There are moments as a parent that you are given a glimpse of how much you don't know and how much you need to grow. And then there are times when the Lord doesn't just give you a mere glimpse, but provides a glaring light lens into your heart, mind, and beliefs that are driving your responses and interactions with your children. This weekend was one of those glaring light moments for us as parents. We will be the first to admit that we do not have it all together. We need God's grace for every minute of every day. And yet, we also have been largely unaware of how much our attachment style as parents reveals areas of healing and work that God wants to do in us to grow and change us in how we approach our children. We are all broken, we are all in need of grace. And we saw in a much clearer way this weekend our need for grace to come in and change us from the inside out.
Many parents live in a cycle of wanting to manage their children's behavior, emotions, and attitudes. We may fall into the cycle of believing the falsehood of "good in good out" parenting, as Elyse Fitzpatrick explains in her book, "Give Them Grace". We focus on behavior instead of the need behind the behavior...and no wonder we continue to witness more and more behaviors that we want to change. We see very little victory in changing the behavior of our children when we just see them as a behavior to correct and fix. We learned much this weekend about children who have mistrust and fear. Children who need a parent to enter into their need for security and trust at all costs. Parents who will get down on their level and ask, "What is going on? What are you needing right now?" instead of "Stop doing that. I need you to behave."
I recently led a Bible study with a group of mama friends. We journeyed through the incredible book called "Give Them Grace" by Elyse Fitzpatrick. The book really dives into the truths that the last thing our children need is more law. That their little hearts need the Gospel of grace more than anything else, and that there is no parenting formula to produce good children. In fact, none of us are good. We need grace to cover our sin and free us to live redeemed lives empowered by Him for good.
What I am learning as a parent through His Word, our Bible study going through "Give Them Grace", and this incredible training we were blessed to receive this past week at Pathways is this: when we focus on the behavior of our children, we are missing the big picture. There is a root belief beneath the behavior, and until we courageously pursue the hearts of our children to expose the root, we will continue on a path of correction without change. When the heart of a child is not the focus of our attention, our relationships with them will remain stuck and broken.
One of the biggest takeaways from this weekend for me is that unless a child is calm, it is impossible for them to learn. They cannot reason or learn anything in a state of fear, they are either going to fight, flight, or freeze. It is in these moments when the child's brain is active in the hypothalamus (brain stem), and it will be unable to learn anything while remaining there. This is why teachers who use shame-based approaches with children will yield low test scores and stunted educational growth. Their approach is shutting down the frontal cortex area of the brain, also known as the learning center. When our children are having a tantrum or emotional outburst, it is not the time to reason or correct them. It is a time to enter in calmly, to do whatever we can to disarm the fear and emotion behind the action. In this way, we create a pathway not only to their frontal cortex where learning can take place, but also a direct route to their heart. There is immense value in the opportunities that our children afford to us through their meltdowns. When we feel inconvenienced by such behavior, we need to remember that this is a direct gift from God to have eyes to see right into the heart of that child. It is an opportunity to be a part of the healing needed in their hearts...and to be changed ourselves in the process. More important than proving our point that we were right or to assert our authority to create submissive obedient children is this...we are all being rescued. We are all a part of this glorious messy process of redemption. It is His plan to rescue us together. In these special moments of parenthood when we witness behavior in our children and commit sin ourselves that screams out loud for our need for a Savior...we need to choose to enter into our collective need for redemption.
So my takeaways from this week's training may look a bit jumbled, but here goes:
- The initial hardwiring of our brains contains 100 billion neurons. By the age of three years old, each of those 100 billion neurons has made 10,000 connections with the world. For many orphans, these connections have taught them that they can't trust and feel safe with the world around them.
- The formative years of attachment happen in the first three years of life that will hugely impact how we bond and connect with others. For many of us, this is difficult news, but the good news is that God can redeem any attachment style we may be to change us into secure and connected parents. If we are too afraid to courageously seek truth concerning our childhood and acknowledge maladaptive parenting techniques that we might be using, we often shift blame to our children. If we resist the process of growing, we will take something that reveals our issue and make it our children's issue.
- Selah will come to us with many walls built around her. It is not her responsibility to tear down those walls and to attach with us. We are the guides to her secure attachment. She will not and cannot do it alone. We can't shift the responsibility to her. It is our opportunity to fight for her heart through prayer and action to join God in healing the wounds of her heart from being relinquished and adopted.
- I need to be more playful with my kids so that they can learn in the playful moments what will help them in the fight, flight, or freeze moments. Playfulness disarms fear, lowers triggers, and minimizes the child's fighting for control. It is important to "find the lightheartedness in my voice".
- When I am not committed to calmly entering into my child's pain/anger/acting out, I am missing the opportunity to really teach them.
-When a child from hard places is acting out, there is a need driving that behavior. Usually the need is to be safe and to trust. And many, many children just do not feel safe or trust. In these moments when we are in the thick of parenting our children through these challenges, we need to put aside our need to be understood and guide them towards a healthier response. This can only happen when a parent is committed to remaining calm and focused on the needs of the child. It requires us to live out the Gospel day-in-and-day-out because it is selflessly laying aside our needs and putting the needs of our child first. It is radically living out the truth that their hearts mean far more than their behavior.
- I am the guide to creating new pathways of trust and security in my child's brain and heart. Attachment with my children will largely be led by my effort to guiding them in love and grace through the power of Christ.
- I must read these books ASAP: "The Connected Child", "Anatomy of the Soul", "Parenting from the Inside Out", and "The Whole-Brained Child".
- I have so much to learn. I need so much grace.
Over all of this above is the truth that we stand here alone by God's grace. The reason we are where we are in this adoption process, in this parenting process, and in our lives personally is evidence of a merciful God who has chosen to give us good and precious gifts of love, kindness, and generosity. We are all broken, and He is in the business of redeeming lives. This is our identity, this is what is true. No brokenness will define us, but His grace sustains us.