Posted in Anxiety, Faith, Family, Mental Health, motherhood

Two Desperate Words of All Parents (and what to do about them)

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Paul)


“BUT I…”

It’s a cry heard all over parenting land.

BUT I took my prenatal vitamins and I did exactly what the doctor told me.  Why does my baby have a heart defect?

BUT I waited until she was “ready” for potty training and I followed the exact steps that worked for all my friends.  Why is my six year old still wetting the bed?

BUT I had him evaluated and got him a specialized tutor.  Why is his teacher still telling me he’s not doing well in school?

BUT I gave up my job and made her a complete priority in my life, even leaving cute notes in her lunch.  Why is she rolling her eyes at me and hardly ever coming outside of her room?

BUT I never had liquor in the house and he’s been through all the drug and alcohol awareness programs.  He’s even seen his friends lose their licenses.  Why did I just find vodka under my senior’s bed?

BUT I took her to church her whole life and we even had family devotions.  Why did my college student just reveal that she doesn’t believe in God anymore?

BUT I paid for four years at a good college and I remember the dreams he had growing up about becoming a doctor.  Why did he barely receive his diploma and can’t even find a steady-paying job?


We want so desperately in our lives to have A + B always = C.  We want the formulas to work.  We get advice from all kinds of sources (friends, parenting books, the internet, pastors, counselors, doctors) and we cry in frustration “BUT I…” when the recipe ends up more like all those Pinterest fails we’ve seen on the internet (note the picture above).


When I was just a wee bit younger (okay, like 30 years ago, but I’m not that old, right?!), I believed wholeheartedly in all the formulas, and especially that they would work.  Why wouldn’t I?  It’s perfect.  Just do all right things, make all the right choices and life goes the way it should.  I’d heard it from preachers, parents, teachers, friends, authors, and I’d repeated it endlessly in my own head.  Being the “good Christian” woman that I was, I brought this into my parenting.  Of course I did.

As you may have heard in my Podcast with Sarah, our oldest (CLICK HERE TO LISTEN – IT’S WORTH IT), these lovely formulas worked with her.  She was naturally compliant.  She loved the formulas herself.  (If we were Catholic, she probably would have wanted to be a nun.)  She followed all the rules, had sticker charts completely filled in, received accolades in school for being the best citizen, and excelled at “being a good Christian” whatever that means.  Our formulas seemed to work (especially to the outside world).

But inside our home, they weren’t.  She struggled with tummy aches even as early as three.  She had full-blown Obsessive Compulsive Disorder at 10 years old.  She struggled to go away to sleep away camp for a week when she was 14 because she couldn’t leave the perceived “safety” of our home.  She needed meds for her anxiety in college.  As much as she and I tried our hardest to make A + B = C, it just didn’t happen.  The “right” side of the equal sign became D or J or V or most like a giant question mark.

WHY?  I screamed in desperation.  I was doing everything right!

Should I just try harder?  Maybe I am doing something wrong?  Maybe the equation isn’t right?  All questions that swirled around in my head.

And believe me, I still tried to fix it for years.  I read books, took parenting classes, listened to podcasts, asked friends, had mom prayer circles and even begged Allen to figure it out.

Still, I couldn’t make A + B = C.

New questions swirled.  If this doesn’t work, then what?  What do I do now?  How do I parent?  What really makes me a good mom (something I so desperately wanted and still want)?


It’s funny how when we come to the end of our trying and our finagling and our controlling and our rope and our selves, our hearts open to the possibility of something new.  A new thought.  A new possibility.  A new way.

God used the end of all of this for something new in me.  A new thought about what matters in our family.   A new possibility of how to be a mom.   A new way of seeing my child.

He invited me into relationship, both with Himself and with my children.   At first, this uncertain place seemed like a curse.  It would take lots more time and wisdom when making decisions.  I might not even make the same choice twice.  What I did for one child in one circumstance might not be the best for a different one.  There might be “it’s unfair” shouts.  It would be complicated, messy.

But as I embarked on this different journey of parenting with much trepidation, I found that it just might be a gift, and a good one at that.  Instead of living in a “what I wish were true” place, I began to live in a “what’s actually true” space.   Life is messy and no amount of “doing the right thing” ensures complete safety and success.

I slowly began to gain freedom from the formula master, one chain link at a time.  Instead of viewing my child as a problem to be solved, I began to see them as a mysterious person to be known, loved and enjoyed (kind of like action thriller enjoyment, which is scary and fun all at the same time).  Instead of seeking certainty,  I began to pursue wisely-placed trust, trust in a wild God, One I can’t control, but One who is completely good and utterly safe.  He doesn’t need any formula for my children to thrive and be okay (the real cry of my heart).

