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Christian Living

Family

Don't Control Your Kids, Connect with Them

Erin MacPherson - Author & Blogger

But I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you. Psalm 32:8-9 ESV

It’s so easy to try to control our kids. 
Notice I didn’t say it’s so easy to control our kids—that’s downright impossible—but it’s really easy to fall into the trap of trying to control our kids’ thoughts, emotions, and behaviors so they can turn out exactly how we want them to turn out.

I know I did that with my oldest daughter.

I grew up in a very difficult family—a place where control and fear seemed to rule us and where a heart connection was hard to be found. I remember when I won a spot at the district track meet in the ninth grade. I desperately wanted my dad— who had never attended a single one of my school events—to come see me run. I brought home the flyer for the district meet and presented it to him one night at dinner.

"Dad, would you like to come to my district track meet?" I held up the flyer, staring at my dad’s eyes, hoping he would see my desperation, my heart. "I’ll be running the 880."

"Ellen." His voice was gruff. "I just don’t have time. But maybe if you are really helpful around the house and behave well I’ll be able to find the time."

I smiled. I could be helpful. I could behave. And so I set about to do the best I could. For two weeks, I volunteered to do dishes and to watch over my brothers and sisters. I filed paperwork for my dad at his office and did all of my homework without being asked. I was polite and kind and behaved the best I could.

Yet on the day of the meet, my dad didn’t show up. 
I was heartbroken. 
Fast-forward 20 years to when I had my own kids who had their own sports events and recitals and art shows. From day one, I made it my vow to never let my kids feel the way I did at that track meet. I was going to attend every single event they ever had. I was going to cheer them on no matter what they did. I was going to be involved in their every move. I was going to give them every opportunity. I was never going to let fear of disappointment rule them.

I was going to...control their every emotion.

I learned this when my own oldest daughter was in middle school. She had a track meet on the same day as her sister’s swim meet and I was desperately trying to figure out how I could drive across town in seven minutes flat so I could watch Alisa’s hundred-meter butterfly without missing Erin’s relay. And Erin stopped me.

"Mom, it’s fine. You can watch Alisa today and watch me next time."

"But then you’ll think I don’t care and that I don’t want to be part of your track career and that I care more about Alisa than you..." I’m sure I sounded desperate.

"We’ll talk about it later, Mom. I know you care. I can tell by what you do every day."

And there it was. I can’t control my kids’ schedules or outcomes. I can’t control my kids’ behavior or thoughts. I can’t control whether they finish their homework or chores or whether they love gymnastics or music or football. But I can be there for them and connect with them on a deep level that shows that I care about them in a way that goes beyond simply knowing what they do.

Because I can know their hearts.

*Excerpted with permission from Put the Disciple into Discipline: Parenting with Love and Limits by Erin MacPherson and Ellen Schuknecht.

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