What Makes Great Faith-Based Parents? (pt 2)

Escaping Pressure and Expectations as Parents

Great faith-based parents are able to Escape Pressure and Expectations.

This may be counter to what we have heard or believe. We have been told that high expectations lead to higher achievement.

Is this true when living under pressure and a list of expectations increases stress, decreases patience, and often leads to internal negativity? Pressure and Expectations can flow from within or be placed on us externally. When we face significant pressure from within we tend to be hard on ourselves and often end up feeling like we are consistently falling short. We may feel or believe we are either not good enough or even a failure. These deeply held internal feelings/beliefs cause us to be defensive, driven, or even withdrawn depending on the situation and our personalities. Any of these may lead to challenges in either our relationships or jobs.

Applying pressure and expectations on ourselves also adversely impacts our dependence upon God. I found that my internal negativity and being hard on myself put distance in my relationship with the Lord. How?

It put me in the mindset of trying to change myself. Many parents I talk with discover they are in the same place. It is easy to slip into this mindset because our society is focused on doing rather than being. We feel we must be doing something to be better, feel good or be successful. This performance or outcome mindset can invade and impact our relationship with the Lord in two ways:

  1. When we are hard on ourselves we create pressure on ourselves to change and find it frustrating when we do not succeed. We may even wonder if God is hearing our prayers. When I was too hard on myself, I did not have compassion and grace for my failings, which made it harder to turn and look inside to the deeper things that drove my shortcomings. I tried to hold myself accountable and be good to prove my deeper issues were not there and to avoid the pain of diving into them.  In such a position it is difficult to have the patience needed to seek the Lord’s timing or listen for the still quiet voice of the Spirit for guidance. We become too busy pushing and listening to ourselves. We may not even sense the Spirit’s conviction related to what He wants to work on next. We may discover that we are working on the wrong things without the Spirit’s power to transform our hearts. Why? We are trying to do it all ourselves like the rich young ruler who told Jesus he was doing it all. Jesus sent him away sad.
  2. If we are trying to change ourselves, it is often tied to a sense that God will not be pleased with us unless we are performing or avoiding sin, which according to the Bible is impossible this side of heaven. This mindset makes it difficult to feel loved, close to others and God or believe that God is actively involved in our daily lives.Let me assure you He is, but we need to let go and let God. When I was forced into a position of dependence and letting go, it was amazing how the Spirit began to move in my heart. I saw God do amazing things all around me that showed He really was there to protect me. He loved me no matter what. A performance mindset moves us to self-dependence and sometimes isolation. We become unwilling to let others help us, including God and the Holy Spirit.

God is active when we turn to him rather than ourselves. It is then that we can really experience God’s love, grace and forgiveness in a new and meaningful way.

We face a very real challenge!

Escaping pressure and expectations as a parent has never been more difficult. Society, media, social media, advertising, churches, governments and even celebrities hoist more idioms, standards of conduct and expectations upon our shoulders virtually every day.

Parents face more pressure and expectations than ever before.  Many of the expectations they hear and feel from the world, friends and family are actually at odds with each other, but they are so busy they may not even see how incongruent the expectations truly are.

  • We are to raise responsible kids who make good decisions, but protect them from harm and making damaging mistakes. This leads us to make many decisions for them. Protection is the antithesis of preparation for life on their own.
  • We are to raise our kids up in the way of the Lord. We want them to avoid sin, but know everyone sins and falls short of the glory of God and will until they reach heaven.
  • Kids must be well rounded to be successful so we encourage them to be involved in a variety of after school activities. This leads to pressure and a go, go, go lifestyle that creates weariness and stress for us and our kids. We become less patient and have little time to build healthy relationships with our kids.
  • We feel pressure from friends and family to parent one way, but inside we may sense that it is not working.

We instinctively desire to be closer to our kids but do not know how to get there given all the expectations and beliefs that have been fed to us through the years.

Do you ever think to yourself, “is this what being a parent is supposed to be?  I thought being a parent was going to be more fun and enjoyable than this!”

The expectations we feel are driven by our performance-based culture that focuses on outcomes and success rather than relationships and the journey. We are hard wired to look at the destination, the goal and outcome and as a result may miss the benefit and joy of living in the moment. We may miss the journey and the opportunity for genuine personal growth that life presents when we just slow down and tune into the Spirit.

As parents many of us work hard to live up to the expectations placed on us and typically do a good job of it. This can be accomplished from more or less healthy places. If we feel good and useful when we perform, it is fine as long as when we take a vacation, are sick or are alone we are still content and happy with ourselves. If it is tied to how we measure or validate ourselves or if it is to help us feel positive about ourselves, we are at risk. If we need the performance to feel good about ourselves it becomes a trap that can adversely impact our enjoyment of life itself and will adversely impact our relationships with those closest to us.