My relationship with my kids slowly began to change.  Instead of having an agenda (the sum of the equation), I could just BE with them, no matter where they were or what they were doing (good or bad).  It was hard for me, like super hard.  I know best, especially as a mom.  I want what’s best for them.  I know how they should get there.  But it doesn’t come from the best place.   I like a little bit (I mean a lot) of control.  But we all know how control works out (see formula above).  It doesn’t.

As I turned the tables (another new thought), I realized I don’t want to be anybody else’s agenda or project.  Neither do my kids.  Instead of “here is what I think you should do, be, act like, etc., I love when others say, “I’m with you,” and that’s the end of it.  That’s what my kids want.  I don’t want to feel like I’m going to the principal’s office when I am with someone.  Neither do my kids.  It creates defensiveness, hiding, guilt, shame, people-pleasing, all the yuck we parents are now in counseling for ourselves.

However, when someone is just WITH ME in my beautiful, messy life where sometimes I make bad choices or think terrible thoughts, unconditional love opens the door for vulnerability and trust.  THIS is what my kids want.  All the good stuff happens the most in this safe place.   No one is going to counseling for this.

Now I had a new question.  Was it as simple as love God and love others (including those people who’ve been placed in this family under my purview)?  Yes.

Formulas are not love.  To boot, they don’t work.  Loving God is trusting Him (the hardest part of parenting), especially when things don’t go as planned.  DON’T FORGET:  it is a trust that is wisely placed.  IT BRINGS US FREEDOM.

Agendas are also not love.   Loving others (our kids) is being WITH them, especially when they are not where we think they should be or want them to be.  That’s a love that’s unconditional and safe.  IT BRINGS THEM FREEDOM.







Sappy, sarcastic, serious and spiritual hope-bringer. Eat my potato chips with milk.

17 thoughts on “Two Desperate Words of All Parents (and what to do about them)

  1. I had a thought pop up after reading the first paragraph. It has to do with children who don’t easy fall in line. You are focused on teaching them but maybe their behavior is trying to teach you. It’s just a thought I randomly get them and not meant as an insult or anything.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. So true! If you read all the way through, this is not where I want my focus to be at all. I have found it does not work at all! We get so caught up in agendas and formulas for our kids and it prevents all the good stuff from happening! Thank you for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Makes so much sense! That is so true! When we have those formulas in our heads, we put our focus in the wrong places. The best relationships are the ones where we are just “WITH” each other in all the beautiful and messy places. Including with our families, friends, and even coworkers. Thank you for your comment. Makes me think further about it all!


      2. I just heard something goes way back to an old Reba McEntire music video. I think it’s called, Is there life out there. It’s the scene where she gets her paper back from the teacher and she tells him she learned more from the stain than the paper.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. First one quote I read a long time ago and still heed today…. the fact that you ask what you need to do next to be a good mom means you are a good mom. just asking the question shows you care and love.

    I have had this conversation with so many people. We wish our children fit into that mold that we expect them to fit into, but no child truly fits into that mold perfectly. Life isn’t linear… life is a series of ups, downs, questions and answers. I taught my sons early in life that life isn’t equal. Fair doesn’t mean equal… fair means providing each with what they need to be the best of themselves. I always tell my sons, and students, I want them to be the best version of themselves they can be, that will look, sound and time out very differently than every other person they encounter.

    Taking that step back and loving the whole is a huge part of this process.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “Instead of seeking certainty,  I began to pursue wisely-placed trust, trust in a wild God, One I can’t control, but One who is completely good and utterly safe.”

    Oh, my heart!!!! I am deeply grateful to have read this post this morning. This speaks to a long internal struggle I have as a Christian- the desire to be in relationship with God, but the compulsion to strive for control. What an awesome realization that our God seems wild to us, He is truly safe and good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes Jess! Yes. He is wild! He can’t be tamed! We can’t get control of Him! But He is perfectly good and safe! We can trust Him and it is a wisely-placed trust! I need to continue to remind myself over and over and over! Sounds like we are sisters of the heart! The struggle is very real! Thank you for sharing and being vulnerable!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “It would take lots more time and wisdom when making decisions. I might not even make the same choice twice. What I did for one child in one circumstance might not be the best for a different one.”

    Kind of reminds me of how Jesus walked on this earth. Every conversation, every action, every miracle, every interaction had a unique, “not-to-be-repeated” quality to it. It was real. It was honest. It was personal. It was unscripted. It was the anti-formula way of living amongst a people who loved, loved, loved formulas and rules, (so they could all know the score, know who was “the best”). Each encounter he tailored for each person and for each situation. It can be a scary way of living for formula-seekers, but really really freeing, if we let it be so, for those of us who keep forgetting the formula, messing up, and carrying all the guilt and shame that ensues.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You’ve been listening in on my time with my Favorite Mental Health Professional, my therapist. She has been trying to teach me to “be awake” in my life—see it for all the truth of it, agenda free.

    Esther my friend, you’re a gifted lady! I love the way you see parenting!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.