If you asked me what my most difficult parenting struggle is right now I would tell you it's the heartbreak I feel when my children constantly fight with each other. Sure, sibling squabbles are normal, but sometimes it's the utter disrespect and unkindness toward one another that continues to shock me. They don't treat their friends this way. They don't mistreat anyone else the way they mistreat their own flesh and blood. And it makes me sad.
I've been thinking a lot lately about parenting with the goal of behavior modification (acting a certain way to appease), verses true heart change (allowing God to transform a piece of your heart and feel a change from within). I can tell my kids a thousand times to stop fighting. I can yell, and discipline, and give punishments, and hand out guilt trips. I can even cry actual tears in front of them to show them how serious I am about this issue (true story). But those approaches are just temporary bandaids. And honestly, they're often emotional reactions on my part rather than well thought out disciplinary strategies. Sure, the kids will be sorry that they got punished and decide to get along with each other for a day or two. But once the sting of discipline wears off, it's back to business as usual. Until they learn to love and respect each other from the heart, I'm not sure I'm going to see much long term change in their behavior.
This is true with many sin struggles don't you think? But thankfully, the Bible talks about how God can remove our hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh.
Ezekial 36:26 says, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh."
That is great news, mamas. Because deep down I know that God is the only one who can truly cleanse the hearts of my children (or me, or any sinner!). And I love the imagery of God performing an actual heart transplant. The stone cold parts get replaced with loving flesh, and warm blood is pumped in. It's the transformative work of Christ that I can rely on, not my super consistent discipline or even my super consistent prayer life for my kids.
I don't want to parent with a goal of making my children behave a certain way in front of me, only to find that it's all just an act to appease me. I want to focus on true heart change. And I want to trust that God, the inventor and sustainer of love, can certainly instill a genuine fondness and harmony between a young brother and sister. Or might I add -- between a husband and wife, or mother and daughter, or friend and ex-friend.
I recently sat my kids down and in the most heartfelt words I could muster, I reminded them that they are a gift to each other. Hand-picked to be brother and sister by the Creator of the universe. In all his divine wisdom, He knew that they needed each other in this world. He knit together their shared DNA and it's never to be replicated by any other human being. They are the only two children in the entire world who share their specific Mommy and Daddy.
They listened very intently. Then they looked at each other with wide eyes.... and proceeded to giggle and tickle each other relentlessly.
Hey, I'll take it.