Kaydee Kent is one of the most amazing humans I’ve ever met. She loves with her whole heart; and, her passion for kids, for parenting, and for Jesus is so evident in how she lives her life. I am so excited to share this article with you, with its genius parallels to how Jesus lived and how we parent our kids, but written in a way that is understandable and totally convicts my own heart. I respect her as a professional and love her as my friend. Let her words pierce your heart and allow Holy Spirit to convict your heart like He did mine. Her article is both challenging and heartfelt for me as a mom. I invite you to her passion; she invites you into her world. Thank you so much, Kaydee for your wisdom and for sharing it with us.
by Kaydee Kent
Do your interactions with your child look like Christ? To be honest I’d not really thought of parenting in this way until recently. Of course, I strive to be like Christ, but as far as parenting I looked for strategies that “work.” But, Jesus wants every part of our life to reflect him, and that definitely includes parenting.
Now, I have a lot of reasons why all people should parent peacefully. I believe it creates more harmony in your household when parents and children trust each other and are a team. I believe that children more willingly cooperate (which is different than blind obedience) when they trust the parent and feel unconditionally loved by them. I believe that parenting this way helps our children develop in a healthy way, which includes developing empathy, creativity, critical thinking skills, etc.
But for now I will focus on Jesus-followers, and why I think parenting peacefully is the Jesus way.
First, let me explain what I mean by “peaceful parenting.” I mean being a benevolent leader. Letting your child know through your actions and not only your intentions, that you unconditionally love them. There are moments when it may not seem so “peaceful”, because children will still cry and scream. In fact, I argue that these expressions of emotions are important. Peaceful parenting is not always letting the child have his way, but it includes everyone’s needs being considered and met as much as possible. It is not sheltering your child from hurts in life, or never saying “no”. But in these moments your child can and should still feel like you are on their side and have their best interest at heart. Sure, your child will still tell you that you are mean and awful; they are immature and still working on expressing their emotions. At its’ heart, peaceful parenting is embracing your child for who they are, and encouraging them to be themselves (and loving them through this). It is giving up trying to control their behavior, and focusing on the inner self and the bigger picture.
Jesus cared about people. Every single person. He treated everyone with respect and dignity, and I believe we should do the same. Kids are people. They deserve just as much respect as any other human. In fact, Jesus seemed to have a very special place in his heart for kids. Look at Mark 10:13-16. Jesus told the disciples not to stop the children and to “let them come to me”. He said that “people who are like these little children belong to the Kingdom of God”, and then he “took the children in his arms and blessed them by placing his hands on them”. Most people would agree with these statements, but when you look at how children are often treated and disciplined, there is a big lack of respect. We speak down to them. We threaten them. We don’t trust their instincts. We try to control them. We treat them in ways we would never dream of treating an adult. (Or maybe you would dream about it, but it is clearly not right to, for example, throw away your husband’s concert tickets because he didn’t take out the garbage.)
God is love, and love was always the message of Jesus. So as parents shouldn’t we always lead with love? It just doesn’t make sense to do certain things to a child “in the name of love”. We don’t hit our spouse, but say it’s only because we love them. Think about what love looks like, and that’s essentially what parenting should look like. Love is patient. Love is kind.
Something I reflect on regularly is how my interactions with my kids model God’s love. Think of “time outs”, a conventional discipline technique where a child is placed in isolation, usually away from the parent, when they misbehave. If we tell the child we love them, but we remove our presence when their behavior is not what we expect; or, we take away things we’ve promised to them because their behavior is wrong. Or, we yell at them when they act out; all of these things teach them what “love” is. And ultimately, it shapes their image of God’s love for them. So then, will they grow up expecting God to abandon them when they make a wrong choice? Will they expect God’s love to be conditional? When children are at their worst, it’s usually when they need us the most. Think of a time when your behavior was less than perfect. The last time you lost it on your kids or your spouse. Did it help for someone to yell back, or tell you how mean that was? Most likely you already knew this. You probably needed a hug, or at least some indication that the person you just lost it on still loves you. Last time I yelled, like full out tantrum yelled, at my 4 year old she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I love you even when you’re mad”. Talk about making me want to change the way I was treating her! Most of us don’t need reminders of our bad traits, but some grace instead.
How we love our children will shape how they view love for the rest of their life. And our relationship with them will be a template for future relationships. I do not want my kids to be in an intimate relationship as an adult and think it’s acceptable for the person they love to yell at them, or treat them disrespectfully. I want them to go into all relationships expecting mutual respect.
How we love them will also impact how they love and accept themselves. If the person they look up to and depend on is frequently shaming them, pointing out their flaws and focusing on their behaviors… won’t they learn to do the same with themselves? We become their inner voice, and we should want their inner voice to be a positive one. Us humans are really great at shaming ourselves, and usually don’t need others to help us with this. Instead we need someone to teach us grace and mercy.
It goes beyond your child. I would argue that parenting in a new way can change the future of our world. Think about social justice issues. One of my main parenting goals is that my children will grow up treating all people with respect and dignity, and viewing all people as equals. To do this, they must first feel respected and loved when at their worst and most vulnerable.
It’s not a matter of being authoritarian versus permissive. If authoritarian is black and permissive is white, many people try to find some shade of grey that works for them. But what if there’s a whole other way? Maybe the answer is orange. Maybe parenting doesn’t have to be some degree of control versus permissiveness, but something completely different.
So, what’s a parent to do? It doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t have to read all the parenting books and become an expert (in fact, I’d advise against it). It’s about following your gut and leading by instinct. It’s about being intentional, and taking time to think about what your philosophy, mission and values are as a parent, then regularly reflecting to evaluate if your daily interactions are lining up with those. It’s about studying Jesus, and reflecting if the way you’re treating your children looks like Him.
To love like this, we must first believe… like really, deep down know in our guts that God loves us unconditionally. God loves us with patience and gentleness always, especially when we least deserve it. What motivates you to be more like Jesus? Is it the idea that you will be punished for doing wrong? Or that you will be rewarded for your good deeds? These things can certainly scare people into action, but are never long lasting. This is behavior modification, and is missing the point. It leaves people empty and disconnected from God. But knowing that God loves you unconditionally, believing that you are free, feeling connected to your creator… this is a love that is transformational! The God I love and follow spares me of the punishment I rightfully deserve. And this makes me love him even deeper, and makes me want to please him. What if we could be (a less perfect version of) this love to our kids?
Parenting has been the best (and most difficult) inward journey for me. It starts with changing yourself. Love yourself so you can respond appropriately to your kids’ needs, not react to their behavior. When I am in a bad place emotionally and/or spiritually, I react very differently from what I believe is best. When I’ve allowed myself to be transformed by God, spending time growing closer to Him – then I am more instinctively and naturally the parent I know I was meant to be.
Disclaimer: All this said, I never want to pretend like it’s reality for us to treat our kids perfectly all the time. We are human too, and that means we make mistakes. So our mistakes become an opportunity to model forgiveness and grace. And there’s no sense in spending time feeling guilty over ways we’ve mistreated our kids in the past. We can make changes and we can try our best. Our children will appreciate knowing we are human, too; and even we make mistakes. If we hope our kids will demonstrate grace and forgiveness, we must first show these towards ourselves.