Teachable Moments: Taking the Fear and Stress Out of Parenting Challenges

“The stress of facing a crisis with my children is definitely my favorite part of parenting!” …said no parent ever!

Yet, have you ever noticed how we seem to learn the most during the hard times? One of the greatest lessons I have learned about parenting is not to fear the challenges our children face, but to be grateful for them because they become teachable moments we might not have otherwise.

When our children were much younger, Jeff and I found ourselves in what felt like a crisis situation with our neighbors. Every time we went outside to play in our backyard, their very friendly (but also very large) labradoodle would run over barking, jump up on our one year old, and push him to the ground. Their daughters would knock on the door to see if our girls could play, then hide in the bushes and throw things at them when they came outside. They called our girls words they had never heard before. They even stole our snowman out of our front yard… with Jeff watching!

I can tell you honestly, I was not thanking God for that “opportunity.” I was figuring out how we could move! 

But those encounters led to some really important conversations about how our faith determines our actions instead of our feelings and how what we see on the outside is often a reflection of something deeper going on beneath the surface. We talked about being kind and setting healthy boundaries— not something I planned to address with a four year old, but there we were!

Our neighbors obviously had some personal struggles going on; however, we didn’t know the extent until a few years later. Once those issues were addressed, their family dynamics became much healthier. We ran into them at the pool one day and my girls were surprised because they were actually kind! 

Learning the truth and seeing how their girls had changed became another teachable moment. It enabled us to talk about forgiveness, grace, and second chances. These are gospel conversations they might not have understood without experiencing it themselves.

And that is something to be grateful for!

“These are gospel conversations they might not have understood without experiencing it themselves. That is something to be grateful for!”

When your daughter is dealing with friend drama, you can call the other moms or seize the opportunity to talk with your girl about what real friendship looks like (and doesn’t look like), as well as what kind of person she wants to be, both now and when she grows up.

When your son and his friends make a dumb choice and get into some trouble, you can yell at him or cover for him, or you can take the opportunity to talk about peer pressure, consequences, listening to the Holy Spirit, and the power of influence. 

When your child has a personality struggle with a boss or teacher, you can rescue them or teach them how to adjust their actions to align with different leadership styles. This will serve them well in life as they find themselves under different authority figures, some of whom they likely will not completely agree with.

Now, don’t get me wrong. When we catch our kids searching for something inappropriate on-line or caught up in some sort of crazy friend drama, you will not find Jeff and I skipping in circles, singing Oh Happy Day! No, we are as disappointed and frustrated as everyone else. But the advantage of having four kids is we’ve learned that most of these struggles are a normal part of growing up. They are not an exception; they should be expected. 

The important thing is how we handle them.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

Paul David Tripp mentions this idea throughout his book, Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family. He puts beautiful words to what my heart has learned over the years:

Be thankful for these little moments. Don’t look at them as the bad moments of parenting, as hassles and interruptions; these are the good moments of parenting. These are moments of grace… Parents, if your eyes ever see or your ears ever hear the sin and weakness of your children, it’s never an accident, it’s never a hassle, it’s never an interruption; it’s always grace. God loves your children and because He does, he has placed them in a family of faith so that you can be his tool of convicting, forgiving, and transforming grace. You are faced with the resistance of your children because God is a God of amazing grace. His grace has the power to turn very bad moments into very good moments. Isn’t this what the cross of Jesus Christ is about?

—Paul David Tripp

God is a Master at taking bad situations and transforming them into something good. King David’s indiscretions led to a conversation with the prophet, Nathan, which transformed David into a man after God’s own heart. Peter’s betrayal of Jesus led to a conversation of repentance and restoration which transformed not only Peter, but countless others as well. And God transformed Jesus’s death on the cross, arguably the worst thing that has ever happened, into the best thing that ever happened to us! 

We do not need to fear or stress over the difficult situations we face as parents. God can transform each one of them into something good! When Jeff and I find ourselves faced with yet another parenting challenge, we remind ourselves (or more often, he reminds me!) to take a breath and view it as a “moment of grace.” I am grateful our children are learning these lessons at home and that we’ve been given the opportunity to walk through it with them. That will not always be the case, I know. 

So, for now, we will be grateful and embrace these challenging moments as teachable opportunities.

This is grace.

An Unexpected Fan

I take it back.

