Ever find yourself being overly critical with your children?
As a parent, why is it so easy to be negative?
The other day my 11 year-old son told me something interesting. He said, “Dad, you’ve been really critical and negative with me the past few days, could you maybe be more positive? I’ve done a lot of good things too.”
That was a bit of a shocker! But looking back over the days in question, I realized he was right. I had been more critical of him than usual.
He was doing some frustrating things, and I had to correct him often. After all, that’s a parent’s job right? But did I do it the right way?
The Discernment of Spirits and God’s parenting style
This got me thinking about what St. Ignatius Loyola says about how God deals with us. If God is the ultimate Father and he does everything perfect, maybe I should imitate him and treat my kids the way he treats his kids…namely me!
One of the foundations of Ignatian Spirituality is the Discernment of Spirits. It’s a set of 14 rules for understanding how God is acting in your daily spiritual life. By “spirits” Ignatius is referring to either the Holy Spirit or the “enemy of our human nature,” the Devil, his demons, or our own fallen humanity.
By becoming aware of the spiritual movements of your heart, the 14 rules help you discern which spirit is influencing your decision making and where God is leading you.
With persons who are moving toward God, (trying to get rid sin and follow God more closely), the influence of the evil spirit is experienced as a biting conscience or sadness. He places obstacles in your way and disquiets you. Ignatius calls this desolation.
The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, gives consolation–courage, strength, inspiration, and peace. He takes away obstacles and makes you feel great.
Simplifying this to the extreme, God always gives peace and builds you up. The enemy always unsettles you and tears you down.
If that’s the case, shouldn’t I, as a Christian parent, always be building my kids up in everything I say and do with them? Shouldn’t I be parenting like God and not the enemy?
What would “parenting like God” look like?
So, what would parenting like God look like? Well, St. Ignatius says God positively motivates us. He makes you feel great when you do the right thing so you’ll want to do more of it. He gives inspirations that guide you toward the right course of action and gives you peace when you take it. And, he gives you the courage and strength to face trials and difficulties.
In parenting that would translate to lots of positive affirmations to make kids feel good when they do the right things, clearly communicating what’s expected and giving directions on how they can accomplish it, and instilling the confidence they need to do hard things.
But doesn’t God correct us too?
With all that being said, will you always get it right? Of course not! You’re human. Sometimes you get frustrated and emotions get out of control…like when you’ve done all that positive affirmation stuff 20 times and your kids still don’t get it right.
And, let’s face it, it’s just usually easier to point out the wrong behavior instead of always praising the good stuff. Sometimes we get tired.
It’s interesting to note that, though God never gives desolation, he sometimes does correct our bad behavior. God moves you to feel sorrow for your sins and nudges you toward repentance. And, he does allow the enemy to give you desolation at times if you’re messing up and need conversion is a certain area…or if you need some humility.
So, I don’t think it’s outside the realm of Godly parenting to make sure your kids feel some contrition for what they’ve done and know you’re disappointed. However, it still should be done in a way that encourages them to do better, gives them hope they can do better, and leaves them feeling good about themselves. It shouldn’t tear them down and make them feel awful about themselves.
Next time you’re feeling frustrated and getting critical with your children, take a step back and pray, “Heavenly Father, how would you parent in this situation?” You might find the inspiration and strength to go about it a different way. Parenting like God might not be your default, but perhaps it will become a positive alternative in your parenting toolbox. It could lead to more peaceful and joy-filled households.
Do you think it’s valid for Christian parents to deal with their kids the way God deals with us? Would it work or is it not enough? Let me know what you think.
Copyright 2013 Marc Cardaronella