(No) shame on you

I’m hoping this doesn’t come as a surprise to my parents, but as a child I was a little light-fingered for a time. I don’t think I ever shoplifted, but I distinctly remember pilfering these fancy stickers that my mum had. What a treasure! But where to hide them? I know… down the side of my bed, no one will ever find them there! Until mum changes the sheets duh. I recall being embarrassingly slow to confess, pretending I had no idea where they had come from. Ah kids… I’d like to think it was just a phase. I’ve certainly grown out of it now.

Well, parental karma is a thing, and we’ve had similar phases with our kids. For one daughter though it is dragging on longer than I’ve got patience for. And it’s happening at school, so there’s this public dimension to navigate as well.

I know better than to shame myself — it’s no reflection of my poor parenting — and I’m going to resist the shaming of others (“you never expect it to be the pastor’s kid”). But I am a little tempted to shame her.

Fortunately, I’m wise enough to resist the temptation. It doesn’t work anyway — the child just ends up thinking of ways to hide the behaviour. There’s nothing good happening at the heart level, and that’s where real change comes from.

Shame is a terrible motivator.

Instead I’m focussing on speaking into her identity – “you’re a girl we can trust”, and helping her to see that this bad behaviour isn’t who she is, so let’s get back to being herself. That and some practical tips on dealing with temptation in the moment: recognise it for what it is; get away from the temptation as best you can; tell a safe person that you’re struggling; put the allure of temptation in perspective by thinking about how stink it will feel down the track. I was stoked to hear this morning that she had told a close friend that she was struggling with this — this is confession at work my friends, and it is a healthy thing.

But it’s no quick fix. Real change is slow. I could shame her into obedience a whole lot quicker. Punish and threaten and get the short-term results, but with long-term damage.

But I’m in it for the one haul with this kid. Obedience in the short term isn’t my greatest goal.

Danny Silk’s excellent book Loving our Kids on Purpose has shaped a lot of my thinking here. My main take-home point was the idea that we model the heart of God to our children in how we parent them. Too often we’re tempted to control them in order to get obedience, when really our focus should be on building relationship and helping them to gradually learn to take responsibility for themselves.

Mums and dads, I’d highly recommend this one.

This parenting struggle has given me fresh insight to the Father’s heart towards me: He’s not so interested in correcting my behaviour as He is in our relationship and in me living out my true identity.


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