I am pretty worn out at the end of the day. After I have cooked dinner, I usually just feel emotionally wasted and in need of quiet and some space from the noise and interactions of a family of eight. My patience and tolerance wane, and all I want is to get into my bed with a book or have some time with Mike to relax and connect. Our nightly routine involves Mike putting our two youngest children to bed while I read to my middle boys, and the teens are being chatty and beginning to dig into their homework (why pray tell did God design teenagers to be night owls?)

Early this spring we had a season where the littlest ones would not stay in bed. We were spending a crazy amount of time and energy telling them to get back in their beds. If they stayed in their rooms, then they would play and destroy the already-picked-up room. Sometimes we would hear their door open, the pitter-pat of scampering feet and then their door shutting again. We came to realize that this was the time when they would go in and steal food to take back to their beds…hot chocolate packets, sourdough bread, cereal, apples, you name it. Needless to say, I was not happy. That would be an understatement.

As this scenario kept happening and my time for quiet kept diminishing, I found myself getting really, deeply angry. I would yell at them, threaten consequences at them and it just all felt like this vicious scenario of antagonism and disobedience that was beginning to wreak havoc on my relationships with them. I felt at my wits’ end and didn’t understand what to do. My default setting is to get more controlling and harsh and to “win”, and I felt so trapped by it all.

I finally prayed, “Lord, teach me what to do. Show me the path to firmly teaching my children what is best while doing it with kindness, gentleness and wisdom.”

The response that came into my mind and heart wasn’t actually the one I wanted. It seemed like it would require more of me, and I didn’t think that I had anything else to give at almost nine at night. “Go be with them.”

Be with them? No way. That’s giving in! That means they are winning! This can’t be God! What the huh!? And yet, the only thing I kept feeling prompted to do was to go in and be with them. So I did.

All of that quiet that I was craving? Who knew that it could be found while lying in a twin bed with a five-year-old? It turns out that being in the dark with little warm bodies and a sound machine was the most peaceful place in the whole house. These boys were shocked that I was doing this, and they both settled in and fell right asleep. Instead of feeling angry and antagonistic, my heart began to soften towards them leading me to gently direct them towards quiet and sleep. Right when you think you can’t give one more thing, God shows up and offers a path where your needs get met and their love tank gets filled and everyone falls asleep (including me!)

It’s so important in our parenting not to follow rules and formulas. The path to effective parenting is to listen to the Holy Spirit. He knows our children best, and what it is that they need at the right time. Formulas keep us dependent on one-size-fits-all knowledge, but real wisdom and parental insight is gained through listening to the Holy Spirit. Formulas can lead to pride or despairing failure. Listening to the Lord requires trusting Him and knowing that His work in our children’s lives will be done in His ways and His timing.

When we feel confusion and don’t know the path to take and the Voice doesn’t seem completely clear, the best path is to treat others the way we want to be treated. Boundaries paired with love and gentleness always always wins.