“Have a heart soft enough to give love and mercy, but wise enough to know boundaries.” (Kayil Crow)
It has started: Our daughter’s battle whether or not to put her four-month old down (cry it out) or pick him up when he is fussy. Believe me, both have been tried. (Don’t let the pics of the happy baby fool you.) The truth is holding him tends to calm him. He sleeps better. He stops crying. He is basically happier.
It continues: Our daily battle about how much to help our adult children (pick them up when they are “fussy”) or let them figure things out on their own (many times painful and uncomfortable). Believe me, both have been tried. For decades. The truth is helping them tends to calm them. They sleep better. They stop “fussing.” They are basically happier.
It never stops: My aging parent’s battle about how much to help their youngest son with the care of his children while my mom goes through radiation treatment during the next several weeks. This is a big one: he lost his wife about a year ago and the situation is complicated. They are 84. He is 56. It never ends. The truth is helping him calms the situation. Everyone sleeps better. The “fussing” is abated. He is basically happier.
If you are a parent, you can completely relate, no matter how old your child is. It can be teaching a baby to sleep by themselves, driving a forgotten homework assignment to school for your elementary daughter, purchasing a car for your new driver, allowing an adult child to live at home rent-free for a season, watching grandchildren for your middle-aged son, the list goes on and on. I’m sure you can add your own. The questions are basic: how much do I “pick up,” help, console, “save the day,” when my child has a need or even a want? How much do I let them “ride out the storm,” figure it out on their own, “put them down” so to speak? Where is that line drawn? When is that line drawn? How is that line drawn? What choice should we make so that we are promoting emotional health and good boundaries, yet making sure the other feels safe and completely loved?
I am becoming keenly aware of how daily of a battle this is, no matter how old the parent or child is. I am also highly in tune right now with how many opinions everyone has about this and how strong those opinions are. I also realize how often I go to others to ask this very basic question: what should I do in “X” situation with “such-and-such” child? Do I pick them up or put them down?
For many years, I went back and forth, always unsure if what I was doing in any given situation was right. I felt trapped. If I “picked them up,” I heard the voices that shouted, “You are doing too much. Your boundaries are too lax. They need to learn for themselves. This is unhealthy. This is bad.” If I didn’t help, I heard opposing voices, “You aren’t doing enough. Your boundaries are too rigid. They need to feel loved and not alone. This is unhealthy. This is bad.” Ugh. And if the truth is known, I still struggle with this and it is real and it is still almost every day.
Today, I share with you my “half-thoughts” on the subject. A “half-thought” is something I am still in process about and haven’t completely “landed” anywhere quite yet, but still want to share. I hope these bring you some freedom for the “back-and-forth,” trapped feeling you may find yourself in today:
- Even though the questions are easy, the situations are complicated. No two are the same and rarely is there a quick answer or fix. Rest in that.
- This dilemma is part of being a parent, period. There’s no getting out of it.
- Other parents are in the same boat. We all need each other, not to judge and give solutions, but to listen and give grace.
- Don’t ask yourself if the decision is right or wrong, black or white, good or bad. Rarely are decisions that we make all one way or the other. That’s an exhausting treadmill and only promotes fear, guilt and shame. Either decision will have both difficult and wonderful attached to it. Usually it’s some combination of beautiful and messy.
- Ask yourself these questions instead: What do I really need? Why do I want to help? What do they really need? Take the long-view and dig a little deeper.
- Change your mind if you need to. Take the time to re-evaluate and get counsel from others. There is great freedom here.
- Show yourself boatloads of grace no matter what you decide. Remind yourself that God loves both of you and He can come in and provide all that’s lacking no matter what decision is made in the moment.
- I leave you with my biggest one for this past six months because many days I just don’t know what to do. This verse comes up every single day on my reminders. I pray it every morning:
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives GENEROUSLY and FREELY to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)
I don’t think it ever ends. I am growing and being stretched and learning to love in a healthy, hope-filled, very complicated kind of way. I kind of like it.