Monday, May 7, 2012

Thoughts on Self-Forgiveness & Self-Esteem

There are five precious little men who dwell under my roof and deep in my heart.  Each with their own distinct gifts, personalities and dispositions.  Today, there is one, in particular who is occupying my thoughts...

Oh, how this one loves, loves, loves others.  But, there are times when I can see that he struggles to love himself.

And, the ache I feel for him in this particular struggle is indescribable.  I know that you understand what I'm saying if you are a parent and are reading this.

For me, one of the most humbling responsibilities of parenting is correcting our children.  How terribly necessary it is to take seriously the formation of a child's conscience.  For without doing so, they may indeed walk through the terrors of the world without having one to exercise.

And yet, how fragile the duty is, how easily a spirit can be broken.  Broken under the weight of constant criticism, correction, expression of disappointment, lack of or loss of patience. Oh, my, the lack of patience - I'm terribly guilty of this.

Finer than fine is that balance between living the letter of the law, the letter of life and the spirit of the law, the spirit of life.  Of taking the job seriously because we love our children and want to help them do their best and be their best, because deep down we know that there is freedom in living a virtuous life.  But, take the job too seriously and it's easy to lose perspective.  Their mistakes become our mistakes they must be failing because we are failing. And what if there is truth in the reality that often times it is our mistakes that become their mistakes....our very own personal sins become visible in them?

Stops me dead in my tracks every time.  No, no, no, Lord! These are my problems, not theirs! Why is sin generational - why, why, why?? How is it that my baggage has become their baggage. They carry it around, unaware, on their petite little shoulders. I don't want them to struggle with such things. I want them to be free and good and happy and perfect. Yep, perfect.  Easier for them.....and yes, for me too. 

I can recall with great clarity the interior feeling of desire that I had to be good as a child.  Partially because I wanted to be like my older sister. In my eyes no one was better than her.  The other part was to please my parents.  So many good feelings came with pleasing those around me, and being recognized and praised for it. But, falling short of the mark brought the opposite emotions. Personal mistakes and failures were then (and at times still are) nearly overwhelming for me.  To say that I felt consumed by feelings of failure and worthlessness would not be an exaggeration.  That is a lonely place to be, as a child and as an adult.

When I see that a child of my own may at times experience those same feelings, I cannot express the depth of my desire to rescue him from such a place.  I wanted so much to be like "those other kids" who could brush things off so easily and just move on with life, full of confidence, seemingly carefree and unaffected by their faults and failures.  Maybe it was all appearances, smoke and mirrors, I didn't care, I still wanted to be like them.  I wanted, "It's no big deal" to be my motto too.

Now you know that I wasn't like those other kids then and I'm not like them now.  And, I have a son who might just feel the same way.  Intellectually I know that if I scrub and scour every Christian parenting and child psychology book I will find some answers, some approaches to all of this (and I have - The Optimistic Child and several works by Dr. Conrad Baars have helped tremendously).

Yet, deep down I know that this is the one small truth that sits deep in the heart of the matter:
Our desire to be good and to do good must come FIRST and PRIMARILY as an act and expression of LOVE for God the Father.  He who first loved us, who will never stop loving us, who will help us to love ourselves, is our perfect parent.  Longing to please those closest to us, caring too much about what others think, and frankly caring too much about what I think of myself - as if one day I expect to wake up and be happy because I can say, "Yes, I am good now!" - will never bear any fruit in my own life nor in the lives of my children.

Nurturing a life of love for our Lord in our children not only helps them to set their hearts upon something (Someone) everlasting, but it gives them a point of reference called RELATIONALITY.  The child's desire to do good and to be good becomes a connection, a relation between themselves and the Lord. This connection is not an end in and of itself, it extends into the lives of others.  We love because he first loved us.  We love others, and we love ourselves because of Him.  In this way, when the children's minds and hearts are set upon particular achievements in life, including interior spiritual achievements, they are motivated by Love and not prideful or self-centered reasons.

