So What Does a "House of Grace" Look Like?
MY 16 YEAR OLD IS A SPOILED BRAT! HOW DARE HE SPEAK TO ME THAT WAY! WHERE IS THE GRATITUDE FOR ALL I HAVE DONE? GONE ALL WEEKEND AND HE CAN’T EVEN WATCH HIS LITTLE SISTER FOR ME?
But of course I would see that he was spoiled and ungrateful, totally lacking any appreciation for all that I do for him. Of course my husband and I would look at him with contempt in this moment and dare him to say no to our request. After all, as parents it is now our turn to set the rules and be obeyed just because we say so!
BUT CAN THERE BE A BETTER WAY?
I remember what it was like growing up in a “House of Shame.” Authority reigned supreme and the hint of disrespect or reluctance to comply brought down the hammer. Clearly my habit was to perpetuate the “House of Shame,” where parents dominate and children are expected to comply to keep everyone happy. I had never known a different way. Parents in a “House of Shame” want children who are like them but don’t make any of the mistakes they have made. Mistakes are just proof of failure: the parents’ and the child’s. The parents’ emotional needs are forced upon the children. “Make dad happy, he’s in a bad mood.” “Mom needs a hug, don’t ask for that right now. She can’t handle it.” In the “House of Shame,” the parent sends these cues to control the child and keep everything manageable. Neither parents nor the children in these homes have been taught how to manage their feelings causing frequent emotional explosions. Even the most determined parents are unable to control their children’s behavior or choices. Inevitably, feelings of contempt for their children increase the desire to rule. Slowly over time the young, beautiful children, once loved so dearly, become objects of disdain.
SO WHAT DOES A "HOUSE OF GRACE" LOOK LIKE?
It’s a house where children are viewed as individuals who are blossoming into something beautiful, but not something already known by the parent; something even more beautiful than can be imagined. It’s a place where people are believed to be good but not perfect. It is a place where mistakes are viewed as springboards to success and a necessary means to healthy growth and development; a place where children are encouraged, supported and allowed to explore themselves and their passions outside of their parents’ ideas or preferences. The “House of Grace” is a place of refuge and emotional security.
YET, WE ARE ALL AWARE OF THE OLD INCLINATIONS THAT PERMEATE OUR THOUGHTS AND BEHAVIORS.
So when my 16 year old son comes home from school, I ask a simple request that he watch his little sister while I run a few errands. Very angry and with great disrespect he announces, “No, I don’t want to babysit.” In that pivotal moment when I can feel my blood beginning to boil, I ask myself if today can be different from all of the times in the past when I blasted him. Can I ignore my first inclinations to bring down the hammer of shame and demand respect and proper deference? CAN I BREAK THE HABIT? Can I have the grace to desire a connection more than the proof of my righteous contempt? Can I believe in his goodness and give him the space to be honest with me about who he is and how he feels?
GRACE APPEARS and rather than reacting as I had done so many times before I move toward him and say, “Wow, that’s unexpected. What’s going on with you? This isn’t like you? Why are you so mad?” His response is both surprising and familiar. “It’s always me”, he says. “You never ask my brothers to take care of her. It’s not fair.” His accusation causes my blood to boil again and I feel compelled to defend myself, be right, and talk him out of his feelings. BUT, GRACE REFUSES TO LEAVE. The “House of Shame” is calling but I don’t want to live there anymore. I remind myself that this moment could connect us and that my mistakes don’t determine my value as a mom. So I go where I’m not used to going and admit what I know deep down is the truth, “You are right. I have relied mainly on you and I have burdened you with caring for her when it wasn’t your job to do so. I’m so sorry.” He started to cry and told me that when she was especially young I had left him with her and he was terrified that he might not be able to take care of her. I was overcome with sadness, regret and sorrow. I had no idea the burden that I had asked him to bear.
After this encounter, I remembered times when I had been too young to babysit and was left with several younger siblings. I never felt like I could say anything to my mom but remember being scared and full of anxiety. My babysitting quickly turned into being asked to co-parent in ways that were totally inappropriate and unhealthy. I was determined to change the paradigm.
From that day on I arranged for babysitters or his brothers to watch their little sister. As my 16 year old continued to grow into being a young man, I knew he was quite capable of caring for his little sister, but I did not ask him because it was more important that he knew that I heard him and understood. Yet, in a short time he saw a need and offered to babysit for his little sister any time he could. The attitude and eye rolling with every request prior to that Monday afternoon disappeared and my requests were met with a sweet willingness. His goodness was unveiled as he expressed the burden and fear of not being able to take care of his little sister. His courage to stand up and be true to himself inspires me to continue to build a “House of Grace.” Had I missed this opportunity, my contempt and resentment for him would only have increased. I would have missed seeing him and knowing him. THE GOOD NEWS IS THAT GRACE IS FREE FOR ALL WHO ARE WILLING TO ACCEPT IT AND WITH IT COMES THE BEAUTY OF SEEING THE GIFT OUR CHILDREN REALLY ARE.