Somewhere between Halloween and the New Year, my brain decided to take a sabbatical. I’m serious. You know how I use to read tons of books in order to really suss out the answers to and write about big questions like, “who am I?” “how do I parent better?” and “what’s the deal with body image?”
Yeah, haven’t done much of that kind of thinking lately.
Over the last few months I’ve ordered at least 8 books from Amazon, convinced that I would read through them in a heartbeat and write out my thoughts, post-haste. But I haven’t. And just to be clear, this means I haven’t even cracked the covers of seven of those books and the poor little one that I did begin (in a fit of self-righteous determination) lays forlorn and neglected beside my rocking chair.
It’s very tempting for me to feel like a failure at this juncture of my life. I can’t point to any one giant, overarching error but I can look back over the last year and see lots of little mistakes that, when gathered together in my mind, create an orchestra that seems to be tuned to the key of “loooo-serrrrrr!” Things like unread books, unfinished blog posts, neglected exercise routines, unwritten letters, unfulfilled promises to my kids, unattended PTO meetings, incomplete family projects and a myriad of unmade beds, unfolded laundry and uncleaned spaces in my bathrooms that I swear get filthy within hours of being cleaned.
(And before you say anything, I’m aware that, in general, I am my own worst critic. I judge myself harshly, expect the impossible and get annoyed when Paul offers a varying opinion, like, “hey babe, you’re doing just fine. Stop worrying.” In fact, I wrote about this exact thing in a really amazing blog post…back when I was awesome :- P )
Lately, my failure-o-meter seems to be especially sensitive to my parenting skills (or lack thereof.) I’ve been spending a lot of time with my children these days (understandable, since Paul is away for awhile). The closeness of our current relationship seems to breed many emotional responses. Sometimes they come to me with all their woes, real or imagined, and I offer comfort and encouragement. Love those moments. But sometimes they come to me (smother me?) with all their woes, real or imagined, and I just want to scream, “get over yourselves already! What you are upset about is NOT a big deal!” In that moment, as I glower down at them, they look up at me with big eyes filled with uncertainty and the unspoken question, “Why is our mother such a heartless witch?”
Ok, no, that thought probably doesn’t run through their heads…but it certainly runs through mine.
The thing about parenting is that it never stops. Good days, bad days, days when I feel fat, days when I am PMSing, days when nothing goes right and yes, even those miraculous days when everything goes right, they all require me to parent. It’s rough. You know that picture of the possum mama with all her little possum babies hanging off her back as she goes about her daily business?? Well, that’s how I start to feel after awhile. They’re always there, hanging on to me (physically or emotionally). I feel ya Mama possum, I feel ya. Try heading to the grocery store someday, then you and I can be true soul sisters.
At this juncture I’d like to introduce my good buddy, Paul Tripp. Amazing as always, his book on parenting (not one of the 8 already mentioned) is the one book that I have made myself read during my morning devotions. (I still read at night…it’s just nothing even remotely intellectual because my brain is fried by 8:30 : ) And yes, I’ve felt convicted. But it’s not the conviction that you might think! Rather, Paul Tripp gently chastised my failure ridden soul by saying this,
“If you’re at all humble as a parent, you will look back with some regret. But it’s important to understand that although regret is a sign of a humble heart, it is dangerous and debilitating to live in regret. …Living in regret weakens your hope. Living in regret drags the past into the present. Living in regret even drags the past into the future. And for all of its remembering, regret can be tragically forgetful. …Regret tends to forget the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. On the cross Jesus purchased, by the shedding of his blood, our complete forgiveness: past, present and future. This means that we can boldly come to him in our failure, receive his forgiveness, deposit our regret at his feet, and move on to new and better ways of doing what he has called us to do as parents.”
I love this. It was a balm to my soul, a shot in the arm, a calm for my ruffled feathers (and any other metaphor for, “It made me feel better!”)
You see, I knew that being with my kids 24/7 would bring challenges. Single parenting is hard! My hat goes off to any and all who make this journey for longer than I am because it is difficult and it’s super easy to make mistakes. Part of me was ready for those mistakes. I planned ahead and thought of methods for dealing with all the different times of the week. For that looooong stretch between finished homework and bedtime, we watch cooking competitions (hello Top Chef re-runs). For the days that the kids are home with me (remember, we attend a hybrid school—three days at school and two days at home), I have schedules, school work and cool experiments or art projects (hello Tinker Crate and Doodle Crate boxes). For the weekends I have adventures of all kinds planned (hello aquarium, very cool viking exhibit, great breakfasts and used book stores!). Still, despite all my planning, many frustrating moments still catch up to me and, during the seconds of thought I have before losing it, I realize that I don’t have a good plan for dealing with those. So I lose my temper, make lots of vague threats and send the kids to their room. Then, as I relive the event, I feel regret slowly pooling in my soul, telling me that I really am a loser, a failure, the worst of the worst.
But God says something different. He tells me to buck up, face the sin and confess it. God’s grace drives me to realize that my guilt should only push me towards repentance and that Jesus didn’t die so that I could mope about what a terrible mother I am. Moping about sin is not the Christian life. The Christian life is filled with the never ending cycle of sin, repentance and sanctification. It’s true that during deployments and training separations, the cycle might be a little heavy on the sin and repentance part, but sanctification still happens! I know that it happens because I’m sitting here writing this blog post. A post intended to encourage the hearts of all parents who feel like failures. Get up. Stop living in your past. Confess the failing and move forward knowing that God’s grace is waiting for you in the future.
New and better. That’s how Paul Tripp told me to live this day. Sin hurts, but it doesn’t have to debilitate our future unless we let it sit and fester in our hearts. Instead, as Tripp declares,
“God gives you what you need by giving you himself, and in giving you himself, he showers his amazing, forgiving, rescuing, transforming, empowering and wisdom giving grace down on you. As you parent today, you are invited to remember that you are not alone in your house with your children. Someone else walks the hallways and stands in the family room with you. Someone rides in the van with you on the way to yet another trip with your kids to the mall. Someone is with you as you relive the events of the day before you fall asleep, preparing to face another parenting day. …The one who called you to this very important job is with you and because he is, there’s hope. Sure, there will be times when you’ll find yourself at the end of your rope, but fight fear and discouragement with expectancy; your Savior’s rope never ends, and he will never leave you alone!”