(Mom utters with eyes rolling while corralling child hyped up on the latest candy cane-induced sugar high) “Tis the Season.”
(Dad pronounces with pride brimming watching high schooler dance in holiday pageant) “Tis the Season.”
(Parents cry waiting for any hopeful news of their adult child living on the streets with addiction) “Tis the Season” is right! A season filled with wonder, joy, hope and generosity. A season also filled with waiting, anticipating, yearning, the pleading question “is it all going to be okay?” This is the howl of Advent.
Christmas Morning is the answer to that question. The entire journey of parenting feels a lot like Advent. In fact, it starts with the womb, nine months of waiting, anticipating, yearning, the Question, “WILL THEY BE OKAY?” Our precious baby is born and for a moment when the doctor says, “All is well,” we burst with joy and wonder, waves of relief flooding our hearts as the question is answered. “Yes, they are going to be okay.” Advent quiets. Christmas Morning arrives. Until… We arrive home, alone with this human we are responsible to feed and care for, keep alive and healthy. We wake in the dark, tiptoe over to the bassinet and put our hands on their backs or our fingers under their teeny noses to see if they are breathing. The Question arises again, “are they going to be okay?”
Advent returns. This constant returning to Advent, to the Question, permeates parenthood. WILL THEY BE OKAY??? Will they choke on that bagel?
Will they make friends in their class?
Will they learn to read?
Will they score a goal?
Will they have a seat in the lunchroom?
Will they tell us the truth about that party?
Will they drink and drive?
Will they get into a good college?
Will they struggle with loneliness?
Will they meet someone who loves them?
Will they make enough money?
Will they be a good mom or dad?
Will they have a happy marriage? WILL THEY BE OKAY??? Advent grieves broken places that are yet to be healed, questions that have no answer today and yearning that is unfulfilled. BUT (and it’s a big BUT), Advent also speaks the hope of an answer at the end of a long season of waiting, a Christmas Morning to come. But as parents (whether our child is 2, 22 or 42), we wait, always returning to the Question. Wondering if there is an answer to the burning doubt inside. WILL THEY BE OKAY? Really OKAY? Is there a Christmas Morning for us, for our children who we love so tenderly and so dearly? Not too long ago, I was in the middle of a long period of Advent with one of my kids, asking and asking the Question. It was nearly impossible to see any glimmer of hope on the horizon, near or distant. The waiting was long. I fell into a bleak and dreary place. The Question engulfed me until I asked an ever scarier one: WHAT IF THEY ARE NOT OKAY? What then? Just when I needed it (or more likely, when I was able to hear it), a gentle Voice spoke into my heart, clear as the air on a crisp Spring day. “Even if the unspeakable happens, even if their treasured life comes to an end, they will be with Me, enveloped in My unfathomable love. They will be perfectly safe.” Further words came after that I had so longed for: “THEY WILL BE OKAY! REALLY OKAY!” And then, when I thought it was over, the same kind Voice gave the answer to an even deeper question I had not even asked: “AND SO WILL YOU, MAMA.” The sigh of my soul was almost audible, as I collapsed into the knowing place that no matter what, even if all questions are answered with a NO, the Question is answered always with a YES. Advent always ends with Christmas Morning.
This is a girl I love. Her picture hangs on our family photo wall. I want to fix it, make him okay. I am sad. I am angry.
I want to buy him a plane ticket to visit his sister. My own eyes well up and I offer him the only thing I can: my presence. This is how it is now. The older my kids get, what they need comforting for or help with are not things I can do much about, I can’t make people like them.
I can’t (and shouldn’t) fight on their behalf for a grade or a promotion at work.
I can’t force someone to want to spend the rest of their lives with them.
I can’t stop the world from hurting them. What am I to do? Offer my presence. In simple ways. Answer their text with a simple “I love you.”
Listen when and if they want to talk.
Take them to a movie, complete with popcorn and candy.
Write a “you’ve got this” note.
Make their favorite cookies.
I’m not fixing the dilemmas they find themselves in.
I’m not concocting ways to ensure they are not in pain (try as I might). I am being with them in the middle of the quagmire.
I am reminding them they are not left on their own.
