Something I always tell my children: "It's not about you. It's about what you are doing and how that effects those around you." Of course, that is the lecture they hear when they are doing things wrong, when they are having a negative effect. You know, to help them see that they can't just behave like monkeys and do whatever they want. I have been beating my head against the wall the last few weeks trying to figure out why they aren't getting it. Today, I had an epiphany.
The statement is true. Even how I am delivering it to them, it is true. I haven't been mean or fierce or fuming. My voice is usually at least placid, at best loving. However, the context is wrong. The emphasis is misplaced. Trying to change their negative behavior by pointing out their negative behavior isn't fruitful. Something that started to pull this together for me was a quote from Elder Dieter F Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He said this:
"We don't discover humility by thinking less of ourselves.
We discover humility by thinking less about ourselves."
Suddenly, the lightbulb went on. How can I get them to think more of others, if I am consistently keeping the focus on them? How do I get them to be more thoughtful of others if they don't think very much of themselves. Ah-ha! I realized: It's not about me. It's about what I'm doing and how that is affecting others around me (i.e. my children).
My children do not need me to berate them every other minute. They do not need pointed lectures on how wrong their behavior is. What they need is more love. More Christ-like, unadulterated, untainted, pure, understanding love. They need my loving service. They need to learn, by my example, that love is a great influence. That love is kind. That love never faileth. That love is long-suffering and patient. Love is not easily provoked nor does it think evil. Love does not envy. Love rejoices in truth. Love beareth all things. Love hopes. Love endures forever.
I actually used to understand this concept. When my oldest was just two and would throw the most unbelievably awful tantrums--smashing his head into the walls, thrashing, biting, spitting, kicking, punching, screaming until he vomited--I had many people tell me I needed to have a firmer hand on him, that I needed to force him into stopping such behavior. My reply was always the same: "If I want my child to learn patience, I must be patient. If I want him to learn self-control, I must be in control of myself so he knows what that looks like. If I want my child to be kind, I must blanket him in kindness." Then somewhere along the way, I lost that thinking. I lost that reply.
My children started being diagnosed with things like Autism and ADHD and OCD and Anxiety Disorders and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. And then I brought a truly broken child into my home, 12 years old, 400+ pounds, his father dead, his mother a drug-addict with a traumatic brain injury who couldn't care for him; a boy so severally neglected he had hallucinations, a real imaginary friend; a boy so lost and afraid; a boy with no self-love. And somewhere I started on a quest to diminish the bad habits and retrain the brains. I picked up a sword and shield and began fighting for progression and maturity, determined they would all be model citizens, fully-functional adults. And I lost my vision. That glorious idea of raising children that loved themselves and others, children who know who they are, children who love God and man. I lost it in all the daily, moment-to-moment battles. I have become so determined to eliminate the bad habits that I have stopped seeing the good. And, I am ashamed, but will openly admit that somewhere amongst all the fighting, I started to resent it all. I started thinking things like: "What about me?" "I'm so tired." "I need a break." "Why can't they get it all ready?" "They are so stubborn and prideful." "I'm doing everything in my power to teach them and they refuse to learn." "What consequence can I administer that will really drive this home?" I even started thinking that my kindness was playing into their entitlement issues. Seriously, seriously, wrong.
Then I read another quote that really helped drive it home for me. This is by Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
"Parents are never failures when they do their best
to love, teach, pray and care for their children."
Notice first on the list is doing their best to love. How thankful I am on this day for this epiphany. To discover where I've gotten sidetracked and to be called back to the path that leads to true happiness, the path that will take my children to real joy.
It's not about them. It's not about their bad behavior and all the correcting they need. It's about what I'm doing and how it affects them.
"Charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever...
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his son, Jesus Christ."
The Book of Mormon, Moroni 7:47-48