A few years ago I started losing hair. Lots of hair. Like handfuls of hair every time I showered. Naturally, I went to the doctor to find out what was going on. After a battery of tests we determined my Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) was high, which meant my thyroid hormone was low; hence the hair loss. (Of course, then you have to determine why these things are suddenly out of balance, which in my case was related to nursing a baby.)
The confusing part to me was an increase in my TSH indicated a decrease in my thyroid function. This is called an inverse relationship. As one thing goes up, another comes down.
Parenting can be like that, too. Sometimes an increase in one thing is an indicator of a decrease in something else and vice versa.
Take sleep, for instance. You’ve seen it. A little toddler has missed their nap and is now up late. What do they do? Run in circles laughing hysterically. Jump up and down while giggling. A decrease in sleep causes an increase in hysterical laughter and hyperactivity among young children. Conversely, decreased sleep causes an increase in irritability and caffeine consumption among teens and adults.
There are some inverse relationships in child development as well. As mobility increases (e.g. crawling) independence decreases (e.g. separation anxiety). Of course, we usually expect equilibrium to resume with experience. As a child learns they can return to you (and that you will return for them) the separation becomes easier to bear, and even enjoyable to a point. It is fun for them to go explore their world and come back and report their findings.
But there is another, unexpected inverse relationship that I’d like to talk about today. It’s the relationship between a temporary decrease in good behavior at home associated with an increase in love and acceptance. This is something parents of young toddlers (and again in the early teen years) need to hear and be reminded of repeatedly.
There is a developmental necessity behind poor behavior at home in contrast to good behavior in public. It points to a social awareness that needs to develop in all children It can result in meltdowns with Mommy that would never happen in social settings. It starts very young.
Babies will experiment with their different emotions only if they feel accepted. They don’t try new behaviors with strangers because they are not confident of being loved.
Don’t we do this exact same thing? Isn’t this the reason we can answer the phone in a cheerful voice even while we are yelling our kids just before our thumb hits the “answer” button? We don’t have confidence that the person on the other end of the phone will accept us if they hear the fits we are throwing. That’s fear of man at it’s finest, and it starts really early.
Of course I want to train my children to live for God’s pleasure and not man’s approval, but the realization that expressing negative emotions points to confidence in my love helps along the way. Once I understand the freedom to try out a full range of emotion indicates my child’s confidence in my love, it reframes my perspective. Not that I will excuse disobedience, but I can see it a little differntly.
It gives me hope.
It gives me perspective and assurance that I am doing something right. My kids know that with me it is safe to reveal their hearts – even the ugly parts. It doesn’t make it fun, but it adds meaning.
Children who recognize the presence of unfailing love have the confidence to try out their negative emotions. They grow in the confidence to try out positive ones as well. They will take risks. Given the freedom to fail, they will gain the freedom to succeed.
There is a difference between having the freedom to fail and being expected to fail.
There is also a difference between expecting poor choices as a developmental milestone and accepting poor choices without correcting them. It is just as important for my kids to learn to direct their emotions in a constructive way as it is for them to feel free to have and express emotions.
It gets worse before it gets better. Parenting is a weighty task.
So much of my parenting shapes the view of God my children will carry into adulthood. Lord willing, I am training them for the transition from confidence in a mommy’s love and acceptance to confidence in God’s love and acceptance. Ultimately, I want them to be so confident of the presence of a loving God that they draw on his power in daily life. They will only draw on this power for life if they are equipped to recognize the presence of his unfailing love. They learn to recognize Him as they experience me.
No pressure, right?
I need to learn to accept failure and paint a picture of failure as a step toward success. It is different from expecting failure, or preventing failure, or promoting success. My kids need to know I love them, that I accept them no matter what they do (based on who they are, not how they perform), and that I believe they can succeed. I want them to learn perseverance is more important than “success.” I want them looking for progress, not perfection. And I don’t think they’ll see it that way unless I do. I think that is how they will grow to understand the unconditional love of the Father and learn to live in light of it.
It’s not just something I need to teach my kids either. I need to persevere during these challenging years, too. And sometimes the realization that some of the behavioral struggles I face with my kids is a sign of an invisible success can help me persevere.
You may need to see that you are doing something right if your kids act out at home but not in public. I want you to have hope in the midst of this difficult phase of child training – yes, we need to be faithful to train, correct, and discipline our kids. But the fact that these moments happen indicate that they know they are loved. Good job, mom. Keep going.