Chaos, calm, or hiding —
Emotions. There, I’ve said the E word. We can’t live without them, and many times we don’t know how to live with them. As parents, when we don’t know—we can’t help our children.
I wrote these words on Facebook recently; it was one of my most shared posts—ever.
“Relationships that stay with us in our unpleasant emotions…and help us return to joy after we’ve processed all they offer…are
relationships that help us grow up.”
So many people commented on the post with something like, “Sometimes, this is so hard…”
It is. And when we struggle as parents, it is a gift from God—if we see the struggle as an invitation to model giving permission for others to speak into our lives and ask for help. If we demonstrate humility in safe relationships, our children can grow up trusting this mature way of relating, too.
We’ll get to have many conversations with our children about emotions during our season of parenthood. This blog post may help you have one of those conversations. Share this post with your family over dinner one night. Brave love starts the hard conversations and offers protection from shame.
Butterflies in your stomach –
There are few events quite like the first day of school. For weeks, you know it’s coming. You feel all the feels, and watch as your friends and family experience all the drama and delight that happens before the big day finally arrives.
The emotions that wash over you before the start of school can be the refreshing kind—like excitement, confidence, and eager anticipation. Or they can be the “I hope I just survive” kind —like dread, doubt, worry, and fear.
Perhaps “butterflies in your stomach” is a good description of this weird combination of all these emotions.
This is a true story about butterflies: They are fun to watch and beautiful to see—and they make poor line leaders. I’d never hand one of these fanciful, winged creatures the keys to my car! Butterflies go in circles and change directions without any warning. Their flight patterns look more like tangled yarn than purposeful pathways.
Butterflies are poor line leaders because they are not created to be line leaders. We can get confused if we follow them. Even if we don’t get lost, we will certainly make slow progress getting from where we are to where we are going—and we will definitely get very tired!
This is a true story about emotions: They are important. Emotions make life rich and powerfully real. They add value and depth to all of life’s experiences.
And emotions, like butterflies, make poor line leaders. Emotions are not created to be trustworthy taxi drivers for our travels through each day. They’re more often like hijackers than dependable guides.
Emotions are great passengers in the grand adventures of life—including the first day of school. Like your friends, you can greet them, name them, acknowledge them, wrestle with them, experience them fully—and then drop them off, until you meet them again to share a different experience.
Recognizing emotions as good passengers and bad drivers can be helpful as you navigate the beginning of a new school year. If you let emotions rule your life, they’ll tell you untrue stories —about yourself, about God, and about school.
Untrue stories –
When you make a good grade, you’re going to feel smart. When you don’t get picked for the team at recess—or if your friends ignore you, you may feel like you don’t belong. If the teacher tells you to move your clip or change your color—or if you make a bad grade, you can feel like a loser. If the teacher chooses you to be the line leader, you can feel like a winner!
Every feeling I just read to you could happen in just one day—even on the first day of school!
In less than a few hours, you may feel like a winner and a loser. You may feel smart and unworthy. The stories your emotions tell you can change in just a few seconds—as quickly as when your teacher says, “Put away the book you’re reading and get out your Math.”
The truth is, your identity never changes, even though your emotions often do. Because you have trusted the work of Jesus on the cross, you have an unchangeable identity. No matter how you feel about reading or math or being chosen or getting ignored, you are Christ in you— even on your very worst day. You always belong to God. That’s good news. And there’s more!
God’s identity never changes either. God is always love, and He is always loving you—when you feel worthy of His love, and when you don’t. God’s love is what heals your hurts and what gives you the strength to do with Him what you could never do on your own.
A true story about God and school –
God’s not grading your papers. He cares very much that you listen and work and learn; He knows that getting things right will help you, and getting things wrong will keep you confused about the way the world works. He’s more concerned about you missing out than messing up.
God doesn’t give you a bad grade when you mess up. Instead, He puts His arm around you— and offers to help. God’s hug sometimes gets delivered to you from mom or dad. You can experience His love when you let us help you with your struggles.
God doesn’t tell you to move your clip or change your color when you misbehave. God never punishes you when you struggle. Instead, God recognizes when you’ve let your emotions drive your decisions. He knows when you’ve let anger convince you to cut in line, or when you’ve let disappointment distract you from following directions.
God tells you the truth—about who He is, about who you are, and about school. He knows that when you trust Him, you’ll begin to let the truth of your identity sit in the driver’s seat of your decisions—instead of giving your emotions the keys to your behavior.
Your God-given identity will always tell you what is true, no matter what you feel. Values and convictions will grow out of your true identity—like branches grow out of the trunk of a tree. Values and convictions are the ideas you’ll grow up to believe are important in your relationships, and true about your character.
So, welcome to a new school year, my daughter; my son. We’re going to take this adventure together. And I need your help, too.
Sometimes I let my emotions sit in the driver’s seat of my day. I let anger tell me what to say; I let frustration tell me how loud to say it. Some days I let feelings of being afraid to convince me to make choices I later wish I hadn’t made.
You have permission to respectfully remind me that emotions are more like hijackers than good line leaders. Here’s what you can lovingly say, “Mom/Dad—did you just hand your keys to a butterfly?”
This school year, can I remind you, too?
I love you, my son. I love you, my daughter.
I am so honored that you are mine.
Together, there is great hope.