My husband and I are 5 months into the long journey of parenting. Our daughter was born early August, and these 5 months while having been the best of our lives, have also been the most challenging.
There are so many things to learn, so many things to experience, so many things to discover. So many mistakes made, so many tears shed, so many laughs, smiles, and requests for forgiveness. I have found this calling to be a Mommy to be the most fulfilling and beautiful thing I’ve ever done, and I couldn’t be happier. But let’s be honest, I’m never going to get this right. Who does? I know my parents didn’t. I know my husband’s parents didn’t. In fact, I don’t know a single parent who gets it even close to right.
We all know parents who have great strengths, and great weaknesses; some parents are neglectful, yet provide excellent education and a comfortable life; other parents are ever present in the moment with their kids, yet perhaps over protective; some parents are past the level of neglectful into fully abusive, while other parents do their best in every area purposefully, yet make innocent mistakes nonetheless.
I have a friend whose son is in his twenties; she has frequently spoken to me remorsefully about the mistakes she and her husband made in raising their son, and the fear she has that it would cause him to push them away, or it would land him in therapy forever. Every time she airs those fears to me I remind her of the most important character trait of any parent: humility. I tell her “Dear, of course you made mistakes. But you are honest about the mistakes you made, and you’re not afraid to tell your son you are sorry for them, and that makes all the difference in the world! Any healing, any fellowship, any love can come with the humility that admits fault openly, and seeks a better future.” And, of course, it’s true. I know her son. And I know that despite all her misgivings, he has the most love and respect for her, and one of the main reasons why, is because she is a humble Mama, and loves him fiercely – enough that her pride is not a barrier between them.
Parenting well takes humility. I believe that no matter what mistakes you might make as a parent, if you have the humility to stop and think, re-examine your philosophies and actions, and most importantly approach your children with the miraculously healing words “I’m Sorry”, then no mistake you can make will utterly ruin your relationship with your child.
I was writing my monthly journal entry for our daughter’s 5th month birthday today, thinking back on and recounting the events of her 5th month – everything from milestones to discipline and training, and there’s been one very major theme in the day to day life of her 5th month. The first part was a bad habit I’d gotten into. I think any other parents out there can probably relate to a certain feeling of near-callousness to a baby’s cry; after all they cry SO MUCH those first months, sometimes it’s easy to just tune them out and ignore them. It’s hard work to attend to a baby’s needs, and when they are this little, sometimes that means 24/7 care and attentiveness.
I’d discovered about halfway through the month that I had been acting callously towards my daughters fusses. I’d ignore her first indicators of a need because I was busy doing whatever task I was in the middle of, and then, when her needs weren’t met and her fussing grew to a louder volume, sometimes crying and even full on screaming, I’d respond almost as if I was annoyed with her and say “Rory, don’t fuss at Mama.” I realized that I had been saying that to my daughter nearly every time she began to fuss. I had a great big “Come to Jesus” moment in which I had to get on my knees and ask Jesus’ forgiveness for treating my daughter with such selfishness and lack of compassion. I also had to get on my knees and hold my daughter and ask her forgiveness, as silly as that may sound to ask a person who can’t speak English for their forgiveness, but I had to do it anyway. Here’s why.
My daughter is 5 months old. She’s not 2, she’s not 7, she’s not a teenager. She’s 5 MONTHS old. Her ONLY means of communication is through grunts, fusses, and cries. When I respond to her desperate desire to communicate with me with “Don’t fuss at Mama” then I create a atmosphere and attitude that teaches her from the very beginning of her life that she is not safe to talk to me; that I don’t want to hear her hurts, her sorrows, her frustrations, her needs; that her needs aren’t important; that SHE is not important; that I care more about my auditory comfort than the comfort of the little soul in my care.
YES, it’s important to teach and train my daughter over time to not scream (especially when it becomes an intentional behavioral tactic to get her own way by throwing fits), and to not act and speak in anger, but until my little one can have a verbal conversation with me, then my job as her Mother is very simple: to create a foundation of love, security, safety, and compassion. The way I speak to and treat my child in these first months of her life will set the foundation and psychological conditioning for her for the rest of her life. How dare I shut down the only way she knows to tell me that she’s feeling lonely, sad, or frustrated? The result of this will become an unhealthy priority on rules, versus heart; an unhealthy expectation on my daughter’s part of not being taken seriously; an unhealthy habit on my part of putting my own interests above my daughter’s; and a daughter who is afraid to be vulnerable, for fear of rejection.
Rejection and it’s close cousin Abandonment is a wound that takes a lifetime to heal. These are issues I’ve dealt with first hand for many many years, and since meeting my husband I’ve made leaps and bounds of progress in emotionally healing, but no matter how much my husband loves me, no matter what compassion he shows me, because I was psychologically conditioned in my early months and years to expect rejection and abandonment, I will forever struggle with it deep down.
Is this the life I want for my daughter? Our words and actions can have a profound effect that we might never anticipate. Are your words and actions providing safety, comfort, security, confidence, and love for you children? Are you teaching them goodness, truth, honor, and good character in a way that also allows them to be themselves, express their God-given needs, and seek compassion for their hurts?
I had to take some steps back this last month and re-evaluate some habits I had fallen into. Now, instead of just telling my daughter to stop fussing at me, I do my best to respond with things that will let her know that I’m here for her; that I love her right where she is; that I will get on her level and do life with her; that it’s okay to have needs, and it’s okay to ask for help; that I’m listening, and that I will always love to hear her heart.
“I’m sorry you’re hurting, Rory.”
“Are you feeling lonely? Do you need to cuddle?”
“Are you feeling frustrated? Mommy will be with you in just a moment after I finish my chore.”
“Sweetheart, I know you want Mama to hold you, and I will soon, but for now it’s important to learn to be patient. Please be patient with Mommy.”
“I love you, Aurora, and I always want to hear what you have to say.”
“What’s the matter honey? Can you tell Mommy about it?”
“Are you sad? Tell Mommy what’s wrong!”
“I don’t know how to help you right now, Little One, but I love you and I am here for you.”
“I’m listening! You can always tell Mama how you’re feeling.”
I hope and pray that over time, despite the mistakes I will certainly make as a parent, that my daughter will see me with loving and trusting eyes because I am doing my best to give her a foundation of love, confidence, security, and compassion, and because as she grows I will continue to get down on my knees and ask her for forgiveness when I have hurt her or wronged her; because I will have taught her that she can always come to me and tell me what she needs, even if it strikes a raw nerve and makes me realize I’ve made a mistake; because I will have shown her by how I treat her that she is important, her needs are valid, her personality is a treasure, and her worth in God’s image is beyond all riches.
One must seek the happy medium: teach character and good behavior, while at the same time showing compassion and the raw, vulnerable beauty of humanity and all of it’s needs.
I hope to teach my daughter to strive towards goodness, excellence, kindness, discipline, and responsibility, while simultaneously having compassion and love for herself, for the person God created her to be, validating her own needs, understanding her own feelings, being honest with her own heart, and experiencing the beauty of the gospel, which is transcendent love even for persons as broken as we.
So I let my little one fuss. I let her tell me all her woes. I let her feel her feelings, and not bottle them up in shame. I let her see me as a safe and loving mother, whose job in life isn’t to shape a perfect person, but to shepherd a beautiful broken soul.
And when tomorrow or the next day when I fail again, I will hold her in my arms, tell her I love her, that I’m sorry I failed her, and that though I will continue to fail her, Jesus never will, and if we love Jesus together, then all the mistakes in the world won’t stop us from the beautiful intimacy of a human, broken, beautiful communion.