It was a strange moment when I realized my husband, who had been faithfully standing at the bottom of the tree, disappeared. One moment he was talking to what appeared to be branches and leaves (really it contained one five-year-old boy who considered himself to be a budding Sir Edmund Hillary) and the next, he was gone. I knew he wouldn’t have just walked away from what I call “safety net duty” as Sam shimmied up the branches but could he have possibly climbed the tree when I wasn’t looking? Can you do that as an adult without injuring any number of critical body parts? My knees ached just thinking about it.
I ran to the base of the tree and saw Sam near the very highest branch. My husband, not far from him. I squinted my eyes to see if Sam was crying, frozen in fear. He’d never been that high before and from the looks of it, the branches were smaller and few and far between. While my face wore the expression that can only be described as “2 parts Freaked Out Mommy: 1 part First Responder,” both guys were smiling.
I was confused.
My husband said matter-of-factly: “Sam got stuck and said he needed help before he fell to the ground.” So up Jeff went. No hesitation, no reprimands, no grumbling.
What brought tears to my eyes was that Jeff’s presence up in the tree was not only calming (note: big smile on my son’s face even though he was worried about plummeting to his death) but it was also encouraging. He was able to give Sam the opportunity to climb down the tree with guidance. There was victory in that descent.
Jeff could’ve scolded Sam for going too high, not being safe, scaring us. But in my mind, he was the ultimate father in that moment. Sam came out of that tree—whether he knew it or not—feeling safe, confident, and assured that his dad would scale the highest tree on the planet to get his boy. He turned a potentially bad experience into a real loving moment.
A Lesson in Parenting Well
That was great parenting, I thought. I wanted to do that.
And I love the way God works. Whenever I get a recurring thought in my head, you know, the inkling that something needs to change or improve or grow or deepen, (hello Holy Spirit, is that you?), I am never disappointed when I open myself up to what God has in store for me. Little did I know God was working in me as I watched my guys that day. I started wondering how I could parent in a way that created more connection, more encouragement, less “now here’s what you should’ve done.” I wanted more high-fives once we hit the ground and less “go sit in time-out because I told you that was not okay.”
Rules, and Guidelines, and Correcting, Oh My!
I’d been living with this little inkling for some time: Am I too strict? Am I nagging? Why did I think every moment should be a learning moment? Do I really believe that if I don’t respond to each and every behavior, my kids will grow up to be selfish adults who won’t share their UNO cards? Poorly mannered anti-socialites who noogie their boss and co-workers? Sociopaths (gasp) with cavities!? Now as an Enneagram 1, believe me, I love a list of rules and guidelines. And with a gaggle of young kids, I had been making rules, giving guidance and correcting behavior because I felt like it was the only way through the day with so many kids. That’s what we do with little ones, right? Structure, guardrails, boundaries, check.
God Guides Us with Connection
But when does something become too much of a good thing? There hasn’t been a metaphorical tree I’ve climbed too high where God has yelled at me from the ground and shamed me for being so foolish. I may find myself in foolish situations but whenever I’m hanging onto that thin, wobbling branch, God is there. He’s the ultimate tree climber—and let’s be honest, I’ve hung onto quite a few wobbling branches in my day.
The Amplified Bible says this: “Do not provoke your children to anger [do not exasperate them to the point of resentment with demands that are trivial or unreasonable or humiliating or abusive; nor by showing favoritism or indifference to any of them], but bring them up [tenderly, with lovingkindness] in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
And right there, at the foot of the tree, I vowed to stop overcorrecting and really focus on bringing them up with less exasperation and more tender lovingkindness.
Making a Change
Instead of every moment being a tedious learning moment, I wanted to be intentional about our moments being loving ones. I wanted to lighten the emotional load and have some fun and I had an inkling that some of those loving moments could very well teach us all a little something.
Now don’t get me wrong—we still had plenty of opportunities for teaching and learning. I (more times than I cared to admit) had to lovingly rephrase statements like “I thought you were making dinner so why does it smell like vomit?” I had to bite my tongue at other times. I had to give time-outs for throwing toys. But I also had my kids work out some of their differences rather than jumping in the middle of their disagreements. I gave warnings for not listening to instructions but also tried to provide loving reminders that were not given out of frustration.
What I gained was more joy in parenting because I was no longer under so much pressure to be perfect (oof, that stings—am I right, Enneagram 1’s?). I can’t help but think that raising our children with “discipline and instruction of the Lord” often involves meeting our kids where they are and helping guide their victorious descents. Just like God does.
And whenever he saw that tree, Sam begged to climb it. He obviously had no lingering fears or bad memories from being stuck in those branches. I smile whenever I think of it—a perfect moment when I witnessed my husband being the kind of parent I long to be. And God teaching me that I can always—everyday—choose to become more like Him. If only I decide to look up.