Some days seem picture perfect; most days don’t. Especially as a parent. The reality of the world we live in offers both beauty and struggle to most of our days.
Struggle is so often the companion of immaturity in relationships with others.
Have you ever noticed that “immature” is only sometimes cute and endearing when children are young?
How many times have we ever really thought our spouse’s immature behavior – or our boss’s or co-worker’s – was cute and endearing?
Immature behavior as we get older can fall in several different categories that don’t include cute:
As a parent, how do we ensure our children will not just grow older, get married, and get good jobs – but actually mature along the way?
The answer may surprise you. It still amazes me.
Maturity requires grace.
Yes, you read that right. And this, too; shame is the fuel of immaturity.
I’ll offer some convincing evidence: How much shame do we give to a newborn baby? How often do we say, “What’s the matter with you? Don’t you know how to feed yourself yet? Do I have to keep doing everything for you?”
The truth is – we don’t shame newborn babies. And they have no way of performing for our acceptance. They are nothing but a lump of needs.
When they struggle and fail – to hold up their heads, to turn over, to crawl, to walk, to talk…we don’t laugh at them or condemn them. We don’t ignore them or put them in the “slow” group.
Instead we hold them, comfort them, protect them, affirm them. We get on the floor with them. We kiss their cheeks, and neck, and arms, and feet. We show up for them. We connect.
We keep changing their poopy diapers; we walk them for hours at night when they can’t comfort themselves. We stay with them in their struggle.
Please consider this: how much maturity happens between the day a child is born and their first birthday? How many more things can a one-year old do than a newborn?
And now connect the dots: Maturity requires grace. And this, too; shame is the fuel of immaturity.
It’s such a weird thing that happens when these immature creatures begin to toddle and babble and try out their new independence.
When older children struggle, we tend to change our response. Grace isn’t often our default after the age of one.
Now we give manipulation a try. “If you ______, then I’ll give you _____.” Just imagine saying that to a two month old.
Shame is inherent in manipulation because a part of love is being withheld until it is earned – from the very one who needs the love.
And if I struggle and fail, I don’t get the love (approval, acceptance, attention…) that could have helped me do what I struggled to do without it. And this same love is my only hope from recovering from my failure. (www.trueface.org)
Love given only for performance is not grace – so it will never be the stuff of maturity.
“Time-out” is tricky, too. As a time for cooling off (child and parent!) so that “un-plugged, anxious, fearful, angry brains” can turn back on and re-engage in a healthy way, time is a helpful component of resolving struggles.
But when time-out is used to require struggling children to earn their way back to connected relationship, it is shame.
Being left alone in a moment of crisis is nothing less than traumatic. And it requires little people to “buck up and get it together” in compliance instead of trusting obedience.
Trusting obedience is when a child gives a parent permission to help them “return to joy”.
Crisis always costs the parent time, effort, and energy:
- To stay present (and mature) in the conflict.
- To invite and lead the little one back to a peaceful relationship…not because they “deserve” it, but because they are loved.
And that’s part of the definition of grace: free to the receiver and costly to the giver. Unearned.
Yes, many of us will learn to perform. We will run faster, score points, pitch a no-hitter, read longer books, and do harder math problems. We will learn to stuff our feelings instead of resolve them.
But this agenda is not the stuff of maturity.
As a believer, I know one thing clearly marks maturity:
“This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples – when they see the love you have for each other.” (The Message, John 13:35)
Am I suggesting that we climb into the mess of our children’s immaturity and struggles and help them even when they don’t deserve it?
Am I suggesting that when they refuse to clean the kitchen and dishes pile up for three days – that we work alongside them to deal with the moldy consequences?
Isn’t it enabling to help them clean their room when they’ve put it off for two months and the mess now measures way beyond the overwhelming mark?
Don’t they have to learn they get what they deserve?
- Only if we want them to grow up believing that they deserve shame in the midst of a struggle.
- The power of shame may be fuel for their self-effort, but it will also burn down any hope for real maturity.
- Maturity begins with humility – trusting God and others with me in the middle of my struggles.
Pride comes when I’ve taken care of the mess (or stuffed it, or hidden it, or medicated it…) all by myself. “Love doesn’t boast and it isn’t proud.” (I Cor. 13:4)
Thinking again about babies, grace comes naturally. Their struggles aren’t their fault. Weakness looks so innocent in a cradle.
Giving grace to a newborn is like riding a bike with training wheels. Yes, it is unearned by them and costly for me – but it’s also easy in so many ways.
Oh the power of continuing the grace when the weakness and immaturity gets messier than a poopy diaper – when the struggle is the consequence of choice instead of just immature muscles.
These are the moments when two words have so much power.
Let’s look closely parents, to the invitation of Jesus, “Follow me.” The most deeply satisfying joy is sacrificial love, trusted and received…impact for the good of someone else is the grand prize of life.
A comment from you may offer grace to another parent in the middle of a struggle; I look forward to what you are willing to share.
If you’d like to connect and learn more about trusting grace in education, please contact me. As a homeschool education consultant, I get to watch the miracles of grace everyday. It would be a joy to watch them together in your family, too.