pack up the car. You drive your child to school late, hungry, cold, and with a red nose and swollen eyes from crying. You are a wreck and now you have to go to your job.

That first day of school commemorative picture of her will not be anyone’s fondest memory.

But wait – it doesn’t have to be like this.

Here are some helpful ideas to make getting ready for school a win-win for all whether it’s the first day or well into the semester.

Do whatever you can the night before:

Plan out two outfits, using the weather forecast as your guideline (maybe even special new jammies the night before the first day of kindergarten).

Provide a special bed time snack, along with a bedtime story. No scary stories on this night.

Offer, then plan to serve healthy breakfast items – ones that can be easily prepared in the morning. Check and then re-check the backpack.

The week before school starts, set an alarm a tad earlier than usual to get her used to the fact that it may be dark when the alarm goes off.

After that first day of school, talk about what you both can do to get ready for the next morning. You might have her help you make a “getting ready for school” chart to hang on the fridge or place on her bedroom door or bathroom mirror. Include all the tasks, step-by-step.

Have a Family Meeting

Family meetings are beneficial in times of change, such as the first day of school.  There are many websites devoted to the idea of family meetings with content to guide you.  Use your planned family meeting ideas life-long.

Need some help deciding the format for a family meeting?  This is how we, at PREPARE/ENRICH, define a family meeting:

A family meeting is a time for all family members to get together and to share and re-connect with each other.  Spend­ing time together helps family members feel supported and it can become an important family ritual.

Guidelines:

Includes all family members who are old enough participate.

Establish a regular time and place when the entire family is together, such as after a family meal.

Encourage discussion by everyone. Do not criticize and critique.

Allow the speaker to finish their thought before offering your comments, observations or input.

Ice Breaker Questions: (use age-appropriate terminology)

What do you feel was the best thing that happened to you or our family today (this week or recently)?

What was the worst thing that happened to you or our family this week?   What could we have done differently to resolve the issue?

Have conversations that encourage, support, and offer solutions. You might be surprised at how close you become as a family on many levels at any age for any of the daily issues that surface.

Unfortunately, your job as a parent is to prepare her to leave you. Start her off with the best possible skill set, because before you know it she will be grown and out of the house – on her way to an adventure of her own.

Lastly, remember to celebrate your accomplishments.  For your first family meeting, go out for ice cream!

How to Avoid Raising Codependent Kids

SOURCE:  MARK MERRILL

Shielding kids from consequences can have long-term consequences for parents. Take, for instance, my friend’s brother Bill. It started small when Bill was in first grade. Mom would do his chores so Bill wouldn’t get in trouble with Dad. Quickly, it moved to homework cover-ups and graduated to Mom covering when he skipped school; Dad lying to the police when he wrecked a car he didn’t have permission to drive, and increasingly large financial defaults. By the time Mom and Dad let Bill move back home after failing college (no questions asked), he felt entitled to every bailout that came his way. The bailouts just kept getting bigger, including $50,000 in a failed real estate venture.

We’re all concerned about keeping our kids safe and happy. But we raise our children to fly, not flop around the nest as the product of enabling parents. One day, we’re going to have to let go and, when we do, it’s a good idea to make sure they’re equipped and ready. If you want to avoid raising codependent kids, follow these 5 things early and often.

1. Expect more of them:

We all tend to rise to the level of expectation. A two-year-old can learn to pick up toys. A three-year-old can help to set the table. A four-year-old can take dirty clothes to the laundry room and learn how to operate the machine. The more, and the earlier, we train children to contribute, the more self-reliance will become a part of their DNA.

2. Allow (managed) natural consequences:

Typically, there is no better learning tool than to experience the consequence of behavior. A five-year-old refuses to clean up the toys in the middle of the floor? The toys visit the attic for a prescribed amount of time. A ten-year-old curses? Get a dictionary, then handwrite five acceptable words that mean the same thing, plus their complete definitions. Establish a direct line between behavior and a real-world result.

3. Be consistent:

Mom and Dad need to be on the same page because learning thrives where children know what to expect. When children understand that what they do or do not do makes a consistent and measurable difference in the quality of their life, they will become more likely to accept responsibility for themselves and work to impact the outcome more favorably.

4. Be clear:

Leave no doubt as to the outcome when encouraging children to accept responsibility. Then having made ourselves clear, we need to follow through. This is why it’s important not to threaten beyond our willingness to enforce. If we say, for example, “If you do that again, I will take away your phone for a month,” but then only take it away for one day, we have created a problem.

5. Trust them:

Having made ourselves clear, we must demonstrate trust by getting out of the way. We can’t expect a child to grow if we treat them as if they are incapable of doing what we ask. When they succeed, we congratulate. If they fail, we follow through on consequences because we believe they could have done better.

