In one of our recent seminars, a mother complained to Debi, “The children frustrate me so much. I tell them to do their school work, and they just piddle around. I tell them to clean up their rooms, and they fuss over who is to clean up what. They are always irritating one another. It frustrates me so much, trying to cause them to maintain a good attitude. They are always complaining and whining about something. I get frustrated and spank them, but it seems to do no good. They just don’t seem to care. They pick on each other continuously. I get so frustrated…” Debi interrupted her mournful complaints to answer, “Yes, it is an attitude problem.” The weary mother hastily agreed, “That’s it! They have bad attitudes.” Debi responded, “No, it’s you that has the bad attitude.” The mother’s widening eyes and gaping mouth expressed her dismay as she stood waiting for the forthcoming explanation.
Are you a frustrated parent? Is your brow drawn tight as if pulled by draw strings? If parenting is not enjoyable, be assured, you have a bad attitude. When your children look into your face what do they see? They are not fooled. They know what you feel toward them. Your face is a graph of approval or rejection. Verbal “positive affirmation” is not enough; in fact, it is worse than nothing if there is not genuine delight in your heart. Children can see through a parent who is made of muddy water. If they see disappointment and criticism they will answer in kind. Discontented parents breed discontented children. Your attitude is the root of the family attitude tree. A bitter root cannot produce sweet fruit.
Parental attitudes are highly contagious, and the children usually come down with a worse case. “More is caught than taught.” And children seem more highly susceptible to catching a bad attitude than of being taught to have a good one. They can catch the disease of bad attitude while being passive. On the other hand, they must exert themselves to have a good attitude.
Your children are playing follow-the-leader. They are deaf to your words, but they “hear” your attitude loud and clear. Example has always been more effective than theory. Where parents are constantly modeling the bad attitude; a good attitude is just a theoretical concept to the child. Try as they may, they can’t quite fathom the meaning of a good attitude—it has been so long since they have seen one. If you dress your children in tight pinching shoes, don’t blame them for having sore feet.
The bad news is that you are responsible for the condition of your children. The good news is that you don’t have to be frustrated over attempting to change them. You only need to change yourself. Since their attitudes are reflections of your own, you need only change your attitude, and the reflections will change.
I know you are only expressing your displeasure over their foolishness. You are using your disapproving scowl as a threat to induce them to shame. They are supposed to so crave your approval that they make great sacrifices to win your smile. It is not working is it? Actually, you are working against the very thing you desire to achieve.
There is a natural principle you must understand: Children living under condemnation are not motivated to good works. None of us seek to please someone who is condemning us. You have trained your face to display a nearly constant look of disapproval, disappointment, and frustration. You may nag or gripe them into relenting to your will, but you can never bad-attitude them into a good attitude. Children cannot be intimidated into positive character. To stand off and criticize their performance will not induce them to a rectifying shame. No one has ever been motivated to climb out from under a pile of disapproval to win the praise and affections of his or her accuser.
The law of human nature is such that condemnation and shame cause an alienation that only produces more disobedience. Paul said,
“The motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death” (Romans 7:5).
“Because the law worketh wrath…” (Romans 4:15).
But if you become so disappointed with their failure that you assume an air of judicial condemnation, they will unwillingly accept the blame, but THEY WILL NOT HAVE THE MORAL COURAGE TO CHANGE. Law and condemnation never produce righteousness. If you are always ready to show them what is wrong, but do not constantly exemplify what is right, they will cower under your judgments while continuing to grow into the likeness of your graceless bitterness.
The parental spirit of displeasure holds the child in “death.” A new spirit in the parent will allow the child to serve from a joyous spirit and not from the strengthless bondage of legal depression. In our relationship to God, it is called “newness of spirit.”
“But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:5-6).
Mother, if every time you looked at your husband you saw dissatisfaction and disappointment, if he sighed with defeat over what a lousy wife you are, would you feel inspired to make improvements? Absolutely not! You would withdraw. If your are spunky in spirit, you might fight back and give him further reason for rejection, but if your are broken in spirit you would quietly withdraw. You would then seek friendship and approval elsewhere.
Your children will begin to develop positive character only in an atmosphere of forgiveness and acceptance. The first step to recovery and the ground on which it continues is the parent’s smile. In our book, To Train Up A Child, we have a chapter called “Tying Strings.” Parent, you need to tie strings of fellowship through your smiles, strings of trust through a display of trust, strings of respect through mutual respect, strings of kindness, grace, and forgiveness. You can not disapprove your children into heart compliance, but you can example them in, smile them in, care them in, patience them in, and woo them in with a heart that exemplifies Christ-like character.
If “the joy of the Lord is our strength” surely the joy of the parents is the strength of a child. If fellowship with God provokes His children to holiness, what will be the result of a child’s fellowship with his parents? The best training is done under the supervision of a smile. There is a time for discipline, rebuke, spanking, and even controlled anger, but such should be temporary signposts on a path of communion that you walk with your children. If they see your delight and appreciation, they will have the courage to try to maintain that sweetness.
Parent, relax. Lay back. Slow down. Enjoy the trip. If you can’t train your children to meet your high standards, lower the standards until they can reach them. We are not talking about the law of God. We are talking about muddy feet, carrying out the garbage, picking up dirty clothes, doing school work, etc.. Put the bar low enough so that with the effort they are willing to give, they can clear the hurtle and finish each day a winner. Raise the bar a little at a time so they can improve, but will always be a winner. If you set the standard, not beyond their abilities, but beyond their willing efforts, you will cause them to cease trying. They will be like the kid in public school who is already behind two years. He cares so much, to keep from being further hurt, he pretends not to care at all. He is just killing time until he gets old enough to quit.
Find a place to confess your sins, and then go smile at your children.