Someone once said to me, “But,” and he had to start with a but because Lord knows I was arguing with the ferocity of a 20 something, “the more people you meet, the more people you see, the more you realize that all you can do is love.”
I thought he was a heretic.
Because I had 20 year old passion and ideals. Oh, the ideals.
(Now, 20 year olds – keep having all of the ideals because we need them. We need your passion and fervour and drive!)
Here’s the thing I didn’t think I’d ever find myself saying. He’s right.
I remember, before we had kids, knowing exactly how I would parent. I would watch people parent around me and I would start a tally of all the things I was never going to do. Of course, there were some things I would do, but mostly all the things I wasn’t. I sat and judged every parent within my view and saw all of the ways that they were failing their children. Thing is, I didn’t know yet about sleep deprivation and living breathing babies that hold your heart.
So MY babies were going to sleep through the night and colic was only something that bad mothers made up and sugar was off limits and never, ever, ever would my kids be allowed to wear those light up shoes. I was going to say no constantly because they needed to learn this. I was going to be in control because I was the parent. I was going to skip merrily along through this parenting thing doing it just the right way.
What I didn’t realize was that where hearts and souls and living, breathing beings were at stake, there is no just the right way.
Of course, God himself knew just the way to break me from my judgemental self. He, humorously, gave me 3 boys. This, my friends, was one of the greatest gifts ever given because God saw fit to snap me out of my idealogies and show me that these pooping, burping, farting creatures were His. He showed me that the noise and the messy and the stink, they didn’t always fit my perfect way of doing it.
He showed me that their hearts were more important than my ideals.
It started with a bang when the littlest was born. We had a grand total of 6 hours peace in the hospital and then my memory goes sort of fuzzy. Because boy would not stop crying. Ever.
I won’t lie, I thought this boy would be easy. I’d had 2 already and I was in my groove and quite simply, I was rocking this mothering gig. I’d just do exactly what I did with the others.
But nothing worked with this one. He cried when he was put down and he cried when he was held. He cried on breast milk and formula and soothers. (Yes, we tried that one with that certain nipple. Get over yourself, it didn’t work!) He cried when we were home and he cried in the car and he cried when we were outside walking about. He cried in the grocery store and some lady had the nerve to ask if I was pinching him. Yes, I told her harshly, I am PINCHING my baby! He cried and I cried and my heart was hurting because it wasn’t working. I’d lost my skills. I didn’t know how to mother this one.
He changed the game and made up his own rules and hid the manual on how to play.
Oh the things God was teaching me early on. It didn’t take skills to be a mother, it took love. Because no mother who loves well is going to harm her child or feed her child less than the best or do everything she knows how to do to nurture that child. Anyone can skillfully heat a bottle but only love let that baby curl up on my chest and, through the tears, cry out for more love. More grace. More patience.
He stopped eventually and we navigated the toddler years. I’m an expert toddler mom, in case you were wondering. You can control them with Cheerios, for crying out loud! So, I found my groove through control. Controlling naptimes and meal schedules, play dates and what they would wear. Controlling the words they spoke (“say thank-you!” “Ask nicely” “Tell him you’re sorry!”), the sugar they ingested, the hours of sleep they got and just how much screen time was permitted. (One 20 minute episode of Elmo per day, thank you very much!)
Here’s what I learned about my human heart though, it only took a matter of months to forget the thing that I was taught so clearly. So that crying baby who showed me that my mothering ideals weren’t THE way and I clearly didn’t have all THE answers and that I couldn’t do this on my own strength – yeah, I forgot those. Instead I prided myself on polite boys who ate their veggies and prayed each night for, “Gumma and Bumpa”.
Guys, it went further. I also wasn’t going to be one of THOSE parents whose boys played with guns and footballs and were so stereotypical you could smell the locker room on them. So I bought them an anatomically correct boy doll. I know, I know. Someone give me a medal. And we painted and picked flowers and learned about dinosaurs and bugs. We listened to real music and not the kind sang creepily to children by adults dressed in strange clothes and face paint. We didn’t own weaponry of any sort until Grandpa (always the rule breaker) came over with water guns one day and I insisted that they call them ‘water squirters’ and not guns. Like that changed anything.
It’s amazing to me how many times I have to be taught the same thing. How many time I wander away from the truth that I know and take the glory for myself. How many times my heart wells up with pride and know-it-allness and I wonder how on earth many more times do I have to be taught the same thing for me to actually understand. I imagine it will be a lifetime of the same lessons. A lifetime of the same learning. A lifetime of Christ showing me that He is the way, not I. That He has the answers, not I. That He gets the glory, not I.
So it turns out the only reason that I was an expert toddler parent is because I have control issues and my toddlers generally thrived on a controlled environment. Routine and order and organization were hailed as king and this worked for us. But it turns out that this tactic doesn’t translate into being an expert parent to teens. Because teens are opposite of toddlers and like chaos and mess and disorganization. And teens are opposite of toddlers because they have their own vocabulary to draw upon and their own personalities shining full force and their own ideals. Ah, there’s the ideals again. It seems that teenage ideals are someone different than parent ideals and again we find ourselves in this place of learning that love is the way.
Because I want my teenager to wake up and read his bible each morning and pray to God for strength for the day. Instead he wakes up still half dead and strolls to the cupboard in a stupor inhaling anything and everything he sees.
And I want my teenager to volunteer at the local animal shelter or food bank and for it to be his own idea because he just loves people so much and wants to serve his community with all of his spare time. Instead when I ask if he would like to consider volunteering he looks up at me with the most confused face and says, “Why?”
And when I ask my boys what they want to do and I’m thinking something along the lines of hiking through the woods and picking wildflowers and marveling at the beautiful place God has given us to live, the first thing they ask his, “Can we bring our BB guns?”
And I see it now. I see what I was told when I was 20.
But at 20 I hadn’t met by teenage boys yet and I didn’t know that they would really like target shooting and camping in the woods and seeing for how many days exactly they can navigate camping without wearing anything on their feet whatsoever. (the answer would be 4) I didn’t know that showers wouldn’t be an important part of their day. I didn’t know that they would be drawn to Anime. And bows and arrows. And slingshots. And I didn’t know the waters we’d have to be navigating together, their very teenage struggles, and I held an ideal that lust and masturbation and internet pornography and lying and deceit and arrogance and anger and pride wouldn’t be so near because we bought them that doll and we limited their sugar intake as toddlers. I didn’t know that they wouldn’t really feel like reading their bibles and harsh words come out altogether too quickly sometimes and laziness shows up daily and they just want to pummel each other much of the day (though they know better!) because having brothers can be downright annoying at times! I didn’t know these things would occur because we PRAYED FOR THEM! How dare they have struggles, Lord, we’ve raised them to be different! We’ve taught them from toddlerhood who you are and how they ought to live. We’ve lifted them up to you every single day! Shouldn’t they get a ‘get off sin free’ card?
Of course the answer is no. Of course it is.
Am I glad we had ideals for our children? Absolutely.
Do I realize that just because we do all we do does not ensure they will turn out a certain way? I do now.
Am I thankful that God keeps teaching me the lesson that I am not in control and He is? Sort of. But yes.
Do I see now that the more people I meet, and the more people I see, especially when these people are living extensions of yourself, that I realize that all I can do is love.
Through sin and struggle, through teaching and training, through our day to day expectations, through our day to day failure, I see that my boys are their own people for good and for bad and what they need from me is not an ideal to which they can not adhere or my idea of how exactly their life should look but they need my unending love.