Years ago I spent the summer as a school director leading a team of staff members responsible for coaching new teachers as they “student taught” summer school. Not only were they new to the education profession, I was new to school leadership. So in many ways, it felt like the blind leading the blind (sound familiar new parents?). Fortunately I had a very veteran team around me and a boss, now a good friend and mentor, who had years of experience herself supporting school leaders. Though I was years away from becoming a father, I gained a life lesson that would stick with me and serve as foundation for positive discipline as a parent.
One day that summer I was doing something I shouldn’t have done, to be honest I can’t even remember what it was. It was an error in judgement that led to a mistake for my teachers. My boss called me on it, but in a way that addressed the action and behavior, not myself as a person. Then I remember how about 5 minutes later she came up to me and we had a totally different interaction. I remember because I was still sulking at first from feeling reprimanded. Yet, minutes after giving me some critical feedback, she was joking with me and acting as if there was no distance between us. In fact, I think we even ended up laughing and talking about it. I remember hearing her specifically tell our team, if you’ve got to have a corrective conversation with a team member (which as a leader and parent, it’s your job to correct misbehaviors), ensure that the next interaction you have with them is a positive one.
What an application for parenting! Especially as our kids grow up and begin to associate our feedback with their personal concept of self, we have to find ways to reinforce the fact that our discipline is an act of love. Last night we had to call one of our children on the carpet about her recent behaviors. Despite feeling disappointed in her choices and furious at her lack of judgement, we attempted to be levelheaded in expressing our feedback. Before going to bed I read another chapter of The Love Dare for Parents, this time about how love wins hearts. I wondered to myself- how do I ensure that this doesn’t lose her heart? I woke up reminded of the answer. As a person of faith, I believe that God attempts win our hearts everyday with the demonstration of brand new mercies. He essentially wipes the slate clean so that there’s no distance between us in our relationship. This is what our parenting needs.
We need to be able to wipe the slate clean everyday and wake up prepared to extend new mercies to our children- this minimizes the distance. We’re not perfect and neither are they. More mistakes are coming (it’s a part of growth), yet it’s important to remember that what we’re angry, upset, or disappointed about is the behavior, not the person. I heard a quote from my pastor that grace is getting what you don’t deserve, and mercy is not getting what you do deserve. Our job as parents is to find the balance between extending grace and new mercies each day, because we all need both.