Parenting by Heart

“Love is patient, love is kind … “

~I Corinthians 13

This week, after a very busy few weeks, I had the opportunity to visit Joel in Scotland where he is working on his PHD. Even though Joy was also in St. Andrews meeting with people, Joel and I planned 6 hours where we would be able to visit alone, away from everyone and everything else. No social media, no phones, no interruptions. He has become an advisor, counselor to me as an adult. I got to hear his heart on many issues in his life. And we giggled and talked and walked and drank a lot of hot drinks in charming pubs and cafes.

By the end of our time, we both felt “seen and heard” and there was peace in my heart and his for having taken this focused time. I didn’t even know how much I needed this connection but it was like water to my own soul and he said to his.

I was reminded once again that we humans and especially the little humans in our lives are always hungry for personal attention, heart-filling, relational times. I have noticed over the years that, in an effort to be good parents, many of us tend to extremes. If rod or adversarial oriented, we can tend to use it all the time, over-correcting and expecting too much of little ones in a desire to be sure our children are well-disciplined. This often produces rebellion in the long run—I have seen these results over and over again—, as it is focused on outward behavior and neglected heart issues, as well as the personality and needs of the child.

However, I have also noticed that those who think of themselves as grace-based parents can at times tend to let everything go and not train their children at all, because they think that grace-based means being lenient. These children, then, can be out of control and never learn self-governance. Of course, neither extreme serves children well.

Yet, we tend to extremes and have trouble living between the tension of two extremes in many areas of life—and there is a tension in raising children. They need both discipline and training and also high love and affection and grace. This relational process we develop with our children is somewhat mysterious. But I know from experience that if we focus on their hearts—what they value, what they are feeling, what they need, what their personality is, we can adjust our training and discipline to each child according to the way he will respond. Clay and I came to say that we were high love, high discipline (in the training of character sense).

Of course all of us know or must learn that formulas so not work. Every child is unique, every family a different set of values and culture and background. And when we acknowledge the children need to respond, we know that raising godly children is a “by-faith” venture.

A key factor for reaching children's hearts is to be sure they feel greatly loved and connected to their family. Jesus himself gives us the priority of love in scripture--He says it sums up all the law and all the commandments when we love the Lord our God with all of our heart, and love our neighbor as ourselves.

I know that children have a great desire to be loved and cherished. When they start out being loved, touched, sung to, nursed, and cherished, their heart-needs and physical needs become connected in the brain in the right way. However, when babies are left to cry for long periods, and not cherished and touched and cuddled and enjoyed, there is an essential chemical imbalance in their brain that causes them to be more apt to be irritated, fussy, and less responsive.

Even as my children grew older, in the midst of very high ideals and training, I sought to continue pouring into their lives and hearts by believing in them, liking who they were (even in times when I had to do it by faith!), making our home the best place to be, and teaching them they could trust us with their secrets and insecurities and failures, by responding to them in love and respecting them where they were. I knew if I wanted my children to learn to honor me, I had to honor them as people, so that they would understand this attitude of respect.

Parenting by heart means loving who your child is as he or she is right now, and not waiting to love them better when they have matured or grown into the person you want them to be. We must affirm their God-designed personality, antics, abilities and disabilities. It means delighting in our children and communicating that with words, gestures, a pleasant tone of voice, and time spent playing and delighting in and listening to and affirming them in front of others. 

There will be prodigals even when we do our best. It is why Jesus told the story of prodigals—to give us hope. But we train and love as an act of worship and as a stewardship to God, as gratefulness for His redemption and grace in our own lives. We do not parent for performance, but for serving Him—and then we must leave the results in His hands while pursuing our children and loving them as He demonstrated to us.

All this bubbled up in my heart as I, once again, invested time and focus into the heart of my own grown up child, and the result was a deep heartfelt satisfaction for both of us as we once again went back to our own worlds. Heart-felt love takes time and patience and commitment, but in the end, it is worth the cost.

May you have grace with your journey to your own children’s hearts today. I am praying for you.