Lazy Transactional Parenting and Conditional Love: Hope for the Exhausted Parent
Sometimes, we just need to step back and realize we aren’t parenting the way we want to. The first half of this may gently sting a bit… but there’s hope, friend.
I’ve gotten lazy and desperate in my parenting.
This is no excuse, but within six months’ time, I lost my husband and managed two household moves. Becoming a single parent, moving my family, and having more hell thrown at us than you can even fathom has left me with little reserves. And when I’m in this rock bottom place, what’s my default? Lazy transactional parenting.
Transactional parenting is this… “I want you to behave in a certain way. So I’m going to barter with you. I will bribe for good behavior,” (which I hate because the Proverbs say that a bride corrupts the heart.) “I will threaten for bad behavior,” (which I hate because my Father God has never done that to me before.)
Transactional parenting is, “I will promise to give you good things in exchange for good behavior; I will threaten to take away things you love for bad behavior.”
Lazy transactional parenting is even worse because its all talk and no follow through. Empty promises; empty threats. I think that’s worse because not only are we bartering for behavior in our desperation, we’re now also not even keeping our word. Both of these things break down a child’s ability to trust their parent and the transactions ultimately undermine the child’s ability to understand and receive grace. Because now, the parent has turned a loving relationship into a transaction based on rules and laws. And that’s legalism, not love. That’s give and take, not grace. That’s how the enemy operates. So this kind of parenting only reinforces a warped view of our Father in heaven because as His representatives as parents, we’re actually representing the enemy. That’s painful, isn’t it?
Father, have mercy. We’ve messed this up as parents so many times.
Conditional love is just as undermining. When a child messes up, it’s shame and condemnation and “I told you so” and “You screwed up again!” The enemy works this way. The enemy harps on a mess up and adds shame and condemnation.
But the Lord never condemns. The Lord creates a space to speak grace and offer forgiveness. That’s our goal. (Honestly, this dynamic happens in marriages too. It can happen in any of our relationships.)
Conditional love is also confusing. Not only does it undermine grace, it reinforces a work-for-it understanding of salvation.
When the child does well, it’s love and praise and glory and kisses and hugs and “You’re the best kid ever!” So a child learns that to be loved, he must be pretty much perfect. Some children will accept the challenge and work their hardest in fear to be a “good” child. Other children will see the inevitable defeat and just give up and give in and rebel from the unholy set-up.
This is why a child’s behavior can never be the barometer of your parenting. If you’ve ever been tricked into believing that your child is good because of your parenting, that’s just warped. It’s very possible your child is good because he or she is terrified of displeasing you and has fallen under the subtle manipulation and tactics of your control. That’s not how our Father in heaven raises us, brothers and sisters. And that’s not how we want to raise our kids. We may slip into this paradigm every now and then. We’re human after all. Or this may be the first time we’re really waking up to the reality of the nuance of control and manipulation in our parenting and other relationships.
Transactional discipline and conditional love leave both parties feeling drained, empty, on edge. And it’s certainly not making our home environments a reflection of how the Kingdom of Heaven. And it’s certainly not the way to become a mom or dad who reflects the Father in heaven. So what are we to do?
Much like the child who rebels because they see no possibility of meeting the standard, we can rebel and throw our hats in as parents and just become hands off. Some do this in the name of “grace” but that’s not how grace operates. A loving parent will always discipline, lovingly. Sometimes, we just don’t know how!
So what are we to do?
This has become my number one go-to as a mom. I’ve had so many cards stacked against me ever since we entered into parenthood that I’ve never had the chance to pretend I have it together. So my children see me in weakness and sin and the best thing I’ve found that I can do is to own it and apologize. I tell them I love them and tell them I’m so sorry that the way I’ve been acting lately has not been loving. I ask them to forgive me.
Show the difference between me, human parent, and the Lord, holy parent.
I often explain that I love them and, “Mama tries to do her best but she sure messes up a lot, doesn’t she?” They cannot argue with that! Then I explain that even though mommy messes up a lot, God really doesn’t. Even though mommy’s love is not perfect, God’s love really is. When I notice I’ve slipped into transactional parenting or conditional love, I actually point it out to them. I show them the inconsistencies. Because my goal is not that they think I’m perfect and love perfectly, my goal is for them to see the that God is the one who always protects, always loves, and never fails us. In His incomprehensible grace to me, even my failures as a mom can be a catalyst to point my children to God’s unfailing love.
Pray and reset.
Asking forgiveness and pointing out our own failures requires great humility. And so does asking the Lord to forgive us and give us strength to try this again. Repenting isn’t just saying “I’m sorry.” It’s actually changing the way we approach that situation again. To think we can do this on our own strength is pride. And pride may be the very thing that motivates transactional parenting and conditional love. But love. But grace. That’s what we’re after.
A Weary Parent’s Prayer:
Give us the grace to receive your help. Give us the humility to ask for your help. Forgive us for thinking we can do this holy calling without you. We need you Father to be our guide. We need a beautiful intimate obedient relationship with you if we’re ever going to lead our children down the same path. Renew our vision of parenting. Refresh our spirits as parents. We’re weary from trying to do this on our own. Forgive us of control, manipulation, and unhealthy motivation. Help us lead our children to see how beautiful, loving and kind you are. Help us be a picture of who you are to our children, spouse, and those around us… even if through our own mess ups.
In the strength and authority of Jesus,
Everything I write is laced with prayer, redemption, and the bliss of surrender.
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