The Power of Parenting Forward
“You are a liar!”
I’m not proud of this, but I have outright not just said, but yelled these words at my child. And how did that work for me? It didn’t. I didn’t see or taste any fruit from it. Yes, it certainly felt good for a moment. But a moment later I wondered what had just happened inside my child. I spoke out loud something he might already believe about himself deep down. Does one lie, or the sum of any amount of lies equal the label of “Liar!?”
What if I were instead to have said, “You are a man of integrity; this doesn’t line up with who you are.” Perhaps this would have encouraged a different vision and helped him stop believing self-accusations. As parents, we have the power to hold up a picture of who our children are for them, helping them to align themselves with who their Creator says they are.
I’m quite fond of the story I heard when a friend’s four-year-old misbehaved in the church nursery. The nursery worker scolded the child and said, “You are a naughty little girl.” Not missing a beat, the girl responded, “No I’m not–I’m Daddy’s princess!” She knew who she was. Her identity had been deeply ingrained in her even in those first four years.
All that we speak into our children is usually absorbed, until a child matures enough to discern what should be allowed to penetrate, and what could bounce off. It’s common in the adoption world for people to pronounce about a child, “She has an orphan spirit.” I think what they may be trying to articulate is an observation that either the child isn’t living out who they truly are, or they aren’t secure in their identity. They have not internalized in their deepest fibers that they are loved. Their identity is muddled. (Of course, one could say this about anyone, not just orphans.) However, parenting into a child’s past identity is not entirely helpful; focusing all attention on past trauma doesn’t point forward to healing.
Parenting forward can be life changing! Rather than reinforcing an orphan identity, telling a child he is beloved can move mountains. Telling him who God says he is transforms his outlook. Often, in the day-to-day, we lose sight of who we are in the Lord. As “forward parents,” reminding and holding up this vision for our children is a crucial way we co-labor with them toward a secure identity.
Living in a house with ten children, the “gift of discernment” is not required to see the trouble spots of each one. Opportunities abound for such revelation! I have learned that what I do with what I see is the real challenge. Discernment is needed to uncover and recognize parts of each child that are uniquely crafted by God. It is an even more important task to help them see it and believe it for themselves.
In the most challenging moments of parenting, we can become weak-kneed and forget who we are–and who they are–in the Lord’s eyes. The lens through which we choose to view our child is often the most pressing matter of a given day. As 2 Chronicles 20:15 encourages, “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf.” Parents, we can stand firm in our “forward” perspective and in our position as one led by God. Speaking to the treasure inside a child sees beyond the bad attitude days and calls forth a future hopeful of healing.
One child in particular was a puzzle to me for months. Getting to know my son as a teen, not having any history from previous years, was taking time. But I didn’t have time. I needed to know him now, and I didn’t want to wait years to discover who he was. When I listed our ten children’s names in my journal, I could only write down two things about what he loved. I felt embarrassed and ashamed because I could write twenty things for some of my others. It hit me in that moment–I needed to ask the Lord. He knows exactly who my son is, and He is capable of revealing it to me. Why hadn’t I asked sooner!? And God answered. He gave me a beautiful picture of a lighthouse. In the depths of my mother’s heart it rang true. My son is a strong tower; he is a protector, an overcomer, a helper in times of trouble, a shelter from the storm. Immediately my lens changed from seeing him as a chip and soda consumer who played video games most of the day, to a young man who was a light to this world. It’s a funny thing how fear and frustration had muddled my ability to see!
How do you figure out your child’s identity, much less your own? Ask the Lord. Ask Him to give you a picture, a specific Scripture, a phrase, or a word. He will give it to you. If it isn’t clear, keep asking. “Lord, who is this child?” “How have You made him unique?” “What does he or she need to know today?” We often consult teachers, neighbors, family, and friends, but it’s the opinion of the Lord that matters the most. Though we may not see or hear perfectly, He will reveal insight that is needed - again and again. When circumstances seem bleak, declaring His truths out loud to our child can make those circumstances bow and our children can rise, square-shouldered, to the full height of their God-created identity rather than retreat into familiar shadows.
Martha Cook is the mother of ten children (5 adopted from Georgia, 2 from Ethiopia, and 3 biological). Martha has her Masters in Counseling. She thrives when she gets to encourage parents who are called to be a part of “setting the lonely in families.” Having experienced God’s abundant love for her and her family, she longs to share it with others. The Cooks live in Peachtree Corners, GA.
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