Sunday, June 03, 2012

Love Is Never a Bad Choice

At times like tonight, I don't feel like I have many parenting "answers." If often feels like a balancing act between pride, pure joy, discipline, training, manipulation, power struggles, frustrations, emotions, tantrums, rationality and irrationality with love fighting to lead throughout. I've read books, I've sought counsel, I've laughed, and I've cried. The greatest joy imaginable combined with the deepest frustrations and moments of hopelessness.

With two little ones now, we're constantly working to be better parents. We want to lead, teach, encourage and discipline as needed. Most days are good, some days are not. Since returning from my week-long trip to Chicago, my three year old son, Devon, has been acting up quite a bit more than normal. I've read before that some kids do this as a way to process their emotions after having a parent gone for so long. I think that's what happened here, and I've been doing my best to give him extra attention and love, even falling asleep next to him a night or two. After one of the toughest weeks of parenting we've had in a while, I thought things were looking up until tonight at dinner.

We had company over and Devon was yelling and banging the table in order to get attention among the conversation. This has become a habit we haven't been very successful at influencing him in, but this is one of the first times he's acted that way with company over. Tonight it culminated in him, without warning, throwing his glass right at me. The small mason jar actually hit me in the lip and split it. He's never done anything like that, and it was shocking. I took him to bed immediately, and of course he wasn't happy.

After our guests left, I thought he had already fallen asleep, but it turns out he hadn't. I went in and told him again how his behavior was unacceptable. As mad and as frustrated as I was, his hug and apology softened my heart. We prayed together and as I got up to leave the room, he started into another tantrum. After closing the door and looking at my wife, I was at a loss. I told her, "I don't know what else to do." Should I go back in there? Do I stand my ground and hope he learns a valuable lesson? I can still taste the blood on my lip.

I felt a still small voice whisper in my head, "You can always love."

Love is never a bad choice.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8a
For some reason, as a parent, I somehow get confused between loving and "giving in" or not being consistent or firm. I try to pick my battles and use "reason" to determine appropriate disciplinary responses. I'm trying to love my children so they will grow up to be well behaved and (hopefully) loving to others.

But is discipline the best way to teach love? Is one more timeout really going to make it stick?

I decided to open the door and go back in there, pick up my son, hug him, and lie down together until he fell asleep. He apologized again and I reassured him it was OK, I had already forgiven him. He was still emotional and upset about not finishing his dinner, but I was able to lovingly and firmly tell him his options were to lay down quietly with me or go back to his own bed (he still prefers his crib to the twin we have in his room).

He chose to be quiet, and we just laid there until he fell asleep, only talking quietly once or twice more.

I don't have many answers and often feel like I have none. But tonight, in the midst of my frustration and pain (both physically and emotionally), I may have learned one thing: Love is never a bad choice.

Lord, help me love like you do, even when we least deserve it. Help me teach love by demonstrating it. Let me trust you to draw my children closer to your Spirit.



Misty Williams said...

Um. I think you just sprouted wings, my friend.

Luke Stokes said...

Thanks. Certainly didn't feel like it at the time. Parenting is freaking hard work and the tough part is, we don't know if we did an OK job until at least 18 years later.

Gwneff said...

Beautiful, Luke. I like your comment about not confusing "being loving" with "giving in". Those are the same issues I know I would have struggled with, had I become a parent.

Luke Stokes said...

Thanks so much. :)

Luke Stokes said...

Reading this post again the next day, I realized it may sound like we have troubled kids or something, but honestly, they are awesome. Super awesome. That's one of the reasons I was so shocked yesterday (and have been confused the past week or so). That being said, I've really enjoyed the input and feedback from this post already. We love our kids and want to the best parents we can be and one of the best ways for us all to grow is to learn from each other.

Along those lines, a friend of mine sent me this message via Facebook and with his permission, I'm posting it here as well. I hope it encourages you as much as it encouraged me:

Hey man, just read your post about your parenting woes. Great stuff. One of our former coworkers and I had this conversation once:

Him: I am so frustrated our little girl (2 or 3 at the time) will not stay in her bed and sleep at night. She's up and fusses every time we put her back in bed. I don't know what her problem is. I don't want to yell at her, but I just lose my temper.

Me: So, do you ever have those nights or even many nights when you just can't sleep? You've got things on your mind or just don't even know why, but you can't make yourself sleep?

Him: Yeah.

Me: That's tough, huh? And why is that?

Him: I dunno. I guess everybody has that problem.

You can see the light coming on now.

Me: Your little girl is a human being just like the rest of us and she will struggle with all the same things that human beings struggle with.

Him: I should probably go home and apologize to her.


It's funny to me how we often forget that our little ones are still human. We have a mindset that they are more like pets and should do as they're told every time, yet we, as grown ups, don't do that. Especially with God.

Yet there He is. Every time we're getting into the cookie jar, He lovingly rebukes us. When we're upset and confused and don't know how to express our feelings, sometimes He just quietly holds us in the moment. Sometimes he gives us time alone to think. But He always loves. Always.

There's a reason professions like law and medicine are called practices. They are PRACTICING medicine because one can not DO medicine. Such is parenting. You can only practice it. However, it is through practice that you improve. If Larry Byrd practiced free throws all the time (which he did) to stay on his game, so we, too, as parents, must constantly practice loving our children.

You're doing a good job, friend. And just like you're not done raising your kids, Father God isn't done raising you.

Hope you're well, Luke. May Father continue to bless you.


SO COOL! Big thanks to my friend for sending me this.