I am reminded daily of the interconnected nature of my parenting and my theology. Last week, I was at my wits end trying to figure out how to discipline my younger son, who is not normally the challenging child in our family. He was having a hard week, acting out angrily and then throwing out emotionally charged language at me when disciplined – “I hate you.” “You don’t want to be my mommy.” “You don’t love me.” And even more disturbing – “I don’t like myself.” “I don’t want to be in this world.”
What in the world?! Where was he getting that stuff? The acting out was escalating, along with the emotional verbal aftermath. I brought this burden with me into our mom’s group Bible study last week. As we shared our burdens for our children, one mom told how she had been intentionally affirming and hugging her problem child multiple times a day and the difference that was making in her child’s attitude. I thought, could it really be that simple?! But I felt burdened afterwards that I should do the same with my son.
I knew that giving him extra hugs and affirmation at random times of the day wouldn’t change how I handled his outbursts. I wasn’t going to hug and affirm him if he hit his brother. But I was hoping that if I hugged him and affirmed him when he was behaving, then when the time came to discipline him when he sinned, he would receive it from me without going into his You-hate-me-and-I-hate-myself routine.
I have been giving him random hugs and affirmation—when I first see him in the morning, when I send him to school, when I pick him up from school, and when we are getting ready for bed. And something unexpected has happened. Hugs didn’t help when it came time to deal with serious behavior issues. Instead, the serious behavior issues simply DISAPPEARED. Though he hasn’t been a perfect kid, and we’ve had some issues through which to work, I can’t remember him hurting his brother or needing an extended time out ALL WEEK. Perhaps all that will change this afternoon, but for the week I’ve been trying this, I have had NO major discipline issues with him.
I’m still stunned at the simplicity of this fix. And I’m not naïve about the probability of similar issues in the future. But today, I am contemplating how affective hugs and affirmation have been at changing his behavior. THANK YOU, Mom friend at Bible study, for giving me a tangible way to parent my child the way God parents His.
And this IS how God parents us. It was a major observation I made when writing the Ephesians Bible study. Paul starts off Ephesians with a long, beautiful discourse on God’s lavish grace and unconditional love poured out on us before time began. He prays we would know the hope that comes with all God has declared over us in affirmation. And it’s only after that he discusses our sin and depravity. God’s affirmation of us gives us the safe place we need to face our sin and need head on. Throughout Ephesians, this truth is reinforced.
I don’t know why my son had such insecurities and needed my affirmation so much. But he did. And I do too. As I hug and affirm my son, I’m reminded of the beautiful things God has said over me, and I have confidence to face my sin and need head on, for nothing can separate me from the love of my Father in heaven.
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.