Parenting Means Wrestling Demons

SOURCE:  DesiringGod · by Jonathan Parnell

I nudged the door open with my shoulder, hands holding carryout (again). I made my way through the dark living room and set dinner on the table. I could hear the kids playing in the basement as I peeked into the bedroom to find my wife lying there, doubled over with nausea. She felt too sick to think about eating, not to mention preparing food for the rest of us, and so for the fourth time in as many nights, dad was dishing dinner for the fam.

This is how it goes in wartime, and for a few months now at our house, we’ve been in the battle zone. My wife is pregnant with our fifth child.

As many mothers could attest, sometimes it’s not so much morning sickness as just plain sickness. She hasn’t felt well since the newest member of our family came into existence at the end of last year. But it’s okay — we get it. It comes with the territory. Nausea, in fact, is just one piece of the larger struggle. We’ve learned by now that wrestling demons isn’t supposed to be easy.

Satan Hates the Little Children of the World

In his book Adopted for Life, Russell Moore says that Satan hates children and always has. History would say the same. In Scripture alone, we see the slaughter of the infants in Pharaoh’s Egypt and Herod’s Bethlehem. Every time the demonic powers forcefully oppose Jesus, “babies are caught in the crossfire.” Moore explains,

Whether through political machinations such as those of Pharaoh and Herod, through military conquests in which bloodthirsty armies rip babies from pregnant mothers’ wombs (Amos 1:13), or through the more “routine” seeming family disintegration and family chaos, children are always hurt. Human history is riddled with their corpses. (63)

“There is a war on children, and we are all, in one way or another, playing some role in it.”

Whether we look back over the pages of world history, or just around us today, the point bears true. Children are so often caught in the crossfire, so often hurt, so often the victims of a larger conflict in which they have no say, no influence, no responsibility. It happened back when primitive peoples thought slaying their children would appease the gods, and when war meant burning homes and sacking villages. And it happens still today when deranged citizens carry guns into elementary schools, or when abortion clinics welcome terrified teenagers with open arms, or when Boko Haram pillages another Nigerian village, or a young couple decides Down syndrome will disrupt their life plans. Moore writes,

The demonic powers hate babies because they hate Jesus. When they destroy “the least of these” (Matthew 25:4045), the most vulnerable among us, they’re destroying a picture of Jesus himself. (63–64)

There is a war on children, and we are all, in one way or another, playing some role in it. Every time we move forward as faithful parents (or care for kids in any capacity, including advocating for the voiceless not-yet-born, and volunteering for nursery duty on Sundays), we are wrestling demons — because there is little the demons hate more than little children.

The Shift in Perspective

This calls for a shift in our perspective as parents. If we go into the work of parenting with a Precious Moments romanticism, it won’t be long before despair sets in. It’s just too hard if we think it’s going to be easy. It’s essential to know, especially when the going gets tough, that we are fighting hell.

When we begin to see our parenting through the lens of spiritual warfare, it reconfigures our work in at least five important ways.

1. We are more surprised when things go well than when they go badly.

You thought parenting would be easier than it is. Yes, you did. So much of this has to do with how the role of children has changed in our society. In past generations, children were mainly born into three contexts: (1) economic necessity (more hands on the farm!), (2) moral obligation (Christian influence), and (3) customary structure (part of the American Dream) (Jennifer Senior, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting).

Today, however, child labor is taboo, the church’s voice has waned, and the American Dream has increasingly become the celebration of the self-made successes of unconventional entrepreneurs. The “necessity” for children is not as intense as it once was — though children are obviously still being born. The question then becomes why. Into what context and mindset are American children being born in the twenty-first century?

Jennifer Senior says that today, rather than understood as necessary, children are more often viewed as a high-valued commodity. She explains,

[Parents] approach child-rearing with the same bold sense of independence and individuality that they would any other ambitious life project. . . . Because so many of us are now avid volunteers for a project in which we were all once dutiful conscripts, we have heightened expectations of what children will do for us, regarding them as sources of existential fulfillment rather than as ordinary parts of our lives. (emphasis added)

In other words, as a commodity, the majority of society says that children exist to make us happy, to boost our egos, to procure pats on the back by the watching world. We have children because we think children will make our lives better.

“It’s essential to know, especially when the going gets tough, that we are fighting hell.”

But if we push our strollers with these ideals in tote, we’re not quite sure what to do when things go sideways — like when our kids pee on the floor while we’re grocery shopping, or refuse to stay in their beds at night, or spray air freshener in their eyes after they broke into the bathroom cabinet, or when, in a much more serious event, the ultrasound discloses an abnormality.

