Mom Fail: Turning Our Worst Moments into Teachable Ones

momfail

The other day I lost it with my child. I lost it over a turkey and cheese sandwich my four year-old was resolutely refusing to eat. Yes, you read that right: I lost it over a turkey and cheese sandwich. He was hungry; I was angry. Both of us were firmly sticking to our guns (like mother, like son—stubborn is as stubborn does). I felt justified. After all, it wasn’t like I was asking him to eat pickled herring or creamed brussel sprouts on toast. This was a simple and standard lunch, enjoyed easily enough by children all across America. Why could he not put an end to both of our miseries and eat the blasted sandwich! For the record, I didn’t curse, but  I did huff and puff and blow a few cabinet doors closed as I glared at him across the kitchen. He cried. I felt horrible. In the end, he went to bed at naptime with sandwich still untouched. I was left with a plate piled high with frustration and a heaping side of guilt.

It took me longer than it should have, but later I pulled him aside and apologized. I asked his forgiveness and he freely offered it. He sealed the solemn moment with a kiss, a tender mercy I didn’t deserve, an unexpected grace to a faltering parent.

Friend, it’s hard for me to be this vulnerable with you. But I want you to know that sometimes I fail my children miserably. And I want you to know this because I know you do too. All of us do. And the more honest we can be with our own shortcomings, the better we will be able to lead our children. Here’s why: Our children need leaders who can sympathize with them in their weakness. Our children need leaders who can call their own selfishness, pettiness, discontentment, control-freakishness, and pride by name and who more than that are willing to wage war with it just like we are asking them to do.

Do we look from on high commanding our children to share, return good for evil, consider the needs of others, not complain or argue and yet not admit to them that we struggle to do right in all these areas as well? Which of these would inspire you to follow: “For the last time, Noah, share the crayons with your brother! Can’t you do anything I ask you to do?” Or if a mother took you aside and in confidence said, “Noah, I know it’s hard to let your brother have some of your favorite crayons. Even though God gives me plenty, I often don’t act like what I have is enough either. But when I give to others and see the joy it gives them, it makes me realize that doing the hard thing is worth it.” The mother might even offer to pray with him and ask God to help him choose the hard, but right thing.

Let’s take it for granted that neither of these comments may elicit the desired result (after all, our children are born with free and vibrant wills of their own; they are not robots that we can control with the right words). But even so, which of these conversations is more likely to plant a seed which will grow into a tree of generosity? Which is more likely to help the child realize that you are on his side—an ally in the common battle of becoming better than our own selfishness? Which suggests that you respect him, sympathize with his weakness, and believe that with God’s help he has the power to leave the world better than he found it?

A good leader does more than police the boundaries. A good leader inspires her followers by continually planting ideas of greatness as she walks among them. Ideas lead them. “Oh, isn’t it wonderful to see the smile on your brother’s face when you let him have the first turn.” Or what about: “I like the way you are speaking so kindly. Did you notice how your sister is following your example too? Isn’t it amazing how we can encourage one another!” Aggressive authority bruises bent reeds. It snuffs out smoldering wicks. It leads the already dejected to further despair. Those who follow the example of the gentle Shepherd lovingly fence the boundaries, inspire the stumbling to press on to the heights, and carry the weak in their arms.

I’m not always that good shepherd, but I know the One who is. If even in my weakness, I can point my lambs to Him, the perfect shepherd, the One who purely wants their best, the One who tenderly leads them, the One who does not let them lack for any good thing, then I am leading them well. All of us will fail our children. The question is will we use those failures to model repentance, will we use those failures to show them the One who leads and loves them better than even we can?

 

Did you appreciate this post? Don’t miss out on the encouragement. Subscribe to have these posts delivered directly to your inbox. Still want more? Check out my books on Amazon.

Less Than Picture Perfect

 

time out

It is the end of the day with my three little ones and I am spent. It hasn’t been a bad day, or even an unusual one for that matter. In fact, perhaps it is the very sameness of this day from the day which went before it which has me worn so thin.

So many words have left my mouth today: a litany of “Stop!”, “Don’t touch that!”, “Be careful!”, “Obey!”, “Listen.”, “Come here!”, “Be still,” and “Leave your brother alone.” Along with them comes a steady stream of reminders to say, “Please,” and “Thank you”, “I’m sorry”, and “I forgive you.” There are reminders to pray, reminders to wash, reminders to share, reminders to brush, reminders to flush, reminders to show kindness, respect, and care. There is explaining, defining, and demonstrating. There are attempts at humor and times when the words come too hard or too soft.

And in case your days go blurry like mine with a dizzying torrent of no’s and stop’s and listen’s, let me just remind you that the fact that your days are full of words like these is not an indication that you are failing as a parent. But rather it is an indication that you are doing the hard business of training and instructing, correcting and paying attention to the details of raising small humans into (hopefully) responsible, loving, and generous adults one day.

Somehow, though, I think we all are surprised by the constancy of this need for discipline and training. We think we must be doing something wrong, or must have much more difficult children than so-and-so because our days are spent this way. When we come to the end of the day and we have had to reprimand them, repeat ourselves, and explain basic principles of decency and decorum, we feel at our wits’ end when really this is just the business of parenting.

Have we really been hoodwinked into expecting children to come out of the womb already kind and courteous, thoughtful and sensitive? Do we think somehow that doing the right thing and the hard thing (sharing, completing chores, stopping fun things to do challenging or laborious ones, leaving friends, listening to our body’s need for rest) should somehow come easily to them when it is often just as hard for us?

All of us are born bent and broken. And we don’t straighten out on our own. We need training, discipline and instruction. Change is not easy for any of us, and perhaps it is especially not easy for our little ones.

The point, and its simple, my friend, but worth re-stating: this constant need for discipline and instruction is the normal state of parenting affairs, especially when parenting very little ones. Don’t add to your burden by thinking you are failing, or that your children are, or that such repetitive need for instruction simply should not be. Our days are hard enough without unnecessary weights of guilt, inadequacy or shame.

Perhaps if we could stop thinking our days ought to be full of one pastel-filtered Instagram moment after another, we would be less ruffled by the normal childishness of our children. Perhaps if we could accept the rawness of our real moments, we’d find more satisfaction and less frustration in the importance of our roles in shaping that raw material into men and women of godly habits and character.

So don’t be flustered by your children’s misbehavior; seize the moment as an opportunity to explain what is right, good and true, as an opportunity to do the very hard but important job you’ve been called to do: parenting.

Did this post encourage you? Subscribe and get Live Expectantly delivered straight to your inbox. Looking for more on parenting? Check out some of these posts or get a copy of my book Waiting in Wonder: Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting, a devotional journal.

 

Buy the Book


×