It’s true that we are the most influential people in our children’s lives. It’s also true that we tend to treat strangers with more kindness than our own families because it’s impossible to keep our “nice” masks on for long at home. These two facts lead to a third truth: Our children’s perceptions of God are shaped by our behavior toward them.
There was a guy in my recovery group who used to talk about how his parents couldn’t accept his emotions. If he allowed his anger, sadness, or disappointment to show on his face he was sent to his room. He was banished until he could come out with a smile. Fifty years later he was still struggling to accept his own emotions because he’d been taught that anger and sadness were bad. He believed God couldn’t love him unless he was “happy”.
I don’t want my children to believe God will only love them when they’re “happy”. I want them to understand that even Jesus wept. For this to happen, however, I need to model that behavior.
Here is the second of five ways I try to model Christ for my children. With a little tweaking to fit your particular set of circumstances, I believe these steps can benefit your family as well!
2. Accept their emotions
This is a tough one for me. My oldest daughter sometimes hurts herself through clumsy and unintentional ways and ends up crying in pain. I hate these moments. I hate them so much that I almost can’t bear to be with my daughter in her pain. A part of me wants to send her to her room. Or tell her to be stronger. Or tell her to stop her crying because it’s just a scratch. I hate how powerless I am to stop my daughter’s pain, and my feelings of powerlessness come out as anger towards my daughter for getting hurt.
Could there possibly be a worse way to model God for my child? My angry reaction to her pain makes her feel shame and guilt for getting hurt in the first place. It’s ridiculous. When she’s hurt I need to hold her, comfort her, and accept her pain. But sometimes I can’t. That sense of powerlessness is too frightening. I’m tempted to punish my daughter for not being “happy”, even when she’s really hurting.
The danger is obvious:
- If I’m not careful she’ll grow up thinking it’s wrong to cry in public
- She won’t be vulnerable
- She may stuff her emotions to appear “happy”
- She may feel guilt and shame when she hurts because she’ll believe she’s not supposed to hurt
- She will grow up believing that God doesn’t want her pain
- She’ll believe she can only talk to God when she’s “happy”
- She may develop unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with her pain. Because I couldn’t just hug her when she hurt and accept her pain and my powerlessness in the moment
How often do you send their kids to their rooms when they are angry or sad?
If they pout, do they go on time-out?
Is it hard to accept your powerlessness to heal their pain and suffering?
How does this have the potential to impact the way your child sees God?