A few years ago, I wrote a post for All Pro Dad called My 5 Biggest Parenting Regrets. I stand by that list and still agree with everything I said. Today I want to expand on Regret #5 from the list: Responding as they respond.
I originally titled this post, “My Biggest (Ongoing) Mistake as a Dad.” Those big words are not meant to be click bait. Rather, I want to share my biggest ongoing mistake and continual struggle I have as a parent. I know I’m not alone in this battle since I’ve heard many other parents share something similar. I hope to encourage you and share a few ways you and I can avoid this parenting mistake moving forward. You’re not alone if you have the same struggle.
The biggest mistake I make as a dad is when my behavior matches the behavior of my children. In other words, I should act like a 45-year old but instead act like a 5-year old. Just like my son pitches a fit, so I pitch one. He cries, screams, and slams, and then I cry, scream, and slam. My temper tantrum matches his temper tantrum. He shuts down and gets defensive, so I shut down and get even more defensive. When I make poor choices, say hurtful things, or speak in a harsh tone, I’m stooping to their level. Every time I stoop to their emotional level or maturity, I regret my decisions.
It’s just so much easier to throw a tantrum, yell, or act like a kid. It takes no effort and zero self-control and makes the situation worse. I model poor behavior in front of our kids. I believe this is part of what Paul references in Ephesians 6:4 when he says,
Do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
I want to do better and know I can.
7 Better Ways to Respond so You Don’t Respond as They Respond
1. Be aware of your patterns
It helps me to know how I usually respond when I match my kids behavior. Then when I start trending in that direction, I know it’s time to cool down and change course. For example, when I start raising my voice to match their volume, I know I’m headed down the wrong path.
If you’re not aware, ask your spouse. Better yet, ask your kids what you do when you match their behavior. This becomes easier when your children are older and can better communicate.
2. Ask your spouse to help you.
Once you identify your patterns, ask your spouse to help you. When they see you start to match your kid’s behavior, give them permission to help you de-escalate and act like an adult, not like a child.
I know these are hard conversations for couples to have with each other. No one likes to be corrected or rebuked by their spouse. But agree in moments of peace together that you need help, that your spouse loves you, and that they want what’s best for your family. 1 Corinthians 13:7 says love believes all things. In other words, love allows a husband and wife to believe the best about each other instead of assuming the worst. When your spouse corrects you in a moment of escalation with your child, they’re expressing their love for you and desire for unity in your family.
3. Enlist help from your community/friends.
Even though your friends won’t be with you in these moments, ask for counsel and accountability from them. My community group guys know to ask me how I’m doing in parenting, and in those moments when I match my kid’s poor behavior, I confess to them and ask for prayer and wisdom. It helps to know you’re not fighting this battle on your own.
4. Look for sin patterns, fatigue, or poor habits in your life.
Often when I match my kid’s poor behavior, it’s because I’m struggling in life in general. My outbursts with my kids are a result of bad decisions I’m making in life. Usually I’m tired and lacking sleep, not exercising, or eating poorly. Sometimes I’m in the middle of a sin struggle or things are hard in my job. It’s like I’m taking my problems out on my kids instead of responding to my struggles with scripture, prayer, and help from wise friends. Next time you match the behavior of your kids, examine your life to see if there are any patterns or habits you need to address. It’s not your kid’s fault, but sometimes we act like that’s the case.
In Psalm 139:23-24, David writes, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Ask God to help you see what you can’t see on your own.
5. Take your thoughts captive.
In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul writes, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” I love that phrase at the end of the verse. When you find yourself wanting to match the behavior of your kids, take those thoughts captive. Ask God to help you change and remember that if you’re a follower of Christ, that you’re a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and that you don’t have to act like someone who doesn’t know the Lord. You don’t have to act like a kid.
6. Brainstorm a better response.
Right now, when you have a cool head about you, brainstorm a few better ways to respond to your challenges. For instance, next time your ten-year old throws a temper tantrum, walk to the other room and count to ten. Sometimes I just need to separate myself for a few minutes and get a grip. Pray, ask God for patience, and walk back in when you’re in a better spot to respond. I believe this would solve about 90% of my issues of matching my kids if I just took a little space for a few moments.
7. Pray, pray, and pray some more.
Last, but certainly not least, is to pray for God to change your heart and behavior. Confess to God you struggle and you no longer want to match the behavior of your kids. Ask God to help you be better controlled by His Spirit and His Word when you want to act like an 8-year old. The problem we typically face is trying to manage our behavior on our own. It’s been said that if dependence on God is the goal, then weakness is the advantage. Use your weakness to help you more closely depend on God to change you.
I’m curious to hear what you do when you want to respond like your kid’s respond. What would you add to the list above? I’d like to learn from you and I think others would as well.