by Millie Radosti
On a snowy lake, on a brisk March day in 2007, I married the love of my life. We walked ourselves down the aisle, played our own genre of music and wore unique colors that we especially chose to reflect our personalities. After all, this was our wedding, so we wanted everything to be exactly as we liked! Our honeymoon included a trip down the east coast. Six months into our marriage, we felt an undeniable burning in our hearts — God’s call into ministry. We would need to leave much behind, which didn’t bother us for one moment. We packed up our car with what we could fit, including our two cats, and headed back to our home state of Pennsylvania. Within weeks, we were traveling around the world, sharing the amazing testimony of God’s transforming power in our lives. We learned to be comfortable with the instability of not having control in our lives. We saw so much during our travels:
- The jungles of the Darien and the Amazon
- The shacks and prostitute villages of Suriname
- The poverty-stricken tribes of Guatemala and
- The gang-tainted parks of New Zealand.
We didn’t think that life could get any crazier! But then — when we least expected it and against all odds — we got pregnant!
I walked into my first pregnancy blithely unaware, with no idea of what I would face. Since I believed with all my heart that pregnancy, labor and mothering should be natural and intuitive, I very confidently rose to the unexpected challenges that soon approached. My labor was one of the most intense and terrible things that I had ever experienced. I birthed at home, in a birth pool with the belief I would emerge with a calm baby who slept when I wanted him to. I thought that my pregnancy weight would fall right off me, and my life would be perfected by this little human who took my relationship with my husband from “couple” to “family.”
Instead, I invited nearly the entire church to my “perfect” labor where I screamed embarrassing things, such as “Hit me over the head with a shovel!” After enduring 14 hours of labor, I was handed a strong-willed, screaming baby who did not believe in sleep. My husband, mother and I took eight-hour shifts walking him in circles so that the others take turns getting some much-needed rest. At our six-week appointment with the midwife, she plainly announced to me, “Your labor seems to echo much of the past trauma that you’ve experienced. You should consider getting some help.”
She left my home, and all I could think is, “What did I get myself into? Will this ever get better?”
The deep emotions of hopelessness as a mother grew too intense for me to bear. I later learned that I was suffering an extremely severe case of postpartum depression. I reached out to other friends, some without children who had no idea what was wrong with me and some with children who could not relate to my experiences. I was tired, depressed and even worse, I felt isolated. I shared my story with a friend who decided it might help if I joined her in a “Mom’s Group” that she attended. I opted to go only to find myself immersed with an incredible group of mamas who were living in “babyland bliss.” Maybe it should have been encouraging, but my mind instead decided to inform me, “Look at all of these incredible moms who have it all together with beautiful children your baby’s age! You are just not a good mother!” The mental comparisons began. Triggered by no one but my own insecurities, I walked into the dangerous world of comparisons, “I need to be better than someone to have worth.”
The pressure to have a perfect child — and in the future, children — grew. “I’m a ministry wife! My children need to be the best behaved, with 50 Bible verses memorized along with all basic children’s Bible songs learned in American Sign Language by the age of 2!”
Over the years, more and more children came, until the day that I sat down to write this blog post, now pregnant with sweet baby number four! I carted my children from ministry event to ministry event, trying to bring enough snacks and toys to keep them quiet and that were acceptable to adult standards. I learned many “parenting techniques” for keeping my kids “in order.” Some were less than desirable and did not produce the long-term results that I wanted. I learned that many recommended fear-based parenting. “Whip the child who does not listen!” I’m not blogging about spanking here, but I found that children shouldn’t carry the pressures that we place on them to be “perfect in all adult settings at all times.”
Through much time in prayer and walking through the process of healing, I learned to embrace my children at each stage of life. I learned to look into their souls to see what they needed. Sometimes, life is crazy, loud and very chaotic and I wasn’t sure how to “quiet” my children apart from fear and intimidation. Although I desperately wanted peace, I didn’t want to take that route. One day, when I felt completely overwhelmed, I asked God, “How do I get peace? When it’s all so crazy, how do I get peace?”
I heard his reply to my heart, “I will quiet you with my love.”
“Wait a minute,” I thought, “I’ve heard that before!” I quickly zipped over to Zephaniah 3:17.
“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”
How does God quiet His children?!? How does God maintain such an everlasting and perfect peace in the midst of any situation? Through His love. This isn’t knocking any particular parenting style except the ones that use fearful intimidation as a tactic. I’ve been guilty, guys. I’m not pointing the finger without first repenting myself. You may quiet your children temporarily using fear-based parenting, but over the long term, you will damage your connection, not only between you and your child, but between them and God. If you want teens who are “in love with Jesus,” learn to quiet them as children with your love — the love that God put in your heart for them. Learn to rejoice over them with singing! Learn how to bring out the joy in an intense moment with your child.
