“What did mommy tell you?” I said as I held the ice on my little boy’s fingers. In my head, I recounted the numerous times I'd told him to not touch the stove while we were cooking. Lucas didn’t really give an answer, he learned the hard way that a warning and instruction coming from my lips was for his benefit. At the time he was only 3, and gosh I wanted so badly to save him from any harmful experience! I think that's the nature of a mother’s heart; bubble wrap our precious ones, keep them locked up safe as they grow, never letting the world touch their pure hearts! As noble as that sounds, the motivation can often be driven by fear, and when it is, the results can be devastating. My heart sank that he was hurt, not badly and certainly recoverable, but I was afraid I had failed him.
I told my husband what had happened that morning, and to my surprise he said, “Good.” Dumbfounded, I pressed for an explanation. “He’s learned two things from burning himself: that you are to be trusted, and not to touch the hot stove! Don’t we want him to be obedient and wise?” He was right. My head still whirled with fearful thoughts about my mothering capabilities, the what if’s and long-term consequences of messing up with him on a bigger scale consumed me. I get that this is a small incident in the scope of all of life’s struggles, but if I couldn’t keep him safe from the stove in our home, how could I protect him from anything else? The fear must have been showing on my face, because my husband then said, “Great job, momma Tonya! We can’t protect him from every harmful or poor choice he'll make but we can teach him to trust God and use wisdom to make choices.” This is why I love this man. He brings me back to earth with statements like that.
Confidence. I was putting my confidence in fear and not in love.
As parents, there are so many decisions we make, so many choices we guide our children into across the course of their lives, that our internal motivation becomes evident and has consequences. When we parent our children motivated by fear, they learn to fear. You know that old saying ‘Do as I say, not as I do,’ is a known falsehood to any parent. We know our kids will do what we do, even if it's the opposite of what we say. For example: when your child hears you lie to the annoying salesman in the store, they learn that sometimes it’s ok to lie. No matter how much you lecture them about telling the truth, you lived out in front of them that lying can have a temporary benefit sometimes, and they pick up on it. The next time they tell you a lie to get out of trouble, the correction you bring loses its effectiveness. They learned the lesson already, now they resent your punishment because you seemingly don’t have to live it.
Same thing is true with fear, it’s just not always as obvious. Fear gets into your parenting in sneaky ways, because it can be cloaked in concern and worry. We can sound like great parents but if we're driven from a fearful place, it’s not truly love. It is possible to parent from a place of confidence in love and wisdom and not in fear, and that’s what I want to explore! (Read more in Part 2 of this blog post.)
Author: Tonya Flowers is the mother of 3 boys: Lucas who’s a 3rd grader, and 3 year old twin boys, Wyatt and Timothy. She is a nurse part time, a minister at her church, and serves FWMOM as our Chaplain.