Telling your child this is scary but so rewarding. (On Parenting, Part 1)

We’re on Child #4 now. You’d think we would have this parenting thing licked by now. But as it turns out, we are still under renovation. God keeps challenging all our old notions of discipline and order and exposing them as ego or anger. We’re learning to accept ourselves more and, in turn, be softer, gentler and more patient with our kids. 

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I remember the beginning of the unraveling. It was a few years ago when our oldest was four. She wanted a banana at bedtime. I said no. Back in those days, I was of the opinion that if I had said “no” it was unchangeable. “The father hath spoken the irrevocable NO.” But four year olds don’t get that, so she kept asking for a banana. Using my brilliant parenting logic, and channeling the spirits of my parents and their parents and hundreds of generations of parents down the line, I said, “Well, that’ll teach you to eat more dinner next time.” I’ll spare you the details of the exchange and fast forward to the tantrum. There I am standing in desperation and frustration with a flailing, wailing, nuclear melt-down of a child. And then it suddenly hits me. Why didn’t I just give her a banana? It’s just a banana. But now it’s too late, right? I had already uttered forth the unshakeable decree, “NO,” which stood in the room like staid Everest. How could I change my mind? And then a voice spoke up in my head, “Who said fathers can’t change their minds?” I had no answer. Then, a very disturbing question popped into my head, “What if the very definition of fatherhood meant to be in a constant state of consideration to, and open to the influence of, your children, to the point of moving, flowing and changing to be in relationship with them and meet their needs.” Egad! Who said that? Impossible. That sounds so…vulnerable. No. They were born into my world and must play by my rules. Period! The voice came back with a word: “Jesus.” 

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Dang it. I knew what he was saying: Wasn’t I born into your world and made myself vulnerable to your rules? And then a flood of other Scriptures hit me that seemed to confirm the idea that even God changes his mind in response to his creation. “Alright then,” I said aloud to my daughter, “I’ll be right back.” So I took my Everest sized NO and swallowed it along with my pride. I let go of my own law—no snacking at bedtime—because at that point it was standing in the way of the spirit. I went downstairs and got a banana. I gave it to Mariah with these words, “Mariah, I am sorry. I want a redo. I want you to know that you have the power to change my mind, because you are so special and important to me. And I want you to try to change my mind, because sometimes Daddy needs his mind changed. I trust you with my heart.” 

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I wish I could have video recorded that moment. Her face lit up and she beamed with love and affection for me. Something deeply powerful got deposited in her heart. Something secure. Something almost magical. I walked away feeling a little bit nervous, “Oh Lord, I hope you were with my on that one, because I may have just opened up Pandora’s box.” But I’ve never regretted it. At times when we’re really close—intimate close—she smiles at me and reminds me, “Remember, Daddy? I can change your mind.” Her eyes shine with pride and love, knowing that the deepest part of who she is is beloved and treasured and trusted. Sure, we still butt heads from time to time. And I have had to stick to my guns on some things. But my daughter is now nine. And she is powerful and knows that she has sway with me and she can move me and that many times her ideas are better than mine. After all, I am wrapped around her pinky finger. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

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Do you know that you have sway with your Heavenly Father? That you, in genuine interaction with him, can move him, surprise him, delight him and even change his mind? Because he responds to you. His nature never changes, but his movements and intentions—his very heart—longs to be in a state of regular rhythm with yours. Like a dance. I pray that your heart hears this from his, “My child, I want you to know that you have the power to change my mind, because you are so special and important to me. I trust you with my heart.”