For the past two days Paul and I have battled the stomach bug. Well…“have battled” is probably incorrect. The phrase “were completely and utterly defeated” is much more apt. With this evil virus, resistance was futile. Over the course of one week it laid waste to each family member. And in a particularly malevolent move, it sickened both Paul and me within four hours of each other. That’s why we spent the better part of Tuesday and part of Wednesday either clutching a toilet or curled up in a ball on the couch (or floor, depending on how far we made it out of the bathroom : ). Needless to say, our children watched a lot of TV those days and ate pretty much whatever they wanted. But they survived, and in my book, it’s a parenting win.
That’s all back story for what happened this morning. My house was a wreck, I hadn’t showered in a day, making a lunch for Jack was a labor of love because looking at food still wasn’t pleasant, and to top it all off, I hadn’t heard my alarm until sound level reached the “ARE YOU EVER GOING TO WAKE UP OR WILL THE NEIGHBORS COME BANGING AT YOUR DOOR IN ORDER TO STOP THIS BEEPING” level which meant I was rushing around like a chicken with its head cut off. A still slightly sick chicken.
So when I woke Jack up and handed him his clothes for the day, the last thing that I wanted to hear was a sleepy, but oh so belligerent little voice saying, “but Mamma, these aren’t sweatpants! It’s sweatpants day today!”
BUT I’d been on top of things and had actually seen the memo about sweatpants day. So included in his pile of clothes were some exercise pants that had just been washed (see! I AM a good mom!).
“NO Mom. These are NOT sweat pants. They are NOT fuzzy. They do NOT count. I CAN’T wear these. I just CAN’T. Why didn’t you get me SWEAT PANTS?! THAT’s what I’m supposed to wear!! ”
Angry tears began to gather in the corners of his eyes.
Now, at that particular moment, I began to feel the very opposite of spiritual. The things that wanted to rush out of my mouth were definitely not the “apples of gold in pitchers of silver” (Prov 25:11) variety. I wanted to say things like, “No one cares about your stupid pants.” “Quit being such a jerk.” “THAT’S IT! NO VIDEO GAMES FOR A YEAR!” “How dare you complain after everything I’ve done for you.” or just forgo any words and shake him silly.
Instead, I pushed those thoughts aside and tried to reason with him, convince him that exercise pants were basically the same as sweat pants and that they would totally count. He wouldn’t listen. “Mamma, I just want to do what the paper says! I want to wear SWEAT PANTS! Why won’t you let me?! Why don’t you care!?” The angry tears slid out and began to roll down his cheeks as he clutched to his chest a pair of dirty (as in has-a-food-stain-on-the-front-of-it) but honest-to-God sweat pants that he’d found at the foot of his bed. So I resorted to the phrase that all mothers everywhere have probably used when they failed to win an argument but don’t have the time or patience (or spiritual mindset) to begin a long conversation about obedience, respect etc. “Fine. Wear whatever you want. I. don’t. care.”
Ah, but you see, I did care. I cared a lot. And that caring bloomed into full blown anger and disappointment as the morning advanced. I’m happy to say that Jack and I did had a good conversation over breakfast where we talked about obedience, respect etc and he left for school having apologized for his attitude and I apologized for my anger. But since then, I’ve still had this nagging sense of hurt. Jack’s words had stung because they implied that I had knowingly done something wrong. That I had been a “Bad Mom.”
Like most of my friends, my children are still pretty young. My struggles with them still lay along lines of why-did-you-think-it-was-ok-to-draw-on-the-table type of issues. Frustrating, yes. But not terribly thought provoking. Just….childishness. But Jack is getting older now. He is a smart and very logical kid. Also bull-headed and literal to a fault (a trait passed down from his father). So if the sheet said “sweat pants,” any other type of pants would be incorrect. When I declared that exercise pants equalled sweat pants, he heard this as a full-blown untruth. So, basically, he accused me both of lying to him and of trying to get him in trouble at school. That hurt my feelings! To realize that in a moment of frustration, Jack could forget everything that I had ever done for him and assume that I wanted to treat him maliciously just…stung!
