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Put Aside the Red Pencil
The danger of over-correcting our children
My kids have officially concluded their school year and that means summer has arrived in my corner of the world. I’m sitting down to write today on the back patio surrounded by lush foliage. My boys are off doing teenager things and my thoughtful husband has taken my daughter fishing to give me a few hours to work.
Even with all the quiet, I am wonderfully distracted by the critters who share our outdoor space. Two squirrels have been scampering up the apple trees and a few ducks who like to visit from the canal on the other side of the fence are trotting around the yard. My beloved labradoodle, Scout, is snoozing on my left. A creamy iced latte is on my right. It’s just about perfect. For today anyway.
I am a person whose enjoyment of all things summer fades fast. Slow mornings, carefree time with my children, and temperate weather quickly turn to sleeping too late, structureless days leading to boredom, and 100-degree heat waves. And while more family time is always a joy, it also provides more opportunity for individual weaknesses to flare, mine not least of all. I suppose we all have particular parenting frailties that keep us humble and on our knees; I’ll share one of mine with you today: over-correcting.
By nature, I am an editor. Hand me a final draft, and it is likely I will spot the one missing period everyone else skimmed over. I certainly have not perfected this skill set, and editorial proficiency requires tremendous knowledge, but I do know I have a natural bent for it. I have an eye for spotting what’s wrong…and I’m not too shabby at vocalizing it. As one can imagine, this is problematic when my editing tendencies leave the written page and transfer to my parenting.
Like most parents, I love my children passionately. They are one of the biggest investments in my life. They are at the forefront of my mind continually and I’m always thinking about their development: body, mind, and spirit. That is good and normal. However, when the editor gets mixed in with that degree of investment, it can be a wee bit overwhelming for my kids. A recent writing experience provided an apt illustration.
I just finished a copy-editing course where we were given the task of editing another classmate’s manuscript. While we only edited one story, they were all posted in a discussion so we could review one another’s work. This was only the second time we edited a peer’s manuscript in our program, and the handing over of the red pencil proved to be too much. Like little children set free in a candy store, we went rogue. The manuscripts were a bloody mess at the end, the authors left with mangled remnants of their original work. I exaggerate…but only a little. We were just a little too eager.
I keep thinking about those poor stories, dragged through a minefield of red pencils, and left with a fraction of themselves. It’s a powerful image when I compare it to “over-editing” my children. When I pick at every flaw, weakness, failure, etc., where does that leave the soul of my child? A good editor must leave an author’s work intact. Yes, they must point out areas that undeniably need fixing, especially areas of micro editing: punctuation, grammar, etc. But they must use care, tact, and restraint when addressing macro issues. Too much is too much. It is discouraging and demoralizing. I don’t want to be that kind of an editor, nor do I want to be that kind of parent. But I struggle with it.
How do I overcome this tendency when I am so deeply invested in the lives of my children? I think walking in the Spirit and prayer are essential. But I also think the effectiveness of either of these rests in something else: faith. At the end of the day, if I zero in on every failure or weakness I see in my children, I will destroy our relationship. There are times to speak and there are times to stay quiet and talk to God instead. Ultimately, it is the Lord who works in our children, and I must entrust their growth and maturity to Him. I’m called to speak into their lives, but God is the one who works in them to will and do His good pleasure. I can’t bear fruit in my children. That is the work of the Holy Spirit.
What’s more, the discipleship of my children is not just pointing out what needs to be corrected; it’s encouraging them in their gifts, strengths, and calling, too. It’s pointing out what I see in them that is good and praiseworthy. It’s being their biggest fan because I believe in them. From my perspective, I see myself in this role, but I wonder if they see it through all the red marks on the page.
I share this reflection because my guess is I’m not the only parent who struggles in this area. The red pencil massacre was a powerful visual aid for me. I’d like to recommend a book as a resource, too: Giving Your Words: The Lifegiving Power of a Verbal Home for Family Faith Formation by Sally and Clay Clarkson. Sally Clarkson is single-handedly the person whom I’ve gleaned the best parenting counsel from in my years as a mother. She has written numerous books on motherhood; I’ve read them all and recommend them all. This title was released last year and is especially apropos for the topic at hand. While I’ve just cracked it open, it is excellent so far. I can’t recommend the Clarkson parenting books enough.
What about you, friends? What has helped you in this area? How can I pray for you in a similar struggle? Feel free to send me an email or drop a line in the message box. I love the emails and texts I’ve received in response to my posts. The door to a conversation is always open!
Praying for grace to leave the red pencils in the desk drawer this summer, and for many lifegiving conversations to flow through our homes.