All those bad things I have said from the first second I heard about “fidget spinners,” I take them all back.

Well, okay, not all of them. In fact, not even most of them. I still think they are horribly distracting and have no place in a classroom or group setting, and accomplish exactly the opposite of what they were created to do. So there’s that.

However

I also must give credit where it is due, and recently my child had his life dramatically changed for the better by none other than- you guessed it- a fidget spinner. But probably not in the way you think.

You see, I made a horrible mom mistake. I ALWAYS check out movies before we watch them. I am that crazy, over-protective mom who believes we need to be extra careful what our kids are watching, particularly when they are young, and so we almost never watch a movie unless Jeff or I have seen it. At the very least, I do a thorough search on commonsensemedia.org to make sure it is age (and values)-appropriate for our family.

But last week, in the midst of about a thousand other things we had going on, our older son’s 3rd grade class decided to go see a movie as an end of the year celebration. It was the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie, and while I wasn’t thrilled with the choice, my daughter had seen the first movie and assured me it would be fine for the boys. Two very dear, respected friends have sons in the same class and we all decided to join in (without any of us checking reviews, btw. That NEVER happens!!).

I stayed and watched the movie with the group, and while I don’t intend to do a movie review here, some knowledge of the movie is imperative to this story. To be fair, there were actually several parts that made me laugh, as they were portraying the crazy, unplanned things that inevitably happen anytime a family attempts to bond via a family road trip. (And it really wasn’t a bad movie; it just turned out to not be so great for my kid). But scattered throughout the movie, as I should have expected, were multiple episodes of gross “boy humor” involving every type of bodily function imaginable. While the bathroom scenes were pretty disgusting, the worst part was definitely when the older brother climbs aboard the spinning ride at the county fair after eating several helpings of “fried butter on a stick.” You can imagine what happened next… only the movie didn’t leave it to our imaginations. Let’s just say it was a very descriptive vomit scene and leave it at that. (Coincidentally, I rode that same ride in images.jpeghigh school at our local fair in an attempt to impress some boy, and I hurled as soon as I got off. I don’t even remember who the boy was, but I am pretty certain he was not impressed.) Anyway, the whole thing was gross enough that neither of my boys really liked the movie at all. Just call me mother of the year…

Fast forward a couple hours, and our youngest son started complaining that his tummy hurt and that he couldn’t stop thinking about the movie. He actually made himself sick several times in a row right before bedtime because the images kept replaying in his head! He was fine once he went to sleep, but the next afternoon at a birthday party he asked to go home, again complaining of a tummy ache, but when we left the party he cried and said he just couldn’t stop thinking about that movie. Poor boy! (It just goes to show how powerful our thought life can be and how important it is for us to guard our minds; but that is a blog post for another day.)

I did everything I could to calm him down. We sang silly songs, I told him a story, we talked about the party, but he remained completely distraught. I realized then that this had the potential to turn into an anxiety-inducing trigger, and so we prayed together that God would remove those images from his mind and replace them with good, happy, peaceful thoughts (Philippians 4:6-8). That seemed to calm him down, and he decided to return to the party. Within a few minutes, though, he was back at my side, near tears, visibly distraught, which is so unlike him. I let him watch a video on my phone (which I NEVER do) just to try to distract his mind, and even that was only sporadically successful. Then, as I desperately began to pray that God would show me how to help my son, the birthday boy’s mom started handing out the party favors to all the kids.

It was a fidget spinner.

My first thought as I groaned inwardly was, “Seriously?? You’re giving my kid a fidget spinner??” (Sorry, Steph!!)

But y’all.

One look at my boy, and I knew.

God had answered my prayer through a fidget spinner.

He quickly tore it out of the packaging, ran off with his friends, and came back only to show me his new tricks he was learning. He didn’t bring up the movie again for the rest of the night. With each spin of the gadget, his fear began to flee and joy filled its place, and I was so grateful! He has mentioned the movie maybe twice since then (again, a blog post for another time), but overcoming it that night with the fidget spinner has given him the power to master his thoughts now when they do return.

And so, with my deepest apologies to my wonderful teacher friends (because I know these blasted things must make trying to teach in an already over-stimulating environment absolutely impossible!), I make my confession to the world:

I am now a fan of the fidget spinner.

And a firm believer that God often answers prayer in mysterious ways.