Parenting is hard. Let’s just call a spade a spade and declare the truth of the matter… parenting. is. hard.
Even if there was one right way to do things, parenting would be difficult. But factor in that each child comes with their own individual personalities, handcrafted by God to fulfill His purpose for their lives, and suddenly it’s a guessing game of who can mess up their kids the least in the journey from infancy to adulthood.
My husband and I have been blessed with a highly sensitive child, a term I only just discovered this past January when an uber resourceful book was suggested to me (The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine M. Aron). We had been experiencing some unique challenges in raising our daughter, and this book brought to light why and how we might approach these challenges differently. We always knew our girl was special, different from a lot of kids her age (albeit not better, please don’t read it that way). She shows an exceptional amount of kindness, grace, and generosity when playing. She can’t comprehend arguing or not sharing, the way many kids learn to assert themselves as they grow. She has extraordinary compassion. She’s gentle, and peaceful, and loving beyond words. She notices the most minute details, she asks deep, thought provoking questions, and she seems to understand life far beyond her years.
She’s a light in the Kingdom of God and she’s on her way to changing the world, as a result.
But- and there’s always a but- she’s deeply impacted by words and actions that don’t align with what she’s come to understand as “normal.” We’ve never had to punish her with anything more than a quick time out, and even the idea of going to time out is enough to bring tears to her eyes. In fact, one look that says, “you’re not making a good decision right now,” will bring her into focus. This might sound like I’m bragging some more, but understanding the depth of her feeling is the point. Because now, we’re dealing with more complicated feelings than anger or frustration. Now, we’re having to work through embarrassment that will bring her to her knees. Overstimulation that causes epic meltdowns. Stress and anxiety manifesting itself in the form of stomach aches, many of which have gotten her sent home from school early. Shame, and guilt, and remorse…feelings most of us don’t have to contend with until were much, much older.
Lately, we’ve been discussing “standing up for herself”, an idea that causes great anxiety and fear. She’d much rather feel sad about being belittled, passed over, or rejected than cause any sort of conflict by demanding respect. She’s much more Jesus than I am. But the other day, when we were coming home from a conference in which she’d spent hours with children she doesn’t usually play with and doesn’t really know, she confessed that there was a little boy who not only called her (and her friend) names, but also grabbed her, while she was playing, in a way that frightened and humiliated her; instead of asking an adult for help or telling the boy to leave her alone, she internalized those feelings and burst into tears on the way home. And when I suggested what she might have done in that instance, instead of spending the next couple of hours slinking around avoiding him, she cried harder.
“I don’t know how to stand up for myself.”
“It’s too hard to tell someone no.”
“I’m too afraid to tell someone to stop.”
Heartbreaking sentences now. Red flag sentences for later. How could I, a highly sensitive person myself, someone who’s struggled with confidence and self-esteem most of my life, help my daughter understand what she is worth, how valuable she is, and how important her life and her boundaries are? How could I teach her to be brave enough to assert herself when it truly matters without taking away any of her pure Jesus-ness or jading her innocent thought process? How could I get her to be bold and brave without impressing my own experiences and pain onto her?
I laid in bed praying, that night, like I’d been praying for months: Lord, give me the wisdom to know how to parent this precious girl. Give me discernment, to know when to push her further from her comfort zone and when to let up and hold her and protect her heart. Lord, fill her with the knowledge of who she is because of who you are.
And as I recited this familiar prayer, with fresh tears in my eyes and a heart burdened with the knowledge that she’s too good for this world, I heard “armor of God.” It was a thought, a whisper, an answer. I ran through Ephesians 6 from memory, and silently celebrated this newfound angle; have Raegan put on the Armor of God every single morning! When I shared this enlightenment with my husband, he was as encouraging as I knew he would be, and the next morning we introduced the idea to our girl.
She loves it.
I’ve taken the liberty of paraphrasing and personalizing the scripture, and now this is what we read each morning while she puts on each invisible, individual piece of protection:
Stand your ground and stand up for yourself by putting on the belt of truth- that you are God’s masterpiece- and the body armor of God’s protection. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from knowing you are amazing and you are loved. Hold up the shield of faith that keeps mean words from hitting you, because you are perfect in His sight. Put on the helmet of salvation which protects your mind and ears from listening to anything or anyone who is unkind. And use the sword of the Spirit to cut through hurtful words and feelings so that you don’t have to listen to them! (Ephesians 6:13-17)
The moral of this story is… parenting is hard, so let God help. Don’t try to do it alone. When we align ourselves with God’s way and God’s truth, we can pass the burden onto His shoulders. Because we are weak and He is strong and able to carry it. He’s already given us the answers we need, now it’s up to us to listen for His guidance, and humble ourselves to His direction.
Until Raegan grows up and understands that His power is within her, she can rest in the knowledge that His power also surrounds her. Amen!
What creative ways have you solved some of your children’s unique challenges?