None of these things is “fulfilling.”

Actually, these things are hard — they make our heads ache, and our hearts. And so we get angry about the circumstances, and we huff and puff that our children don’t obey everything we say — all because we had the mixed up expectation that they would.

But if we understand that spiritual warfare is taking place, we may not run as quickly from their rudeness, or at least not in the same way. Having expected it, we may enter into it with correction and kindness. We may not be annoyed that she took a swing at her sister; rather, we may be shocked that she shared her Skittles. When we know we’re wrestling demons, disobedience doesn’t surprise so much as obedience does.

2. We appreciate nuance in parenting strategies.

The spiritual warfare at work in parenting means that this is complicated work — much more complicated than the blanket approach of so many parenting models. There are so many moving parts in every family context, not to mention the differences in children. It is silly that we’d think there is a one-size-fits-all approach for how the details should go every time. Parenting models that suggest otherwise are full of reductionisms and overreactions, whether that means always letting the baby cry it out or always having them in the bed with mom and dad. When we seize onto one model over another, we are adopting its pros and its cons (which every system has) — and worse, we are often sucked into a tribal mentality that vilifies parents who do it differently than us.

Parenting is hard enough. We are wrestling demons. Rather than being a mindless evangelist for a certain model, offer help and your experience when you’re asked, and consider backing off when you’re not.

3. We understand the danger of the other extreme.

The knee-jerk response to the demonic message that children are worthless is to mistake children as everything. This response swings so far in the opposite direction of misopedia (the hatred of children) that we actually begin to worship children. This is when children become almost more than human, even angelic. Rather than seeing them as an interruption to our plans, or as an inconvenience to our priorities, we fall off the other side and make them the center of our worlds. This is part of a societal shift that started in the late twentieth century. Jennifer Senior comments, “Children stopped working, and parents worked twice as hard. Children went from being our employees to our bosses.”

When we see parenting in the context of spiritual warfare, we understand that the enemy has more than one way to wreak havoc. As hard as it may be to swallow, we learn that demons also take pleasure in those homes that are run by children, especially children whose hearts are so shriveled by selfishness and pandering that they lack any category of seeing themselves as sinners in need of a Savior.

4. We see children as gifts from God, not mistakes or idols.

Children are a blessing from God (Psalm 127:35). The implications of this truth are gloriously vast, including, first, that children are never mistakes and, second, that they’re never the object of our worship.

“Banish from your vocabulary the talk of your children being a ‘mistake.’ They’re not. They can’t be.”

Banish from your vocabulary the talk of junior being a “mistake.” He’s not. He can’t be. He’s no more a mistake than a college degree, a promotion at work, or your spouse saying “I do.” These are blessings. Blessings, not mistakes — and therefore, let’s call them that. Blessings, after all, are not so cookie-cutter. We understand that sometimes in God’s economy, blessings are not served on a silver platter. They are good — wonderfully good — but it’s not a microwavable good. It’s more like the long, tireless trek up a mountain, the kind that makes you stop and question whether you’ll actually make it but, when you do, fills you with a deep contentment only possible at the altitude in which you stand.

That kind of blessing is not a mistake, but neither is it an idol. If we put our children on the throne of our hearts, the clock is ticking before everything blows up. That is because idols are always a cover-up for self-worship. When children become our idols, it means they become the means to our meaning. The sad thing about the dad who won’t get off his son’s back at football practice is that the dad’s significance is so bound up in the success of his son that he can’t imagine failure. Under the guise of loving his son, he actually creates unbearable pressure and is using his son for his own advantage. Everyone loses.

Neither mistakes nor idols, our children are gifts — blessings for which to be thankful, and of which we are called to be stewards.

5. We know that God is in the fight on our side.

Once a crowd of people came to Jesus with their children. They had hoped that, upon seeing them, Jesus would lay his hands on the children and pray. The associates of Jesus, however, rebuked the people. The Master doesn’t have time for kids. They’re too beneath him. Get them out of here.

It’s not as harsh as it sounds. We might even have done the same.

But Jesus speaks the corrective word: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). And then, as Matthew tells us, “he laid his hands on them” (Matthew 19:15).

“In a beautiful way we can’t quite fathom, Jesus loves our children more than we do.”

When Jesus did this, both for his day and for our own, he marked himself as an advocate for children. Let the little children come to me. This means, in a beautiful way we can’t quite fathom, that Jesus loves your children more than you do.

It means, as God has told us in his word, that he is for the youngest and frailest among us. It means that he is in this fight on our side and has been fighting for years.

It means that when the nausea sets in, or when we’re wrestling the worst of demons, though it’s not easy, we are going to win this battle.

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