It happened again today. That “feel good about parenting” meme popped up on Facebook and told me a list of so many things to do that will somehow magically insure that my sons grow up wise and loved, nurtured and adored. Because this is what love looks like. This is what mothering looks like, idiot.
Apparently? It was the formula that mattered, in the long-run. It seemed those who could somehow master the formula could expect to produce the most wonderful children and those who didn’t?
Well, we just didn’t.
Guilt and shame preserved, laid up for the later years. Like rows of Grandma’s green beans on a shelf, all the ways I have failed are lined up for inspection in stark contrast to the pastel-tinted, fancy-font description of a type of motherhood that looks nothing like me then or now.
In the beginning, we thought we had a formula. Insert Famous Baby Rearing Method Here was the answer to all the uncertainty of infancy and parenting. It was ideal for me. I could easily obsess about feeding times and sleep v. wake times. Demand obedience, the first time, as page after page, checklist after checklist, I determined to get an A on the “Parenting Test”.
Do as I say. I am the authority. I am the boss of you. Rigid and right. Fearful.
“This is what it means to be a mother”, I was told. “This is the method for producing children who are wise and loved, nurtured and adored.”
So I did all the things for all those years, blindly pursuing the ideal and confident that the thing I was doing was going to produce those results.
This + this = Result. Guaranteed.
Except it didn’t. When I realized it wasn’t working the way the book promised, the way the people around me who attended the classes and seminars assured me, the blinders began to slip.
And the damage began to emerge. I had very compliant children who flinched when I got loud. Children who hid their desires and fears, their hopes and frustrations from me. I had raised children who could put on a show but avoided me at home.
“Dear God, what have I done?”
“What can I do now?”
“How do I make this right?”
But there aren’t any really easy answers, are there, for the things we’ve done?
You can’t turn back the clock and undo the shouting, the unnecessary anger, the hypocritical mantra of “first-time obedience” from people who won’t even consider an offering unless it’s Super Special. Who are incapable of obeying even the simplest commands to love one another as we had been loved.
His little body, from his round cheeks down to his chubby little belly was covered in coffee grounds. Big brown eyes, wide open and frightened, stared back at me as I surveyed the damage.
Not even 24 hours into our new house, no washing machine, no idea where the towels even were at that moment, and his little brother sleeping in their room on a playpen we’d hastily put up.
He knew I would over-react. He knew it would be harsh. He knew me.
He was afraid.
I wish I could tell you I responded to the dirty diaper, the exhausted toddler who had been living on the road for 3 weeks, and the chaos of our life by sitting down and taking a breath.
I would give nearly anything to relive that moment and comfort the little one trembling on a chair, one hand into the coffee maker, the other full of grounds.
We’d laugh about the mess and he’d get a warm bath while I cleaned him up. Who cares if we have to hand wash some stuff in the sink? We could stand, side by side, and I would kiss his silk soft little head holding him soft and tender against me.
I’d like to remember those moments that way, but I can’t.
I demanded my child should behave like the grown up I was unwilling to be. He should have known better. He should have controlled himself (really?). He should have… So I didn’t have to.
There was a part of his heart that died toward me that day and our rebuilding has taken years and apologies and forgiveness offered and prayer. Lots and lots of prayer.
That wasn’t the first time I damaged the relationship with my kids under the guise of “discipline” and it certainly wasn’t the last. How could I discipline them when I rejected the Lord’s discipline and refused to discipline myself?
“Mom, just one song? I really want to do music with you!”
“You inspire me, Mom. Are you going to write something? I can’t wait to read it and see what you weave together.”
“Good night, Mom. I love you.”
I ache for all the wasted time. The broken years. The stolen moments. My arms miss the feel of those little bodies snuggled deep and close and sometimes I find myself imagining the gift of one more time when I could share this intense desire to protect them and kiss away tears instead of the horrific phrase, “Suck it up!” that I most often snapped out like some kind of emotional whip when they struggled.
God is redeeming the meaning of family to us. One apology at a time. One request for forgiveness at a time. I have learned that the only way to restore what has been destroyed by my own hands is to walk, every day, willing to repent and apologize, ask forgiveness, allow the children I adore to express their disappointment, disillusionment, frustration, and anger against me. Not just allow it but own it. I tore my house down with my own hands. They are actually helping me rebuild it.
We heal a little more each time I am willing to still myself by sitting down, near but quiet, while they wrestle with far greater things than coffee grounds.
It is a reflection of God’s heart and His hand deep at work in the lives of my children that we can love one another now. I do not have the family I deserve.
Grace goes way beyond that.