We are 6 short yet simultaneously endless weeks away from meeting our baby girl face to face. It’s been a roller coaster ride of a pregnancy, and I think some of the joy of pregnancy is wearing thin. I’m ready to hold my little one in my arms, instead of my belly.
I’ve been contemplating what it means to parent, and to parent well, and I wanted to record a few thoughts I’ve had on the matter as they’ve developed over the recent days and weeks.
My nephews and niece are visiting for a few weeks this summer, spending most of their time with their Gramma and Grampa, but I’ve been spending some mornings and afternoons with them as well. (I’m a tad bit relieved that I’m having 1 child right now, not 3 at once!) We had dinner at Gramma and Grampa’s house this evening with the grandkids, and it struck up an interesting conversation between my husband and myself while we were washing dishes after we came home. My husband was raised very differently than I, in some ways positively, in some ways negatively, but very different nonetheless. I’m grateful for this because his eyes are open and aware of things I would never have noticed myself, because I am used to certain dynamics from having been raised with them myself. And vice versa. He was very quiet and introspective as we washed dishes and I began to ask him questions that prompted him to open up and share his thoughts. He’d noticed certain dynamics that he felt were not wrong of themselves, but very incomplete. As he talked I realized never would I have ever noticed those things myself, because I’m just so used to it! But he was right! He shared some insightful observations, and I was struck with how grateful I am to be parenting with a man who’s own childhood experience and values complete what I myself am missing.
No one parents perfectly. But here are a few things I want to prioritize as my husband and I parent our little girl, and any other children we may have in the future.
First of all, humility. I hope that I never come at parenting, whether to my children, to other parents, to myself, even to God as if I am parenting the RIGHT way and the only right way. My husband and I seek to always be learning and growing and changing and adjusting as God leads us in how we should act and speak regarding our role as parents. I also believe that no matter how much I may screw up my role as a parent, if I at least do it humbly, acknowledging my mistakes and my struggles to my children, then I won’t be screwing THEM up. I hope for my children to understand plainly as they grow that I’m broken and on a quest of my own in search of living out my calling as a Christian wife and mom. If I can demonstrate to them my own need for forgiveness and grace, it will teach them to give forgiveness and grace, and I hope will provide a vulnerability and openness in communication as they grow into adults themselves.
Instruction is important. But it isn’t complete by itself. Here’s a great example of the complete/incompleteness of my husband’s and my own upbringing that compliments each other perfectly: he is accustomed to dinner tables full of goofing off and laughing and playing, where I’m more accustomed to dinner tables of instruction – what is and isn’t proper behavior, and various lessons in how to be a good child/Christian. Both of those things are wonderful, but an imbalance produces areas of need. My husband’s area of need based on the imbalance he experienced is that he’s not accustomed to listening when someone is trying to share something serious with the whole table. My area of need based on the imbalance I experienced is that I tend to dwell too intensely on propriety and instruction moments instead of allowing a goofy moment. We compliment each other well, because where I can help teach our children manners, graciousness, and awareness of each other, my husband can help teach our children to be goofy and silly and not take life so seriously. (Meanwhile, we’re teaching each other those things as well!) So secondly, I want to strike a balance between instruction moments, and simple plain goofing off – the type that leads to belly laughs and tears streaming. (I’m well aware this is gonna take some self-sacrifice when I’m tired and sleep deprived and worn out from kid watching all day and I just don’t feel like processing another goofy fit of laughter from my noisy kids.) It’s important to me that my kid’s memories are as full of laughter and silliness as they are of instructive lessons, no matter how valuable those lessons my be.
