Our Children Are Not Our Enemies

Our children’s outbursts are a cry for help. How can we move closer right when we want to move away?

By Marjoire F. Eddington

Categories: Guidance, Love, Sermon on the Mount

Do we ever see our children as our enemies?

It may sound odd to ask this question. But when our children hurt us or their siblings, throw tantrums, scream, etc., we can go into “fight or flight” mode—the survival instinct—and see our children as the enemy, consciously or subconsciously.

Our children are not our enemies. They are God’s children, our dearly loved children. And sometimes, they struggle and need our help—desperately. It seems counterintuitive, but when they’re screaming the loudest, and we want to make them stop or run away as fast as possible, right then is when we most need to go towards them. We need to go into the fray with calm courage, open minds, and loving hearts. We allow ourselves to be “moved with compassion,” as Jesus always was when he healed, rather than be moved by instinct, fear, anger. The Master said:

“I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. (The Message, Matt 5:44-45)

Are we responding to our children’s intense calls for help with the energy of prayer? Our children deserve and need our daily prayers, our blessings. When we see a need for listening, are we trusting that God has made them responsive, respectful, aware? If we see a need for self-regulation, are we seeing that they are under God’s control, so they express self-control? Are we seeing them as God sees them—all good, lovable, capable, mature?

We may be tempted to label them as disobedient, defiant, disrespectful, rude, belligerent, insolent. But that’s the disguise. They’re actually asking for help—help me find the way through these big emotions of mine; encourage me to solve problems; nurture my growing independence; show me how good I am; I’m scared I’m bad and I want to be good; help me know where the boundaries are because I want to feel safe and I don’t right now; let me know that you love me just the way I am because I’m not even sure who I am.

What do we want them to learn: that we abandon them in their time of need, or that Mommy or Daddy loves them so much and wants to help them feel safe? They’ll learn from how we conduct ourselves, from what we do.

In order to move closer with compassion, it helps to realize they’re intense outbursts are not personal. So we can detach our own emotions. We are not their enemy; they are not our enemy. There are no enemies here! Nor are they enemies of family happiness, a calm day, or peace. They are not even intrusions upon what we need to get done. They are our first priority. And we have enough time for them and enough love.

So we make a commitment to not be startled into thinking that we’re in a combat zone and our kids are the enemy. We make a commitment to be there for them, to not abandon them in their time of need, nor to isolate them. We look at them with the eyes of love—seriously. We see them as God sees them. And so we’re able to stand at their door or sit patiently on the floor so they have space to get through their upsets without hurting anyone … and then hug them afterwards. Or maybe we hold them throughout. God will guide us, and we’ll hear what to do as we’re calmly listening.

We can’t teach them lessons when they’re upset. They won’t hear it and can’t learn it right then. Once they move through the storm, and we have been there for them as a strong, calm, safe presence—loving them, cherishing them, seeing their good when they’re doubting it—then we can talk.

But really we listen without judgment. That’s part of helping them feel safe, too. And the best way to do that is to turn them to God. God is always there for them, just as God is always there for us, mothering and fathering us and our children. Only in this way can we help them see their own innate beauty, kindness, and God-given dominion.

It’s easy to love our children when they’re loving, kind, warm, fun, laughing, helping, being the fantastic children that they truly are. But it’s harder when they’re not. And that’s the point.

Jesus explained that he expected us to love everyone, no matter how lovable they appear to be:

“[God] gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal?” (The Message, Matt 5:45-47)

We’re not parents to win a medal. We’re parents to love—to embrace our children, with wide and merciful arms, as God embraces all of us. In God’s embrace, there is no enemy. All is Love.