As a parent, I’m aware that my children do not yet understand how to keep their commitments to the extent I do so I show them how it works by keeping mine first even when they don’t. I do this both in the physical chores around the house AND in the spiritual chores. When they are disrespectful, I am not disrespectful back. When they yell at me, I do not yell back. When they are rude to me, I do not respond with rudeness. At least this is my credo that I strive for. I call this credo Paradoxical Parenting.
Survival Parenting is when I respond to my kids’ imbalanced behaviors with my own imbalanced behavior. It’s reacting. It is parenting with the core motivation to manage my kids so that they do what I want them to do for me and my needs. And this is usually unconscious. My inadvertent goal is for them to lighten my burden. The problem with relying on my kids so heavily, however unconsciously it is done, is that they aren’t able to lighten my burden as much as I need it lightened. And since I’m the mom, I’m in a position where ideally I’m supposed to lighten theirs.
In evaluating myself over the years I can see that I have both Paradoxical and Survival tendencies. My overall goal and commitment has been to incrementally increase my ability to Paradoxically Parent and decrease my weakness to slip into Survival Parenting.
I descend into Survival Parenting when I do not have someone I can depend on to lighten my burdens. Paradoxical Parenting takes a lot of strength. It is a leap of faith. I need to be willing to take the hits my kids give me with FAITH that my own Parent–the Savior–has my back. It may seem like my kids are winning and I am losing when I bow my head like this and take it, but paradoxically and with my own Parent’s support I am choosing a way that promotes winning in the end.
Listen: Losing by 10th Avenue North
Justice and Mercy
Here’s a clip that demonstrates Paradoxical Parenting from a book my sister, Melody, gave me a few years ago by Michael J. Bradley, Ed. D.
“Michael’s mom sat in my office sobbing, repeatedly attempting to reason with her raging and verbally vicious adolescent son. After watching his endless bullying and her tormented begging for too long, I sent him out of the room, turned to her and said, ‘Why are you talking to him like he makes sense?’ ‘What do you mean?’ she sobbed. I gave her the same shrugging ‘Duh’ gesture her son had just used a dozen times and I almost yelled, ‘He’s nuts! You can’t talk to crazy people like they make sense.’ Her eyes and mouth flew open, astonished at my insensitivity. Slowly her wrenching sobs transformed into chuckling, softly at first, then building to a crescendo of raucous laughter that rang off the walls. ‘Oh…How I needed to laugh like that! It feels wonderful. You’re right. Michael is nuts. And I’m nuts to sit here and talk with him like that.’
“Michael’s performance illustrates a lot about contemporary adolescents….My own performance illustrates much about us as responding adults….That cool, controlled psychologist was working hard to restrain an old rule-based urge to eviscerate Michael. This keeping-cool stuff is not as easy as it looks. Part of me wanted to make him cry really hard for daring to be disrespectful to both me and his terrified mother. I wanted badly to physically intimidate him, to jack him up against the wall and scream, ‘JUST WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?’ My alternate response came from years of retraining and experience focusing on unlearning my old rules (what I saw my father do) as much as learning new skills” (Michael J. Bradley, Ed. D., Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy!, pg. 3-4).
In Paradoxical Parenting, my responsibility is to respond as a cool, controlled parent when my kids’ behavior is imbalanced. But there is another element I need in order for the Paradox to work. I need to understand that the Savior is feeling the way Dr. Bradley was feeling when kids treat their mothers or fathers like dirt. I need to know someone desires to defend me. It is wrong to treat others like that no matter how old you are. Wrong. Bottom line. And people who do are crazy. Just knowing that Jesus Christ agrees with that is powerfully comforting!
I don’t want him to respond with full justice right now anyway. I hope he will teach my child about balanced behavior. And I admire him even more for giving my son or daughter time to get it all figured out. But that doesn’t mean he stands around and waits for changes to occur. It means that he is actively engaged in training that child how to behave. I have faith in that. If I don’t, I can’t Parent Paradoxically. And I’m here to help Him accomplish this goal. Full justice is not upon my kids but incremental increasing justice over time is (Alma 42:25).
Mercy = Justice / Time
The other thing that happens when I take hits from my kids without responding with Survival methods is that I can feel the Lord’s approval, confirmation, and admiration. My confidence increases.
I have found that confidence is like a muscle. In order to strengthen it, I have to lift weights. When I lift my kids’ weight of behavioral imbalance, I grow stronger. When I lift a physical weight during my workouts, I accept the pain. I let it happen to me. During the full range of motion of a bicep curl, my arm is indeed in pain. It hurts. But since I have all kinds of faith that in doing this my muscle is getting stronger, I accept it and am even glad for the pain (Matthew 5:11-12). I give a portion of my life up willingly (John 10:18).
Newton’s Third Law of Motion
Newton’s Third Law of Motion states, “When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to that of the first body.”