One of the main ways to do this is to seek out your child’s heart.
My husband had me read the book “The Five Love Languages” before we were married. I enjoyed it immensely and learned a lot about my soon-to-be spouse. But it wasn’t until recently that I thought to actually apply these same principles to the lives of my children. My first baby, the one who I labeled as “strong willed,” well . . . not much has changed. He was a fighter from birth. I always knew that he had been given this strength for a reason, but I saw the need for his strong spirit when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia on Feb. 1, 2015, at just 4.5 years of age. This form of childhood cancer almost claimed his life. We prayed and believed for his life on that crazy day when his fighter spirit kicked into overdrive, and in just 10 days, the specialists declared that he was “in remission.” Though we are still walking through this insane three-and-a-half-year journey with him, those months of living in the hospital were some of the craziest times of our lives. The only thing that seemed to light his countenance were the toys and gifts that people gave him. He received so many gifts that the nurses had to tell us to take some of his presents home because they were crowding his bed in the tiny hospital room. We snuck some home, but he wouldn’t allow us to take too many; they were such a source of joy to him.
Though my son was in the fight of his life, those terrible, condemning, comparative thoughts started up again, “What if I’m creating an ungrateful child? Maybe I should tell him about the children in Africa who have so little so that he doesn’t ask for or expect so much? Maybe the joy that he gets from these ‘things’ is teaching him to be unthankful.” In the light of the situation, I did the best that I could not to mention it.
Nine months later, he still asked us to get him a gift or toy that he desired. At times, we honestly could not buy him the things that he was asking for, and he understood, At other times, my own self-righteousness” to be the mother with the perfect children kicked in. My criticisms began, “Why are you so ungrateful?!? You always want something! You know some children have nothing!” I purposely avoided getting him anything even when I could. I told my husband, “He constantly asks for things! We need to teach him not to want so much!”
We did our best with his demands for gifts, but his behavior grew increasingly worse. I couldn’t figure out why he was acting this way. I limited sugar, tried to add more vitamins and greens to his diet and scheduled his day more, but nothing seemed to work. That was the day that I ended up in my bed in tears, praying, “God, please! Show me how to attain peace! I don’t want to lose connection with my child! I love him so much — and I can ‘control’ him now, but I feel like his heart is distant! How do create peace? How do I create connection?”
“I will quiet you with my love . . . . “
“Okay,” I thought. “I get it . . . I get it. I can control, schedule and put him on a diet — but nothing will have the effect on him that love will.” Is that to say that I didn’t love my child?! Absolutely not, but I wasn’t exercising love behind every parenting technique that I put into practice. I controlled his appetite for “wanting” by using intimidation because I was afraid that he would become ungrateful over the long term.
So I sat down with my son to have a heart-to-heart talk. “What is up, honey?”
I listened to his heart. He wanted a tiny pillow that he had seen at the store. Could I get it for him? At the time, I absolutely could but I was withholding it, so I decided to try an experiment. I bought him the pillow. I explained to him that I cannot buy him everything all the time but that I would buy or make him things whenever I could, and something miraculous happened. His behavior improved. He became a different child. He didn’t ask for everything anymore although he talked a lot about the gifts that he would get. He became an incredible helper around the home and compassionate toward the needs of others. It finally occurred to me that my son’s love language was “gifts.” He receives and shows love through the giving of gifts. He didn’t care that much about the pillow itself, even though he wanted it. Instead, he felt stifled when I badgered him and shut him down with accusations. He regularly brings me flowers picked from our yard and loves gifts from us in various forms. When that need is fulfilled in him he blossoms, but when it is suppressed, he completely disconnects.
Why was this so hard to figure out? Because gifts is not my love language. In fact, of all five love languages, gifts rates at the very bottom for me. It took the growth and maturity in me so that I could see my children as individuals. I not only needed to see them as individuals but myself as an individual to receive grace as a mother. Yes, we mothers need grace for ourselves! In the beauty of each creation produced from our passion and love with our spouse, we did not create a bunch of “mini-mes.” We created little individuals with their own unique gifts, annointings and love languages. Every individual meshes together to make up our family, which also makes up a unique culture all of our own — not to be compared with others but to be joined with others in community. We can all learn from each other and mostly, as parents, we can learn from our children. If you have a child who is disconnected, distant or defiant and if you are crying out for him or her, quiet the chaos with the love that God put in your heart for them. Seek out who they are. Be open to how they might be different from you in ways that you could never previously understand. Then watch them blossom and grow into the best version of themselves as you cooperate with God to release them into their identity, purpose and destiny.
To find out more about our guest author, Millie Radosti, visit her on social media! Click the link to find her on Facebook, Twitter: @MrsMillieJoy, Instagram: @MRS.MILLIEJOY