Why Does This Bother Me? Clarifying Core Values in Parenting


Ever get bothered or uneasy about something but you’re not really sure why? I do! But I’ve finally got a strategy to deal with it, and it involves clarifying my core values. 

My husband and I are doing an 8-week course called Emotionally Healthy Relationships through our church. This is our second time going through it. Our first time was as brand new participants, and this time we are acting as “table hosts” to help facilitate conversation. This course has been life changing for me. My favorite session is called Climb the Ladder of Integrity. The session talks about differentiation of self – the ability to hold on to who you are and who you are not separate from other people – and introduces a tool called the “Ladder of Integrity” that helps us clarify our values when something is bothering us. The ladder is a series of sentence stems that you complete with the goal of identifying a core value of yours that you or someone else has violated. After going through the ladder prayerfully, and possibly multiple times, you can reach a place of peace in your own mind and decide if you need to have a difficult conversation with someone else. Some of the reading for this session felt like a smack in the face (but a friendly smack, if that’s possible?) and I realized that I was not being truthful to people when I would pretend nothing was wrong or avoid tough conversations because I was afraid of their reactions or unsure of my own ability to articulate my thoughts and feelings. I was being a false peacemaker.


As I was practicing the ladder during the week of devotional readings and workbook questions, I started to think about how I could apply this to my parenting. I thought through various scenarios that had already happened, and then tried to think of some that may come up in the future and how they might make me feel. Then I climbed the ladder to clarify some of my values around parenting and the things I want to teach my children. Many times it is my own children who are violating my values, and that explains why I get overwhelmed or angry during day to day interactions. Knowing that can alter how I react.

  1. I value respecting differences when they don’t endanger others. I want to be able to parent my children the way I see fit, and not have my choices questioned by others. I respect peoples’ parenting choices and want to have mine respected in return. I don’t make decisions regarding my children lightly, but I also don’t focus heavily on ALL of the things you could possibly focus on in this world to control your environment. I don’t want to feel guilty for things that I should not feel guilty for. I don’t like comments about me or my children that make it sound like we are wrong or bad when we are different and do things differently. Ex. What I feed my kids, what I let them watch or not watch, how I discipline, etc. My husband and I are accountable for our choices to our children and God, no one else. 
  2. I value character over appearances. This is a big one and covers a ton of parenting issues. For example, I don’t care that my daughter’s current style makes it appear that she is getting dressed in a dimly lit thrift store. I’m not embarrassed if she goes to school or church in mismatched patterns or several layers of dresses. I care that she is comfortable and confident in her choices. I don’t care to put the energy into having the kids’ clothes coordinate or have special clothing for whatever holiday is coming. I don’t care whether or not we as a family look “put together” all the time. What I DO care about is that my kids and I grow in love and compassion, truth and discernment. The rest is window dressing. 
  3. I value responsibility. I’m teaching my children that they are responsible for their emotions and actions, and they also need to be responsible for the things in our home like their clothes and toys. I want them to be grateful for what they’ve been given, be good stewards of their belongings, and not expect things to be handed to them. I use natural consequences for discipline over time outs or corporal punishment because that ultimately supports this value. (And because I disagree with spanking). I realized that the reason I get upset when the walls are colored on or toys are broken is because this value is being violated. 
  4. I value the eternal over the temporary. I sometimes get caught up in the little things like everyone else, but I always want to pull back at some point and make sure my focus is on what really lasts. I’m teaching my children to do the same. 
  5. I value my personal time and space. This requires saying ‘no’ to things that would make my schedule too full for my health, even if those things are generally “good” or for my kids. I’m not always going to be the most active class mom or the first to volunteer for things for this reason. My children did not have to attend preschool, but we made that choice so I could show up as my best self for my kids when they are home. 

This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but I’m hoping that by starting to clarify some of my values in my own mind I’ll be able to more easily trace future frustrations back to one of my core values being violated by myself, my children, or others. Tracing it back quickly can help me respond thoughtfully, rather than react in the moment.