When your parenting needs some work

Golden brown leaves carpet the back garden. The birds returned today, hundreds of them, flapping at leaf-less branches and pecking at the empty bird feeder. I don’t know what sent them down from the forest, but their song keeps me company while I sit writing in my pajamas. A few minutes later, a black crow swoops in and with his caw, he frightens some of the songbirds away.

I’ve discovered this unpleasant fact about myself. I am the crow. Having recovered from my stomach bug, I found myself snapping at the kids first thing in the morning. Swooping in and giving commands. Frightening the songbirds away. I wrote Monday about showing gentleness to ourselves, accepting things as they come, receiving grace. And by Tuesday morning, I’d forgotten all about it and sent the children off with a rebuke and a threat of punishment. Apparently, my spirit of gentleness needs some work.

I read a few books a while back, on parenting with grace. Can I tell you?  It doesn’t jive with my natural skill set. I’m a little more inclined to take the hard-line approach. My way or hell to pay. I already know what kind of child this produces, an outwardly compliant but inwardly contemptuous one. I don’t want to raise children with a heart of contempt, so every so often I take stock and I read a book and I try to soften, soften, soften my response. It lasts a few days or until one of the children makes the other one cry. My parenting is so in need of grace, and I wish I extended it as often as I receive it.

I haven’t worn gentleness the way I should. In a world of sarcasm, and f— you’s, and hard women, gentleness is a quality we rate about as highly as self-control. And we’ve seen what reality tv has done with that one–Jersey Shore or Real Housewives, anyone? But, I know gentleness is a fruit of the very Spirit I claim lives inside me. Too often, my inner crow gnaws away at the good fruit, leaving behind only a rotting core. I don’t know that reading another book will fix it. Only prayer and the conscious decision to let the fruit grow, let the songbirds sing, and resist the urge to let my inner Jersey girl out.

How do you cultivate a spirit of gentleness? Is it something you consciously think about or does it come naturally to you?


  • Kathleen Botsford

    When my children we quite small, I noticed the times I got irritated with them was when we were trying to get ready for one activity or another. You know, gymnastics and t-ball. that sort of thing. Or when I was trying to do a project or talk on the phone. When I realized that I had signed them up for these activities in a mindless state of keeping up with the Jones, I immediately canceled all activities. I stopped talking on the telephone to family and friends and I put my creative projects on the back burner for another day and time.

    We played at home in the yard and made crafts in the kitchen. We have many happy memories of catching frogs and chasing deer. We have tons of adorable childrens craft projects and an interview of me on TV answering the question of my art schooling with the answer “My children taught me”. I did worry that I may be ruining their chance of becoming olympic athletes but I held on to my heart mission of raising kind and loving human beings with kindness and love. My eldest daughter did blame me for not forcing her to do gymnastics when she did not make the high school cheer leading squad. But we will always have the consequences of our choices to deal with. I do not regret mine.

    Last year sometime, my son who is now 23 (and played on the Notre Dame football team WITHOUT scheduled practices and travel teams at young ages) said to me, “Mom, I don’t remember you ever yelling at me or getting mad at me” The girls and I do have some “moody” moments due to the many different variations of hormones and stresses running through our bodies but they are usually quite manageable when I take the time to center myself and remember I am the adult and the parent. My husband thinks I am too easy on them but he more than makes up for it so everything has it’s balance.

    When I see all the young mothers on the internet with fabulous and creative blogs and stunning photos of their children and their homes, it boggles my mind. Where do they have the time and the presence? I could never have managed that and I even have a hard time these days with my youngest a sophomore in college! I do know these years are very fleeting and I will have hours upon hours of free time begging for creative fulfillment in the very near future. Staying present in the present is always my challenge.

    As you come to find the balance that works for you and your family, be gentle with yourself. And most of all, try not to compare yourself and your parenting to others. Every family has it’s own rhythm. AND it is always open to fine tuning and changes as life changes. I get fussy when I have too many things on my plate but some people thrive on that. And some days things work nicely and some days are a struggle. It is the way of life.

    • KimberlyCoyle

      Kathleen, I love every word you offer here. It’s like breathing in fresh air. A lot of my frustration comes out of the mad rush to get where we’re going too. You’ve encouraged me to look closer at the rhythms of our family and focus on doing what’s right for us. Thank you for sharing your heart.

  • Kimberly,

    I have worked hard over the years to not respond to anything that is going on in the moment. I try to let some time pass or walk away or keep the comments to a minimum until I am in better control. We have to work on extending that time between stimulus and our response. It is damn hard but worth it I think. I have tried to stress with my children that it is the journey that is most important. The destination is important too but most of our time will be spent journeying. So I tell them often to “Relish the Journey”. I have to tell myself this too so I can do that with them when it is tough being a parent. My sister reminds me also at times to look for “teachable moments”. Sometimes the teaching is that I kept my mouth shut or walked away. Other times it is calmly working through an hot issue. I also know a whisper will garner more attention sometimes than a shout. I think sometimes it helps to put them in charge of things while they are young and build on their strengths. For instance you can tell one of your kids you want them in charge of encouraging everyone today and that is their job. Other times it might be to help you look out for ways to help someone. I wish you well.

    • KimberlyCoyle

      Thanks for sharing your wisdom here, Mark:) A struggle most with the soft answer vs the shout. It’s very difficult to stay in control of a situation when one is shouting like a mad woman!

  • Leslie McNeil

    Oh Kimberly, it is so hard some days, isn’t it? The biggest help I have found? A covenant group of close sisters and brothers… who will tell me the truth in love, pray for me, keep me accountable, and love me through it, when I have that spirit of the crow popping in my brain. I know I survive just fine without it… but that’s just it. I want to THRIVE and be alive with the Spirit of Christ. It’s okay to fall… and when you do,you know you can take God’s hand… and rise again!! Amen!

    • Kimberly

      Rise again…good words:)I’ll be thinking on this today.

  • What Kathleen said. 🙂