Saturday, January 14, 2012

What Grace-filled Parenting Looks Like for Me (rather lengthy)

The following psychoanalysis needs a bit of a back story.  Here we go.

The Television Crisis
There has been a crisis in my mind over an issue the past few weeks that reached a breaking point yesterday afternoon. It's the issue of How Much Media Should Harriet Consume in a Given Day.  I'm not sure why this is such a big deal to me right now, but I've run over the entire scenario a million times in my head: how much "television" she watches (primarily in the form of Wiggles, Timmy Time, and The Muppet Show) each day, what the motivation is behind her being allowed to watch these shows, what end result I want her to have from consuming media, etc.  I've talked about it with Steve.  It all checks out.  Fine.  Dandy.

But for some reason, it's not fine and dandy.  My brain won't rest from the relentless whispers....

"Her brain will turn to mush."
"She will prefer media over creative play."
"She will grow up to be a stupid every other American kid."  ("But she'll be a happy stupid person," Steve helpfully says.)
"She doesn't watch as much TV as [insert name of person].  It can't be that bad."
"My friends don't let their children watch movies.  I'll be judged."

And then I internally combust, burst into tears, and declare myself to be a complete parenting failure, while Harriet looks on with horror.

Upon further mental inquiry, I discovered that television is just one of many areas in which I feel tense when it comes to parenting.  What about her diet?  What about her naptime and bedtime routines?  What about her relationship with Steve...or me?  So many things send me into a tizzy, and television just happens to be the breaking point this week.

The Deeper Issue

This anxiety really has its root in a much deeper issue, as I was to realize.  I have been reading Grace for the Good Girl off and on since I wrenched it back from my mother's clutches, and the chapter on being responsible really struck a chord with me.  The author talks about hiding behind a mask of responsibility and strength and never wanting to look weak, have the wrong answers, or ultimately fail.  She defines responsibility as "liable to be called on to answer; liable to be called to account as the primary cause, motive, or agent; being the cause or explanation."  In many real ways, I am responsible for Harriet; because she is my child, I am called to account, as her parent, for many many aspects of her life.  I am responsible for caring for her physical needs, her development, and for sharing the Word of God with her.  But there comes a point at which I stray from being responsible for Harriet to managing Harriet - in other words, I assume responsibility for aspects of her life for which I am ultimately not responsible.

Here's what it comes down to: I believe with all of my heart that God is the only one who can save Harriet and bring her into a right relationship with Him.  However, my actions and my continuous fretting reveal that I do not believe that He will sanctify her and finish the work that He has begun. Somehow, it's up to me to manage her life, present her with only the best and right and perfect life choices, and therefore make her into a healthy, functional, creative, perfect human being.  There is no room for grace in this mindset, only room for fear and terror of messing up in so many ways.  (Because I will mess up, and if I haven't already bombed it on a thousand different levels, it is only a matter of time before disaster strikes and she goes on a Wiggles marathon.)

The scariest thing about this position is that my intensity to get it all right all of the time is going against everything I want Harriet to understand about her relationship with God.

"Sure, Harriet, God is gracious and loving and gives grace in abundance for our every need.  But that doesn't apply to your mom.  She's all freaked out about getting everything right and not messing up.  There's no grace for her parenting."


The Need for Grace-filled Parenting

There's a lot of chit-chat in the evangelical blogging world about some recent books focused on grace-filled parenting.  While I haven't actually read these books, I have read numerous reviews of the various titles and grasp the general jist.  Many of them focus on extending God's grace to children in discipline and some even go so far as to encourage bringing up the gospel constantly in every day conversation.  This is lovely stuff.  But I was thinking about what it means when kids can not only receive grace from their parents, but can see their parents being able to receive grace from God.

The truth is that Harriet can see me hemming and hawing with nervousness every time I push the play button on another episode of Timmy Time.  She can hear me grumping about "never getting the house cleaned up like it should be."  She can hear me complaining about always being a failure and feeling defeated.  When I stop and consider this, I am ashamed and convicted.  It is far, far, far more important for Harriet to understand that I can receive grace from God for the challenges of each day than it is for her never to see me mess up.

Does accepting God's grace for my parenting instead of living in perpetual fear mean that I throw all caution to the wind?  Does it mean that Harriet eats chocolate ice cream for dinner and spends her entire day in front of the television? Absolutely not.  It's still my job to teach her to make good, wise choices that will ultimately glorify God.  But it is not my job to stress about making sure that Harriet turns out okay.  That's the huge difference for me.

Back to the Aforementioned Crisis

So the need for me to accept grace in my parenting of Harriet slapped me in the face yesterday afternoon.  As you can imagine, I love black and white, right or wrong answers for parenting issues.  But living in grace-filled parenting means that I will have to seek God in all of the multitude of gray areas - those areas, like media consumption, for which John Piper hasn't written an essay on exactly what to do. (Laugh now, please.)  I thought about how this change of heart would apply to my anxiety about Harriet's media intake:

 - Instead of limiting or being liberal with media consumption, I would look at the structure of our day in making a decision.  Do I need time to finish some homework?  Does Harriet need some downtime while I'm exercising?
 - I would consider how media consumption affects our relationship.  Am I popping in the Wiggles because I'm copping out of actually spending time with Harriet?  Or are we engaging in an interesting DVD together? (A perfect example of how this played out yesterday:  Harriet woke up in a horrible funk, fussed the whole time she ate breakfast and got dressed, and finally settled down in front of The Muppet Show.  Twenty minutes later, it was like she had pushed a reset button on her attitude: she was happy and fun for the rest of the morning and instead of getting more and more frustrated with her behavior, I enjoyed her company.)
 - I would not beat myself up or compare myself with other moms who make different choices about media consumption.
 - I would seek God about if we need to make changes about Harriet's media diet.

The Bottom Line

This concept of moving from intense management to embracing grace-filled parenting is still percolating in my brain.  I'm praying that it will become more than just a good idea, but actually make a difference.  Harriet will undoubtedly model what she sees.  Will she become a manager and live in constant defeat in taking on responsibilities that are not her own?  Will she rebel against all of those "silly standards" that her mom stressed about keeping in place?

Or will she make wise choices in light of living in the grace of God?