Here’s a biggie: Compassion. Boy oh boy does this one get my fire going. If there is anything that I think describes Jesus and His humanity best it is the word COMPASSION. Why I think that is a different post. But for now, here’s what I think it’s importance is regarding children. God made us in all of our power as reasoning human beings, but He also made us to feel and to need, and He made us to each feel and need differently. React differently. Process differently. What might not phase one person might deeply effect another. No matter HOW SILLY a child’s problem might seem to me as an adult, I want to always remember that they are not an adult. It isn’t silly to them. My little 3 yr old nephew bit down on some ice cream tonight and it hurt his teeth. I don’t know if he’s ever experienced that sensation of cold on his teeth before, but it clearly scared and surprised him and he began to quietly cry. As an adult, I’m tempted to say “you’re fine, it happens all the time, it’ll go away in a second” but he’s 3. And he’s hurting. So I got out of my chair and went to his chair and put my arms around him and held him to my shoulder for a couple minutes till he felt better. I did this for 2 reasons. First, because I wanted him to not feel alone in his hurt. Jesus never leaves us alone in our hurt. But second, because I didn’t want him to feel silly for feeling hurt. Jesus never shames us for our hurts; He loves us and shows us that He is there with us and cares. I hope that as I raise children I never approach their fears, anxieties, pains, discouragements, and frustrations with a flippant attitude. I want to teach them to be strong, and to overcome those things, but never in a way that belittles the feelings and experiences that they are uniquely encountering. I think one of the best ways to communicate love is through compassion on a person’s experiences. Never making fun, taunting, belittling, or acting flippantly towards something that another person takes seriously. Compassion and acceptance go hand in hand. I want my children to know that I accept the struggle they’re encountering, and I accept the way it is effecting them, and that I am willing to get on their level and come right alongside them and encounter it with them and show them vulnerably that I understand that they’re hurting and that it’s okay to hurt.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite cinematic moments of all time, from the Pixar movie Inside Out. The character Joy is trying to cheer up the character Bing Bong when he’s feeling sad about something. All her silly faces and joyful “you’re fine!”s only made him cry harder. (You see he wasn’t being understood, which made him feel more alone than ever) But then the character Sadness sat down next to him, put her arm around him, and says something to the effect of: “I’m sorry that this happened to you. That sounds very sad. I bet that’s hard.” A moment later, Bing Bong dried his eyes and felt much better. I love that movie because it brilliantly shows how important each different emotion is, and how it needs to be allowed to function the way it was meant to function!
Here’s a big big principle I hope to always remember. My child is not an adult. They do not process, react, understand, feel, or observe the way an adult does. A facial expression that an adult might understand is just “serious” might come across to a 2 year old as purely terrifying. A reasoned out explanation of why they shouldn’t feel upset about something will make no sense to a 5 year old who’s sibling (or dare I say parent) has just hurt them with unkindness and selfishness.
This isn’t a bad thing. I WANT my kids to be… kids. To be allowed to discover and grow at their own pace, experiencing the world and creation and relationship with other human beings in a way that they can process and understand right where they are, and so have a healthy learning curve as they grow up.
Intentional sinful misbehavior is not tolerated. I’ve impressed how much I care about compassion, about understanding, acceptance, gentleness, etc. But that being said, in no way am I willing to compromise with my children when it comes to very simple issues of willful bad behavior. There will be no wheedling or excusing or avoiding or coddling. There will be very simple terms describing exactly what they are doing and the evil that is in their hearts and the hurt and pain that it causes to others around them.
Speaking of gentleness. I won’t even record here all the references in scripture to the power of gentle words, because there are so many and just go look through Proverbs – you’ll find half a dozen yourself – but another high priority for me is that I learn to always temper my words and my facial expressions and my vocal tones with gentleness. I believe in firmness and confidence, but never ever do I believe in harshness. I believe that scripture teaches that harshness brings destruction, and gentleness brings life.
At the end of the day, the hope is for my little ones to grow up viewing me as just another child of God, struggling and fighting and growing as a Christian, but one who loves them more than anyone else does. I hope that they view me as approachable, trustworthy, and gentle with all of their needs because of my gentleness, acceptance, and compassion from the time they are infants to the time they become parents themselves. Above all, my hope is for them to see Jesus in me. So that means I have to ask myself every day: Who is Jesus?