There I was in Publix, attempting the impossible. Again.
I can do this…I can do this…I can do this…
My post-workout adrenaline inspired me to overcome my pre-workout dread at the idea of lugging my two young kids to the grocery store with me.
It had to be done. We were out of food at the house.
Joining me for this fun-filled adventure down the aisles of the store would be kid #1 who has the disposition that can give the impression that I am a perfectly pinteresting, instagrammable parent.
Also along for the ride would be kid #2 who has made me question every ounce of parenting ability in me.
Anyone else have one of each of these kind in your family?
I had made a deal with these kids before we headed into the store that the complementary cookie would from now on be the last thing we would do. [Awesome marketing Publix.] They each had to stay close by me, not fight with each other, and not beg me for junk food all throughout the store.
I know, tall order.
The older child, my daughter, handled things pretty smoothly in accordance with her more laid-back disposition.
Child #2 started out okay for the first 5 seconds until all the sweet treats came into view.
[Seriously, why do stores have to put all the candy and toys so easily within kids’ view? Have any of these people ever had children?]
All of these temptations were becoming too much for my strong-willed boy to handle. He’s only 5, and has never taken even just one “no” easily for an answer.
After 15 minutes in the store, I had probably given him at least 15 “no’s”.
He was becoming angrier and more frustrated by the minute.
By the time we were nearing the end of the shopping trip (which by this time excluded many things we actually needed in the interest of getting out of the store faster), I had to give him an ultimatum.
He was about to lose his complementary sugar cookie from the bakery.
He calmed down long enough to make it to the other side of the store. However, after getting said cookie, he proceeded to trash talk the cookie and the person who gave it to him.
At this point I took the cookie out of his hand and put it in my purse.
[I knew I was risking a very non-instagrammable moment here.]
He continued to be angry and frustrated. I continued to speak to him in a calm voice, letting him know that we would talk in the car about whether or not he could have that cookie. However, I was feeling frustrated myself.
And like a failure.
I thought I had done everything I was supposed to do. I didn’t yell at him. I didn’t talk down to him. I didn’t strike him.
Despite handling this situation like I thought it should be handled, my son still acted up and got angry and frustrated.
How many times have I lived out this scenario in my 7 1/2 years as a parent? How many times have I done what I thought was the right thing to do and things still didn’t turn out right?
Just then the “aha” moment hit me.
I had a choice right then and there to change my thinking about handling challenging situations like these.
I sometimes joke that I have one gray hair for every year of my son’s short life. That’s not many I know, but they were well-earned.
My daughter was born first and we had our challenges with her, however her personality is naturally more easy-going than his.
My son has trouble accepting things for the way they are. If he wants something, he tries what he can to get it, sometimes (oftentimes) at other people’s expense.
He is a very passionate little boy. He loves with his whole heart. He is by far my most affectionate child.
He is also the most easily angered when he doesn’t get his way.
I have bought parenting books, prayed, cried, screamed, and despaired over how to raise this little boy.
Time and time again my run-ins with him have made me feel like a COMPLETE FAILURE as a parent.
However, I have started to ask myself lately exactly what it is about these situations that makes me feel like I’m not a good mom.
I see three sources for my feeling like a failure as a parent:
I’m not sure if I felt this pressure from family growing up or from society in general, however I feel a certain obligation to make sure my child behaves perfectly in public no matter what is going on inside of them.
Did you catch that? The message that has come across to me is that the external behavior of my children is more important than their inner wellbeing.
Before I got married, I had little idea what it was really going to be like (though I thought I knew). The reality of what it truly is to meld two lives with different personalities and family culture together hit me full force after the butterflies wore off and the real “us” started to come out.
I also had some very erroneous ideas of what child-rearing was really like.
I had always had this idea that children were like clay and could be molded to anything you liked.
Those of you who are already parents can stop laughing now.
Because what you and I already know is that each child is born with a unique personality and set of giftings.
If children were really like clay to be molded, that would mean that we could control them.
Anyone who’s a parent knows that nothing could be further from the truth.
You may think you are controlling them when you get them to do what you want them to do, however the truth is that ultimately they make the choice whether to obey you or not.
Why does this truth hurt so much as a parent?
Because it makes us feel helpless. The realization that I ultimately have no control over my child is painful.
It is painful because it means they may do things I don’t want them to do. It means they may make choices that are harmful to themselves or others.
If that truth is painful to you, imagine how God feels for a moment.
God didn’t have to put two trees in the garden. He didn’t have to give Adam and Eve a choice of whether or not to obey Him.
So why did He give them the choice?
Love is so much sweeter when it is freely given. How much would you enjoy relationship with a person who was only with you out of a sense of obligation?
The Illusion of perfectionism
Perhaps this should be renamed “internal pressure”. It’s the pressure I put on myself to be a perfect parent at all times.
But here’s the deal. There is no such thing as perfection.
Some of you may be thinking, But wait a minute, doesn’t the Bible say to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect?
Actually, a better translation for the word perfect would be complete.
Doesn’t that just take a world of burden off of your shoulders? Isn’t it such a relief to realize that it’s okay to be a work in progress, on our way to completion (not perfection)?
So now we’ve unpacked some of the things that were really going on inside of me that afternoon at the grocery store.
I realized in that moment that I had done the best that I could under the circumstances, and my son still had a choice to obey me or not. Now it was my responsibility to implement consequences to his disobedience.
I also realized in that moment that I had to let go of caring what the other people in the store thought about my son or my response to his behavior.
Just because my son made a bad choice doesn’t mean that I am a bad parent.
Did you get that?
Does it mean there are no consequences to our poor choices as parents?
However, just to get an idea of this, think about Adam and Eve. They were made in the image of God and they had the most perfect parenting any children ever had in the history of mankind.
And yet they made a very poor choice.
It is a guarantee that my son (as well as my daughter) will make other poor choices in his life. I will also occasionally make poor parenting choices with them.
God’s grace is sufficient for me as His daughter. And He empowers me to extend grace to my own kids as well as freedom to learn to make good choices.
So to that mom, dad, grandparent, or other caregiver out there who is struggling with a child who seems to purposely seek out the wayward path, be encouraged. You may not be able to control their actions, however you are the main influencer in their lives. Don’t give up!
Here is one of my favorite parenting resources:
Loving Your Kids On Purpose by Danny Silk