How tempting it is to choose the pathway of permissiveness as a parent.  To let everything slide, to ignore the wrongdoings, to make excuses for poor behavior is the easy approach.  While we think that they simply cannot handle being "caught and taught" because they are too fragile, or we don't want them to be unhappy or dislike us, we are simply taking a pass for ourselves on parenting, either because we don't want to face the fact that we might be correcting our children for a sin that we too struggle with and fear being called a hypocrite, or else we are delusional, thinking that sins are simply phases of life and will pass.  In the end, no one wins with that approach and no one is happy.

Happiness, by and large, is not the greatest goal for our children.  Yes, we want them to be happy, but better yet, we should want them to be free.  Free to forgive themselves and others, free to love and free to live a life that is directed toward something greater than themselves.

What I have learned and am still learning about relating to and guiding a child whose temperament can tend toward being overly self-critical and self-doubting, who struggles (at times) with low self-esteem is this:

1.  Example is the best teacher.  Their eyes are upon us.  While none of us are perfect parents, we have to be aware of the impression we make upon our children by our own example.  "Do as I say, not as I do" just isn't going to fly.  Modeling the behavior we desire to see in our children isn't easy, we must ask for their forgiveness when we fall, receive their forgiveness cheerfully and begin again.

2.  When the child is in need of correction, it is important that the firmness is always followed by affection and encouragement. If you feel like you are stuck in a rut with discipline and feel weary of constantly correcting, try something new. Create an opportunity for quality one-on-one time with your child. Finding that time isn't always easy, but may be just what your child needs to gain a little self-confidence, and the assurance that you love them and truly are here to help them with their struggles.  Think of it as time for connection instead of correction.

3.  I believe that it helps children to know that as parents we too are working on our own defects.  For example, I have expressed to the children that I struggle with a lack of patience, and that I want to become a more patient person for the good of the family, for my own well-being and because it pleases the Lord.  We cannot demand a particular behavior from our children and follow it with the phrase, "do it because I said so!"  Sharing a purposeful explanation with the child will appeal to their sensitive nature and provide a reasonable motivation for them as well.

4.  In the evenings we help our children examine their consciences.  We pause to consider the good things we did for the day as well as the bad.  This provides us as parents the opportunity to praise our children for their specific good behavior, to ask for forgiveness for any wrongdoing, and to pray for the grace to press on toward the good.  It's amazing how loved children feel when you pray with them.

6.  Help your children see their struggles in light of temptation.  For example, I shared these thoughts with my sensitive one: When you make a mistake and are corrected, you might be tempted to be angry with yourself for such a period of time that it leads to internal frustration and withdrawal from others because you feel so upset with yourself.  The devil wants you to react in this way, because when you feel hopeless and do not trust in God's mercy and grace to do better next time you cannot be a light for Christ in the world.  Satan is real, and he wants to take you out of the game.  When all you can see and think about is yourself, you take your eyes off of Christ, and Satan wins.

7.  At the end of the day, the very best that we can give our kids is a dedicated time of prayer for them.  I am just learning about praying very specifically for each of my children in a way that is especially personal and specific to their needs, their future and their present lives at this time.  The desire to pray in such a way has always been in my heart, but finding depth in the prayer has not been easy. I have discovered that using a specific outline can be very helpful. You can find an example of it here.

This is #10 from the list of 
31 Ways to Pray For Your Children:
"Lord, help my children develop a strong self-esteem that is rooted in the realization that they are God's workmanship created in Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 2:10)



4 comments:

  1. This is beautiful. I read this tonight...and all I can manage to say is, "Wow." Please know how much your words resonate with me...and many other mothers, I'm sure. What wonderful insight!

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  2. Beautifully written. I have a guy very similar to yours. And I see my own struggles in your motherly words. I am encouraged by this and ready to begin anew in the morning. God bless you!

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  3. Question: When are you coming home? lol. Every entry I read, everytime, makes me miss you and my longing for a hug is amplified. EVERYTIME!!! Come home! lol

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    1. So funny you mention this - I just talked to my dad last night, and we were trying to coordinate schedules so that I can come home with my family for a visit! Let's get together when it happens, I want to see that gorgeous smile of yours!

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