When my kids respond to me with Survival behavior, they are like a body that exerts a force upon me. Just as there is an equal and opposite force that reacts, I will have the natural urge to retaliate. When I stop myself from retaliating I contradict my natural desire for Survival. It doesn’t seem right in the moment. It creates a conflict inside of me. When I take the hardest hits part of me can’t even remember why I should respond in this Paradoxical way. It has taken training and time to make this voluntary paradoxical sacrifice my spiritual reflex.
Nature vs. Nurture
Paradoxical Parenting is not inherent. Again, it doesn’t come naturally. Most of us learn a combination of Paradoxical and Survival Parenting skills throughout our childhood. If my parents predominantly parented Paradoxically, I have a greater likelihood of having stronger Paradoxical skills.
In fact, the only way I could have obtained the natural strength to make this kind of sacrifice for my kids is if my parents had done the same for me when I was a child. If they did, I will remember both unconsciously and consciously. I will have a greater capacity and skill to take the hits my kids give me. It was done for me. Now it’s my turn to do it for them.
If my parents predominantly parented using Survival techniques, I would find myself lacking in Paradoxical skills. It wasn’t done for me, and so I don’t have the strength or even the understanding of how to do it for my kids. This isn’t an active choice of how I will respond to them. It is the way the pendulum swings (Alma 9:17). And it’s a kind of bondage.
Yet there is always a balance between nature and nurture. Maybe my parents did parent me paradoxically, but I still act like a turd-brain. When parents choose Paradoxical Parenting, they zero out themselves as a cause for their children’s imbalanced behaviors (Jacob 1:19). But if they choose Survival Parenting, it leaves their children without a choice. When they have children, they will parent using Survival techniques.
I do not assign causes for my present Survival tendencies so that I may justify my continued Survival behaviors. That’s toxic blame. If I did that, I would continue in my imbalances.
I seek to identify the causes of my problems to understand WHAT happened and WHY. If I don’t do this, I will descend into toxic shame–blaming myself for all my failures. And that gets me nowhere in resolving this conflict. My motivation for identifying the cause is to objectively evaluate the variables and recognize where my choices are now.
A quote that has had a profound impact on me is Victor Frankl’s: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” When I evaluate the interactions in my past and my present relationships, I can find that space. And because I have learned to turn to Christ in that space (when someone is unkind to me or hurts me in any way), I can stop myself from responding in retaliation. I have faith that he has my back. He will make it right somehow, some way. And I will become stronger for the sacrifices he wants me to make.
When I found that Paradoxical Parenting wasn’t predominantly in me, I turned to a New Parent – Jesus Christ. In a sense, I had to be born again (John 3). I had to be retrained, re-loved, and re-sacrificed for. I had to become a child again. My spiritual DNA had to be reorganized.
Because the Savior has spent so much of his time listening to me, empathizing with me, defending me, teaching me, being an example for me, and loving me, I have developed Paradoxical strength as an adult. I can take an increased level of the hits my kids (and others) give me without retaliation. I have learned how to control my response process and to be motivated to do it.
We Can Rebuild Her. We Have The Technology.
I used to watch The Bionic Man (the Six Million Dollar Man) and The Bionic Woman when I was younger. These television series made in the 70s were about two people who were injured beyond repair. They would have died had the scientists and doctors not replaced certain body parts with bionic parts. This theme is something like Captain America or even Star Wars. Their new legs enabled them to run super fast. They were both super strong. One of them could see extra-long distances, while the other had very sensitive hearing.
This story is a good metaphor for my own life story. I was seriously struggling with my parenting responsibilities and consequently my self-worth for many years. I didn’t have the skills and knowledge to succeed in parenting. When I turned to Jesus Christ, he rebuilt me. He had the technology. He has given me a gift, and I have used it. Because of these skills, I became a mother with strength enough to raise my kids Paradoxically.
See the article, Kid Report (will link up to this article soon), to learn more.
Now, after so many years I still get hurt sometimes. And even if I can control my outward response, I need to be repaired on the inside. So, I still go to the Lord regularly for rehab. Sometimes it takes us a little more time to unravel the tight knots in my heart and mind. But he ALWAYS does it no matter how tight the knots (2 Nephi 19:6).
Through the years of spiritual DNA reconstruction, I have learned much about the foundational structure of the human soul. The imbalanced tendencies toward Survival Parenting I inherited from my parents are incrementally being overcome through this relationship with Jesus Christ.
Listen: By Your Side by 10th Avenue North
Every single one of us has Survival tendencies to some degree. We’re all crazy! And we have been raised by parents who are crazy to some degree. That means we all need the Atonement of Jesus Christ to some degree.
Because He understands why I have used Survival Parenting in the past, he has taken my hits–the ones I give to him, my children, and others. He has given me time to figure it out. He has borne my burdens and has taken care of me. I literally am reborn. But he hasn’t stood around waiting for me to change. He has been actively training me. He expects me to increase my Paradoxical Parenting skills incrementally over time. With my “Nature vs. Nurture” choice that he has given me, I choose to continuously Parent Paradoxically.