“I think I ruined my child,” a mother told me in desperation as she explained some of the behavior problems and disconnection problems her teenage son was having. She was being honest with herself about mistakes that she might have made in her son’s upbringing. My heart ached for her. She might have unknowingly done some things that led her son in the wrong direction. We don’t know what we don’t know. But, it isn’t productive to beat ourselves up for what we didn’t know or mistakes we made. A self-governed person doesn’t spend their time regretting what they’ve done in the past. Instead, they train their focus on where they’re going and on future actions and thoughts so that they can have better outcomes later.
Just because I teach parenting through the lens of the principle of self-government, doesn’t mean that I’ve always been perfect as a person or a parent. I’ve yelled before. I spanked my oldest child once, and then regretted it. I’ve had parent attitude problems and had moments of selfishness. And, I’m glad, because I’ve learned about my possible tendencies and weaknesses so that I can change bad thoughts and behaviors in the future.
Self-Government Is About The Future
Self-government is being able to determine the cause and effect of any given situation and possessing a knowledge of our own behaviors so that we can control them. This means that a person determines who they ought to be and then plans to become that best version of themselves. The self-governed person acknowledges that people have weaknesses, and accepts imperfections in order to keep working toward their plan. Self-governed people try to catch themselves in weak moments and gently course correct themselves so that they inch ever closer to the version of themselves that God knows they can become; who they ought to be.
This means that a self-governed person analyzes the past to recognize patterns of thought and behavior in order to better understand cause and effect. The purpose of analyzing past actions and thoughts is for moving forward, not for exposing lack of perfection in the past. A truly self-governed person doesn’t expect themselves to ever be perfect. They embrace imperfections and indefinite chances to improve by being merciful, hopeful, calm, and kind as they correct themselves.
There isn’t a benefit to tearing ourselves down because of flaws. Guilt is healthy, but self-loathing and lack of hope for self is harmful and anti-productive.
Focus Forward With Forgiveness
Idealists are amazing! Many of the most inspiring people I know are idealists. Any person who recognizes that they can improve themselves, work harder, discover more, become better, or lift others is somewhat idealistic. They see a vision of what is possible and work toward it. They hold out hope for increased goodness in all things. But, idealists are also likely to struggle with forgiving self or others for mistakes or deliberate bad choices.
A good parent knows that to help a child have a change of heart, a parent must continually forgive childhood mistakes and keep teaching with optimism and purpose. Children respond better and recognize more truth if damaging emotions like fear and shame don’t pollute the teaching and correcting moments that are required for their improvement. This tone of trust, acceptance, love, calmness, understanding, and teaching that good parents must use to reach their child’s heart and look past mistakes in the tone of forgiveness.
Why, then, would we parent ourselves with anything less than forgiveness, too? That’s right; adults parent themselves. We instruct, praise, and correct ourselves…or we don’t. Either way, it is parenting. And, when we parent ourselves with hope, respect, understanding, calmness, trust, acceptance, and love, we change our focus from what happened to what will happen in the future.
Self-Government Is All About The Future
It’s much more productive to focus on what will happen or can happen in the future than what has happened in the past. Training ourselves to focus forward guides our steps and trains our thoughts for success instead of getting us stuck in past mistakes.
When I teach people about setting up a self-government environment in their own homes, I always begin by talking about what families hope to become and what gets in the way of those hopes. When we discuss what gets in the way of becoming the family they feel they ought to be, many parents acknowledge that things like distraction, selfishness, lack of good communication, not having the right skills, fatigue, and damaging outside influences, etc. all affect their family cultures and desired family outcomes. As we make the list of what gets in the way, many people feel liberated. They recognize that they can plan for how to navigate most of those things and that focusing on excuses will never solve the problems they see. They must look past the obstacles.
Keeping focused on where we are headed gives us a clear path in a cloudy world. The same mother who thought she had ruined her child recently told me, “Nicholeen, even though my son isn’t bonded as well as I would like yet, he has some good moments. We are making progress. And, more than anything, I know that I am doing everything I can to help us develop a better future.”
This family isn’t perfect yet. Self-government is a lifetime pursuit and takes vigilance. But, they are moving forward. She has forgiven herself and her son, and they are building on the good experiences and hoping for more as they learn the skills they need to navigate the difficulties they are facing. Anti-family, social messaging has drawn this boy from his family bonds and his moral roots. But, a family focusing on the future is showing him the truth about family and setting things straight.
True freedom, which comes from living the principle of self-government, is available to all people as long as they forgive themselves and others from past mistakes and keep their focus on where they are going. We can learn from the past. Cause and effect is vital to self-government learning. But, we shouldn’t get stuck in the past or take the past personally. Freedom is a focus forward principle.
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