Tough Gig

Parenting. Can we talk for a minute about how incredibly challenging it is? I remember when Lincoln was younger and my biggest concerns were getting him to listen when I asked him to come to me, getting him to not cry in restaurants, and generally managing his toddler behaviors. It seemed so overwhelming at the time. He’s now 6-years-old, and I think the challenges we face are even more daunting, because all of a sudden, you realize that this is a future adult you’re working with. This is someone who will grow up and have the option of making his little corner of the world a better place or being one of those obnoxious people nobody likes. He will have some sort of career and maybe a family. The way he treats people and the words he uses will be life giving or damaging. It’s a huge responsibility to raise a child. I’ve often thought that the reason parenting feels so difficult is because it’s something I really want to get right, and it’s arguably the most important task I’ll ever be given. So many things seem important until you take on the job of training up a child. Suddenly, those other tasks feel less monumental.

We have had mostly a nice, easy run of parenting for a while. Mike and I worked diligently with Lincoln when he was younger to establish a good relationship and establish boundaries, and it has paid off in many ways. But smooth sailing doesn’t last forever, and I found myself in tears recently after some ugly attitudes and words came from my typically kind child. I’ll not get into specifics, because Lincoln is older now, and he doesn’t deserve his shortcomings discussed with people in detail. I certainly wouldn’t want my failures broadcast on the Internet. Suffice it to say, he is my child, and mouthiness is one of our problems. I basically let him have it and let him know how much he had disappointed me. In the middle of my ranting, it occurred to me that these “big kid” issues are not as simple as saying, “Don’t do that!” These are heart issues. It does me no good to tell him to stop his behavior if the underlying attitudes still exist. Seriously, how hard is this? I have to help him develop a heart of thankfulness, a heart that wants to build people up, and a heart that hurts when other people hurt. It would be so much more cut and dry to be working on, “Hey, don’t throw your food across the room,” like the good old days. (You can tell I’m a few years removed from the terrible 2’s when I can call them the good old days. Pretty sure they were not, but time has helped heal some of those wounds. Ha!)

After some time of, “Woe is me,” and, “Wow I’ve raised a terrible little person,” I brought my emotions back to a level place. I sent a whine text to a friend who promptly reminded me to always check my own heart and my own self before worrying about my kid. Some soul searching brought to the surface that, once again, I expect so much from this tiny human who has only been on this earth for 6 years. I have 32 years of life experience, and I’m still a total screw up. I get angry. I’m selfish. I don’t say the right things, or worse yet, say things that are harsh and not uplifting. At times I have little to no patience with others. I sometimes hurt people that I love. I’m grouchy when I’m hungry or tired. That’s me I’m talking about, not a small child, although how could you tell the difference some days? When it’s me messing up, I want understanding and grace and forgiveness from everyone around me, yet when it’s my kid, I’m ready to jump down his throat and make sure he knows his behavior is unacceptable.

Before anyone starts imagining I’m advocating for letting your children run wild and say what they please, no. That’s not it at all. Our kids need us to guide them and correct them. They sometimes need punishment, and they certainly need to know boundaries. But sometimes they need grace, and they need a hug. They need us to gently explain why our words are so powerful and how we should use them instead of raising our voices in disgust at their failures. They’re still learning. I’m still learning. I’ve had to apologize to people I love numerous times in the past several months, not because I’m horrible, but because I’m human. Our kids are human too. We need to let them have room to make mistakes and then be ready to step in and work through those things with them.

I recently lamented all the time I wasted worrying about whether or not 2-year-old Lincoln would ever be a rational person, when looking back, it’s pretty clear that he was just a toddler doing toddler things. Why did I put so much pressure on myself and on him when he was practically a baby? Why did I let the opinions of others stress me into thinking I was failing as a parent? (Hello, judgy people in public who think 2-year-olds should behave like grown ups.) Really the same could be said for 6-year-old Lincoln. We are still figuring things out, and we probably always will be. Since becoming a mom, the scriptures about the Fruit of the Spirit have become more poignant than ever. Our pastor gave a sermon this week where he reminded us that a life led by Christ should be exemplifying this list from Galatians . It’s my job as a mom to model this kind of life in front of my child. I need to constantly refocus and bring my attention back here. I can’t expect a good attitude out of a child if I can’t manage to have one. How crazy is it to hold a kindergartner to a higher standard than myself? 

If I’m being honest, patience and gentleness are not my fortes. I love this boy more than life, but let’s be real and acknowledge that kids can drive you mad. This is a battle I won’t just win once and then magically be some sort of saintly mother. Like so many of my weaknesses in life, it’s a process. I won’t be fixed. I can only constantly attempt to be better. I have to remember that in spite of my failures, I am a good mom, and in spite of his failures, he is a good kid. There’s no reason to panic. A bad attitude doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. There has to be space to mess up and then hopefully grow. I often see the hashtag, “Let them be little,” when people post photos of their kids playing. I’m working on letting him be little when it comes to mistakes. That’s not saying we won’t address his behaviors. Mike and I have to live with him for another 12 years, so you can bet I want this guy to become a decent human being. I wouldn’t be a good mom if I let him continue negative patterns, but there’s a way to discipline that allows for grace and forgiveness, and that’s what I’m striving towards. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on myself so I can work on him. Did I mention that parenting is hard? Nothing I’ve done in life has put my shortcomings under a microscope more than parenting. At the same time, loving this little boy has been the greatest joy of my life. Because of that, I’ll dust myself off and try one more time to get this thing right, and I’ll trust that all of my efforts to raise a sweet, loving young man won’t be in vain.

Fruits of the Spirit

Graphic from Sincerely, Sara D.

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