Have your children done this with you? Just flat out hurt your feelings? What do you do with that hurt? This morning I’ve been reflecting on the fact that an uncomfortable part of parenting is learning to change the face of my love. When children are little, my love must cover a multitude of spilled cups of milk, stains on my carpet, fights over eating green beans, ripped clothes and soggy towels that were “accidentally” pulled into the bathtub because the bath toys needed to be “dried.” As my children age, I am learning that my love will need to cover a multitude of bad attitudes, rebellious challenges and even the unfair accusation of an angry 6 year old who feels that his very reputation is at stake if he goes to school in exercise pants. Here are some of the ways that I think my love will need to change and expand.
First, I need to put myself in Jack’s shoes. When situations like this arise I must try to understand what is motivating his attitude. With little children, you obviously don’t have to do this very often. I mean, I drew on the wall because, well, the wall was right there and I had a crayon in my hand! It’s pretty clear cut. With Jack, I find myself reacting to the obvious infraction when I should be thinking of what is hiding underneath his outburst. In this case, he was truly afraid that his friends would make fun of him for not wearing sweatpants. That fear motivated him to resist my selection of clothes. Where I saw a ridiculous rebellion and obvious mistrust, Jack saw a need to protect himself from the ridicule of his peers. Admittedly, there will be times when I just don’t understand why Jack is feeling a certain way. But in these instances, God has graciously given me a wealth of information and insight in the form of my husband. Even today, Paul was the one who gently walked me through the morning from Jack’s perspective. It was very helpful (and very convicting : P ). In other words, be a detective when if comes to your growing son or daughter. Take the time to figure out what is really going on. If you can’t do this in the moment (because your thoughts are totally eclipsed by frustration) go back and revisit the situation later on. Ask your child to walk through it with you and together, figure out what they were thinking. With time, your reactions can become more tailored to both the outward sin (the refusal to obey) and the inward sin (debilitating fear of man).
Second, I need to remember that not a day goes by when I don’t unfairly accuse God of something. My mouth might state, “I trust you God” but my actions say, “AHHHH! You don’t have a clue about what is happening in my life!” Just like Jack’s fear of his classmates overshadowed his trust in me, my mind easily creates reasons to disbelieve in the goodness and trustworthiness of my heavenly father. And while my human response to Jack is, “how dare you mistrust me! Haven’t I proved to you that I love you?” God doesn’t do this. His anger doesn’t burn against me every time I doubt him. His love for me remains steadfast, even in the face of my flagrant disregard (Lam 3:22). God’s love for me is not altered or influenced by my actions. Brennan Manning (yes, I love his writing, so you’ll have to bear with the many quotes) writes,
“God’s love is based on nothing, and the fact that it is based on nothing makes us secure. Were it based on anything that we do, and that “anything” were to collapse, then God’s love would crumble as well. But with the God of Jesus no such thing can possibly happen. People who realize this can live freely and to the fullest.”
So I had to ask myself, does Jack see this type of love from me? A love that doesn’t demand obedience as proof of trust? Or do I throw the evidences of my love in Jack’s face (“I feed you! I clothe you! I take care of you!”) as a means of making him feel guilty, a guilt which in turn, is supposed to make him obey? It is really so hypocritical. My love should display itself as constant, secure and reliable to Jack, Brenn and Meg. Sure, in love I will address and correct sinful behavior because that’s what God does in my life. But I won’t demand obedience as payback for my affection. As God’s children, we would crumble under the weight of paying God back if he exacted the same price from us.
So, mothers of boys and girls who are no longer little, be encouraged. Your love stretched and survived the sleepless baby years and the destructive toddler years. Now that same love may need to expand and deepen even more as your children become small adults. Their thinking is changing, their fears are changing but their trust in your love shouldn’t waver. As you show them the way forward, as you show them how to be detectives of their motives so that they can learn to react appropriately, you will be giving them the tools to mature and grow in wisdom. But for those days when your children mess up, when they hurt your feelings and act out, remember that loving them in the face of their mistrust will mirror God’s faithful affection towards us.