About 50,000 thoughts pass through our minds each day.
I suspect that number is even higher for parents of preschoolers! It’s true that many of these thoughts are the equivalent of mental space junk—
Add milk to the grocery list . . .
This sippy cup is on its last legs . . .
Wait, has he always had two cowlicks?
But our thoughts have two sources outside of ourselves, too. God speaks to our hearts and minds, to encourage, guide, gently convict, and move to action. Our enemy, the liar, seeks to tip our thoughts toward anxiety, pride, and condemnation.
This fire hose flow of thoughts may seem abstract, but it directs all your words and actions— especially when it comes to parenting.
It’s easy to dwell on your frustrations and anxieties about your children. It’s an absurdly simple leap from—
“He just lied about brushing his teeth” to . . .
“He’ll cheat on a test a school” to . . .
“He’ll never get into college” to . . .
“No one will ever trust him and he’ll never get married and I’ll never have grandkids.”
It may sound ridiculous when you call it out. But most of the time, we don’t even pay attention to these thought patterns—the real reason we feel stressed out, anxious, and unsettled.
How I choose to think about my kids determines everything about the way I parent in the day to day. Here are three tools I’ve discovered for policing my thought life:
1. Take time daily to focus on the unique gift your child is.
Philippians 4:8 tells us, “always think about what is true. Think about what is noble, right and pure. Think about what is lovely and worthy of respect. If anything is excellent or worthy of praise, think about those kinds of things.”
Translated for your child, that might mean a few minutes reflecting on what is hilarious, adorable, cuddly, interesting, unique, compelling, or thoughtful about them. Take time to thank God for specific moments, from funny things they’ve said to that moment they said “thank you” unprompted.
Trust me—this may help keep your toddler alive next time they hurl lunch across the kitchen.
2. Ask for help.
Focusing on the positive does not mean you should be blind to your child’s besetting mistakes. Instead, pay attention to your thoughts as you address your child’s unhealthy behaviors. Are you stuck in a circular thought pattern, spinning your wheels? Are you mentally leaping to worst case scenarios? Choose to take these thoughts to God and ask him for wisdom and guidance. He loves your child even more than you do.
There may be instances where you need the help of a trusted mentor or even a professional counselor to address certain behaviors. When this is the case, take action and trust God’s work, rather than losing yourself in anxious thoughts.
3. Grab grace.
You will snap sometimes.
The baby will wake up 45 minutes after you spent two hours getting her to sleep.
Your 4-year-old will drag his feet when you’ve asked him seven times to put on his shoes.
Your toddler will slap his older brother in the face.
Your teenager will slam the door in your face.
And you will yell.
Or let loose with a few choice words you certainly didn’t intend to introduce into their vocabulary.
And then, instantly, you will condemn yourself for being the worst parent ever.
Cut off that thought at the pass.
You will be tempted to wallow in what a terrible mistake you’ve made. But your perfect Father freely offers grace and forgiveness for every single parenting mistake you’ve ever made or will make. The moment you snap, turn to Him. Kill the condemnation before it can take root. Allow God to free you to be the parent he intends you to be for your unique kids.