Escaping the Expectation Performance Mindset?

We need to stop and ask ourselves, what really matters in life?

Take a few moments and jot down the three things you value most or that really matter in your life?

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Is our or our kid’s performance what really matters?  Will great performance at work, lead to fulfillment? When I was younger I sure thought so at least until I almost hit the home run only to lose huge sums of other people’s money. The loss crushed me because I failed and I had some strong negative internal beliefs that my failure played upon. Thankfully, after years of struggles, I reevaluated my life and what really mattered. This moved me to reconnect with my kids and to all I have learned in my journey with Revive Family.

So what leads to internal peace and fulfillment in life? Is it our career, our success and the recognition that comes with success?

If we are to believe the research from Psychology Today and Harvard and what Jesus teaches, the answer is NO!

In fact the research proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that success, accomplishments, hobbies and even recognition or fame do not lead to fulfilled lives where people feel content, happy and at peace.  According to Harvard the only thing that leads to fulfillment in life is relationships: close, caring, compassionate relationships where people feel loved, understood, safe and secure.

Jesus’ only command for His disciples in His last teaching with them right before he was arrested was Love One Another. Loving, caring, compassionate relationships are what bring fulfillment, a sense of belonging and healthy purpose to our lives. A performance mindset causes us to focus on problems while a loving, compassionate mindset leads to deeper understanding and lasting relationships. In such relationships we are free to be transparent and vulnerable with one another creating fellowship and inner growth. A performance mindset leads to acting, self-protection and shallow relationships that often do not last.

Is it possible we have bought into our culture too much and missed the very thing that will lead to our personal security and stable, strong families and kids? If Jesus’ only command to His disciples was to “love one another” I think it is highly likely we have missed what will lead to healthy, motivated, and fulfilled kids.

If we believe focusing on our performance and our kids will lead to their success, we will find that the Lord’s approach is completely opposite.

Jesus said,
“Come to me ye who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” — Matthew 11:28

Nowhere in the New Testament do I hear the disciples complain that they are too busy, exhausted or stressed out. I do not find them complaining to the Lord, “do we have to go again? Or even reflecting on times when they thought, I don’t want to go.”  If we, as parents, are tired and stressed by our lifestyle, our kids will be as well.  They are little magnets for our emotions taking them on inside themselves often without our even realizing it.

Yes, at times the disciples worried about being sent out by Jesus the first time or when they ran out of money and could not pay taxes. In each of these cases they were self-induced, they were not placed on them by a driven Shepherd who always wanted to get more done.

They had a loving shepherd whose expectation was simply “love one another” and who was focused on helping them learn to love the unlovable in themselves, each other and the world.  It is clear that the disciples felt safe and secure enough in their relationship with the Lord to discuss these issues and admit their failures. They grew from encouraging interactions with Him. They grew so much that they laid down their lives for strangers just as the Lord did.

When we try to change ourselves and are hard on ourselves, I have found it actually arrests our deep inner growth. We become dependent on ourselves and our discipline, logic and abilities rather than on our Father and His helper the Spirit.

Maybe it is time to stop, get away and really consider what matters and what truly leads to peace, fulfillment and change in our lives. Maybe it’s time to let go and let God to find the rest and peace Jesus spoke of. His burden is light. Are we making it heavier than it needs to be?

When we let go and look to the Spirit, we find the fruit of the spirit and a sense of freedom from this world’s pressures and expectations even during a busy day. It’s hard to believe, but very real and amazing to experience.

So how do we get there?

  1. Camp in the passages about love, the Spirit, and rest that Jesus and Paul taught.
  2. Stop thinking about what you should have done and worrying about what others around you are doing, thinking or believing especially about you. When you catch yourself, stop and pray that you can rest in God’s plan and that He works all things together for good.
  3. Even the problems we encounter have a silver lining that we discover when we develop a grateful spirit. It is clear in scripture that we are to be grateful in all things and for all things. Practice finding things to be thankful for. It is amazing what God does to change our perspective and then our hearts when we stop, ponder, pray, and give thanks.
  4. Live in the moment, not in worry about tomorrow. When our mind wanders to negativity and worry, it’s not good to just let it run. Turn it over to God.
  5. Find someone who has a strong faith and a positive attitude in bad situations. Listen to them and find out why they see things the way they do. Ask them to encourage you, not hold you accountable. We are to encourage one another to love and good deeds.

In the end it is all about whom you trust. Is it yourself or God? Who can change you? Who can help you feel free and forgiven? Learning to rest in God’s hands is not easy for us self-reliant Americans, but it is well worth pursuing.

When we find freedom from the pressure and expectations of the world, we will be more positive, more grateful, more compassionate and more loving. We will be better parents who have more positive, open and loving families.

Next week we will talk about avoiding the expectation trap with our kids and what that looks like.

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