Am I Ruining My Child?

Sad Child

My son’s tears course down his cheeks and it’s my fault. My heart hurts. I gave into frustration and lost my temper. My raised voice wounded this precious child.

Before giving birth, I had this whole parenting thing figured out. I taught preschool for years. I knew how to motivate children to do right.

Or so I thought.

Then the baby came and reality settled in. There are no breaks in motherhood. No nights and weekends away from the kids to regroup and refuel. I wasn’t prepared for this perfectionistic, stubborn, yet sensitive child I’ve been given. As months and years progressed, I’ve been stripped down the the barest bones of my character.

I don’t like what I see when I fail to extend grace and respond out of frustration. I hate that my default response is selfish and hurtful.

I can’t help wonder if I’m I causing irrevocable harm? Will my sinful responses have a lasting negative impact on my child’s life? What will be the result in my grandchildren’s lives?

An Example From Fiction

I was faced with this question in a powerful way while reading Julie Klassen‘s The Secret of Pembrooke Park.

The Secret of Pembrooke Park Book Cover“Does God really do that?” Abigail asked. “Visit the iniquities of the father upon his children for generations to come? That doesn’t seem fair.”

Mr. Chapman took her question seriously. “I don’t believe children are guilty of their parent’s wrongdoing. But we have all seen people who suffer because of their parents’ neglect or abusive behavior, or other wrongdoing. And children often follow in their parents’ footsteps.” He shrugged. “Like it or not, sin has consequences. Which is why God lovingly warns us against it. Thankfully, He is merciful and ready to forgive if we ask Him. But that doesn’t erase natural consequences of our actions. Cause and effect.”

The scripture cited is Numbers 14:18 – “The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.”

I’ve been in Abigail’s shoes, trying to understand this difficult passage. It really doesn’t seem fair for children to be punished for their parent’s sins.

While I hadn’t thought of it in this way before, I agree with Mr. Chapman’s response. My son is not responsible for or guilty of my sin, but he suffers when I choose to do wrong. He experiences the consequences of my sin.

It’s a sober and terrifying thought.

So what is a parent to do?

No one is perfect. We haven’t arrived at the place of sinless perfection. But there are things we can do to overcome our sinful tendencies.

  • Be Proactive

Understanding my family’s dynamics helped me identify areas I can be proactive in eliminating a lot of frustration. When I realized my son misbehaves when he is bored, I began providing him with mentally stimulating activities every day. These activities give him an outlet for his creative energy and keep our home running smoothly.

  • Be Aware

When the inevitable frustrations of parenthood arise, I have to be aware of the signs of my exasperation and increased emotional tension. I can choose the right response and intervene before further damage is done. In the case of my son, this involves holding him close and continually reiterating my love for him while he struggles to get away. My child hates to be restrained, but this is the best way I’ve found to get his attention and change his heart. After a time, he relaxes and we are able to continue our day on better footing. This only works if I am paying attention to the signs of rising frustration.

  • Be Repentant

Unfortunately, I too often fail. I can’t ignore the tears I’ve caused my child after I’ve responded in frustration. I have to be humble enough to go to my three-year-old and say these three things: “I was wrong. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” This is the first and most important step to restoring a broken relationship.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a perfect parent, but that knowledge doesn’t absolve me of my responsibility to gently raise my son. By God’s grace I can overcome my failings and live a victorious life. Perhaps by doing so, my son will learn how to have victory in his own life.

Question for you: How do you keep from responding in frustration to your children?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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