I think I am parenting “the mayoar” (spelling used by my first grader). Whenever we find ourselves in public settings, he feels the need to work the room, greet folks, share information and schmooze. Sometimes these tendencies are endearing and “cute”. Other moments, I feel my cheeks turning a strong shade of pink wishing I was Mom to a quiet, shy wallflower.
Just this week we were at Trader Joe’s where my eldest talked up the cashier while also unloading his cart to “help” her, followed by “assisting” with bagging the groceries and simultaneously asking for stickers. As she handed me my receipt and Alex was already pushing his small, kid cart out the door, I saw her lay her head on the scanner. Next she wiped her brow, laughed at the next customer and started ringing up her items. I chuckled too and told her, “At least I didn’t bring BOTH of my boys!”
After loading the car with groceries and seatbelting ourselves in, I too sighed. Instead of the scanner, I laid my head on the steering wheel. I felt shame creep in. I wouldn’t be able to record the number of times folks have “knowingly” looked at me with the boys and commented, “Wow. You sure have your hands full.” While meaning to be kind, I often turn it into something ugly instead. These moments prove that my kids are just harder, serving as confirmation that my lot in life is tough. I lose the will to parent and mother the way I know I need to. I feel pressure to be the best, most accomplished, polished and pulled together mom—on top of every homework assignment, permission slip and unruly behavior. Perfection. Perfection. Perfection. I’m not giving my kids or myself space and room to be.
God makes it clear, time and time again, that the message we need to hear, the example we are to imitate, is one of unconditional love and grace. In 1 Samuel 16, Samuel is in the process of finding a new king and despite conversations back and forth between himself and God, he is dumfounded. Every candidate he assumes is perfect is instead, rejected. Finally, after meeting many of Jesse’s sons, they finally get to David. It is this youngest, almost forgotten one, that ends up being the chosen one. In verse 7b, Samuel writes God’s message loud and clear, “for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” This narrative of love and acceptance is made clear and plain. It isn’t about performance. It isn’t about perfection. It isn’t about pressure to fit the culturally-accepted standard. Truly, our call as parents is to make unconditional love believable to our children.
In the moments that I am hiding in shame at my children’s antics, am I unconditionally celebrating who God has made him to be? Do they see and feel and experience a love that looks at the heart, the motives, and not the external? Do they realize, through our interactions, that I care more about them as a people, and not what they achieve, conquer or perfect?
A few nights after our Trader Joe’s incident, we found ourselves in a local Italian restaurant. Our waitress told us that she hoped we didn’t mind that she was bragging about our kids to her co-workers. The conversation wove around and through food (she was a recent Nutritional Science college graduate). We chatted about food choices and “the mayoar” chimed in, connecting with four other servers, waiters and even the manager before we left. Mid-dinner, he went to the bathroom and came back with a comb-over, water dripping off his slicked hair onto his dress shirt and tie. My husband and I giggled. The need to impress, even after being praised and affirmed, was still there. It is an ache that lives deep and is often hard to relieve, even for a six year old.
How can we parent our children towards the truth of the gospel? To the understanding that nothing they do—even slicking back their hair!—will be enough. It is a truth almost impossible to grasp or comprehend. God chooses us. We are God’s beloved. UNCONDITIONALLY. There is no need to perform or achieve perfection. And almost more importantly, after comprehending this truth, we are called to remind everyone around us of the very same thing. To be the mayor—extending a hand in grace, asking about their lives, their concerns and hopes, to love (and parent) from a place of trust and peace vs. anxiety and fear.
The waitress knew, as do my husband and I, that our kids aren’t perfect. They scream. They fight. They refuse to eat. They make messes. They challenge us. In spite of all these truths, she chose to call out the good she saw—the positive choices they were making—and share it with others as well as with us. The difference I felt leaving Trader Joe’s vs. the restaurant tonight was palpable. I felt encouraged and reminded that our biggest job as a parent is to do what our waitress did tonight—to build each other up. Not for perfection. Not for performance. But for who we innately are….God’s chosen beloved.
May we call up the message the Psalmist shared in Psalm 139 to cheer our children, our spouses, our friends, & even ourselves on. I love taking verses and personalizing them with a name. I used my own name for the passage below, but try praying it over your children with their own names.
For it was you who formed Christine’s inward parts;
you knit Christine together in her mother’s womb.
I praise you, for Christine is fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
Christine’s frame was not hidden from you,
when she was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld Christine’s unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for her,
when none of them as yet existed.
May we know these truths deep down—-we were formed, made and woven by a God who knows and loves us. And more so, live daily from knowing, reaching out in love.