For years I have heard over and over again about trusting your gut. My first advisor of the gut theory was a successful magazine publisher. On the train back from a sales trip, he regaled me with business stories from his youth. He counseled; that when I had a tough decision to make, I should trust my gut.
After my daughter was born, I got lots of advice about natural instincts and trusting my gut when parenting. I started believing it myself. I had a couple of times when I disagreed with my pediatrician. The good girl in me followed his advice, only to find out my “gut” was a better doctor.
As the years have passed though, I have noticed something. The “trust your gut” saying has become so common that it is becoming an excuse for poor parenting decisions. Suddenly Johnny isn’t disciplined, because it just “felt right” to let him run wild. Children aren’t fed healthy meals because “my gut” just told me they would eat what they needed.
Suddenly the light dawned. Some of us were not actually parenting from our gut, but as a reaction to how our parents raised us. In life, there are no perfect people and no perfect parents. No matter how great our parents were, they probably made a few mistakes while raising us. Some of you had horrid parents who made nothing but bad parenting decisions. There is absolutely nothing wrong with analyzing how we were parented and making our own parenting decisions in an effort to correct those mistakes.
The problem is, most of us leave the analysis and God out of the equation. Our parenting “gut” is actually a knee-jerk reaction to the things we haven’t let go of from our childhood. If we had a sweet tooth and our parents only let us have dessert on weekends, our children are going to have desserts every meal and lots of them. Wanted to watch cartoons on Sunday instead of going to church? Our kids will feast on Sunday cartoons and never be “forced” to darken the doors of a church.
Psychologists will tell you that these knee-jerk reactions tend to be the polar opposite of what our parents did. Unfortunately, the polar opposite is often just as bad or worse than what we experienced. While the consequences may be different for a child who is over-disciplined and one who is under-disciplined, neither is healthy for the child. In reality, most of us need to merely tweak some of the things our parents did to “improve” how they raised us. (This allows us to make our own new mistakes our children can correct!)
So how do we know if that instinct to parent in a new way is really our “gut” that we should trust or an angry response to others? I believe there are practical things we can do to help us make sure our “gut” is godly and accurate and not just a three year old pitching a tantrum for some ice cream.
1. Parent proactively. I believe one of the best parenting decisions my husband and I made was to take a parenting class while I was pregnant. We walked into parenting with a game plan we both agreed on to use with our child. Have we changed some things or encountered things we didn’t anticipate? Absolutely. Those decisions have been so much easier though because we had made some basic decisions ahead of time. It is much easier to discipline a child from the beginning than to try and discipline a teen who has never been corrected. If you haven’t read books on parenting or taken training classes, get some recommendations from people who have great kids. They probably have an author or a method they refer back to from time to time. Or just pick one and discuss with your spouse how you feel about the various aspects. In time, you will develop your own plan. If you already have children, it is not too late to start having a plan. It may mean un-doing and re-doing some things, but that may be what is best for your child.
2. Consult God. People always underestimate the amount of guidance God gives on parenting. Read Proverbs. Check out the stories of all of the good and bad parents in the Bible. What did they do well? What mistakes did they make? What would God have wanted them to do differently? Pray about what you read and what you think He is trying to teach you about parenting from the scriptures. Ask Him for His guidance as you make parenting decisions. The Bible tells us Christians have the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit. I believe a strong argument can be made from the scriptures that “our gut”, may actually be the Holy Spirit trying to give us guidance.
3. You and your spouse need to really analyze your childhoods with each other. What did you like about what your parents did? What did you not like? What do you now realize made you angry, but really was in your best interest? You may be surprised at how different your childhoods were. Even families that seem very alike on the surface can raise children very differently. Many arguments in marriages occur because “everyone does it this way”. You may not realize until many fights later that each of you had expectations for how your child would be raised that are very different from each other. Neither or both may be wrong, but you need to get on the same page.
4. Take your time. There are only a few things that happen while raising a child that require an immediate response. Most issues that arise give you at least a few minutes, hours or days to reflect on the problem and decide on a solution. There is no need to think everything to death, but allowing a child to stew in her room for thirty minutes while you decide on an appropriate consequence is just fine. Use your time wisely to pray, check the scriptures and discuss things with your spouse. I have even known a parent or two who called their own parents to find out what they did in similar situations.
5. Find a church home. It is so important to have a church family to support you in your parenting efforts. Look for one who searches the scriptures for answers. A church who looks to God and not men for answers. These are the people who can help you grow as a parent and as a Christian. They are the infamous “village” in which you want to raise your child.
The next time your “gut” is telling you how to parent, take a deep breath. Run through the steps above and make sure it is your “gut” protecting your child rather than the angry child in you sticking your tongue out at your parents. Forgiving your parents may just be part of the process to becoming a better parent for your own child. In the meantime, at least be aware of what type of parenting decisions you are making. They may have consequences that go past today for you and your child.