I am here for them, worrying, trusting, cheering, praying and hoping. There’s no place I’d rather be.
I had one girl and two boys, all under the age of seven. I was ready to burst, my fourth baby wiggling incessantly inside my pregnant belly, leaving me exhausted and eager to give birth. I had chosen NOT to find out the gender, but not-so-secretly dreamed of a sister for my oldest.
You see, I was the only girl in a family of three older brothers and always wanted a sister. But no matter how much I pleaded with my mom, no more babies were to be had.
A few days after an awful procedure called an “external version” to flip over my not-head-down baby, I packed my bags and headed to the hospital. After hours of induced labor, the doctor came rushing in just in time to shout, “IT’S A GIRL!”
My heart leapt for JOY (her middle name that mirrors my own) and, in that moment, I thought my BIG dream had come true and my earnest prayer answered.
Little did I know that something much BIGGER was on the horizon.
The birth of this baby girl became the very starting point of a now years-long journey of healing for me. I’m still not sure why.
Perhaps it was a fluke. Or maybe God just knew that I might be ready.
Immediately, her sparkly eyes drew me close, as if she could see right into my soul.
I had never before been able to open my heart without pause.
She was unconditional love wrapped in a tiny package of flesh and bones.
I had never before been able to receive love without restriction.
As she grew, her child-like wisdom shocked me in the best ways.
I had never before been able to move out of formulaic thinking.
Three crucial pieces to a puzzle that had long been missing in my life, and that changed it forever.
As I write, this young lady stands on the precipice of a hope-filled future, one that reaches far beyond me.
She still sparkles and I feel seen.
She still loves unabashedly and I receive it with JOY.
She still speaks wisdom and I am, again and again, moved toward healing.
My BIG dream did come true that autumn morning, the birth of a sister for my oldest.
But God had a much BIGGER dream for me, an “immeasurably more” kind: the slow, deliberate, continuing and tender mending of my own precious soul.
It had been every day for 25++ years. She found herself sitting on the floor, covered in empty boxes, about to sleep on a futon that had been through her three other college kids and was now gracing the dorm room of her baby. She couldn’t believe she was finally here.
But she knew why she was absolutely exhausted. Who wouldn’t be? She lay awake thinking about ALL.THE.THINGS.
- Q-tips covered in alcohol carefully for 10 days on each of four babies’ umbilical cords until that gross thing turned black and fell off
- Shopping with four children under seven (it was like taking four goats to the store…I “kid” you not…get it? get it? I “kid” you not)
- Sorting legos into bags by color, size and type at least 52 times (to be exact)
- Playing Ms. PacMan on Nintendo 64 surrounded by eight excited eyes until she beat all the levels and killed the witch
- Filling out back-to-school forms until her eyes twitched and hands curled up in agony (can’t this be computerized school board?)
- Packing 180 (# of days in a school year) X 4 (# of kids in her house) X 13 (# of school years) lunches (equals 9,360)
- Chore charts, memory verse charts, learn-to-pee-and-poop-on-the-potty charts, and behavior charts, all complete with stickers and prizes
- Watching (or at least hearing from the kitchen) ad nauseam reruns from the Disney Channel, Nick Jr., PBS, Cartoon Network and Netflix
- Coaching and watching basketball, soccer, baseball, lacrosse, wrestling, field hockey, swimming, track, volleyball, and softball (the records for all of those sports combined probably .500 exactly)
- Listening to piano, clarinet, bassoon, guitar, and recorders (yikes!)
- Doctor, dentist, oral surgeon, voice therapist, orthodontist, counselor, ENT, orthopedic surgeon and emergency room visits enough that she should have “frequent shopper cards” (buy 10 visits, get one free)
- Themed birthday parties each year complete with specialized decorations and games (Pin the Tail on Pikachu anyone?)
- Graduations from preschool to middle school to high school to college (secretly bored out of her mind, but still taking all the pictures)
- Driving at least 5 or 6 times the distance of the globe to practices, lessons, youth groups, parties, play dates, school, and girl/boyfriend’s houses
- 3,247 fights over paper-cup lids, halloween candy, bathroom etiquette (or lack thereof), and on and on and on
- Teaching (or more true, freaking out in the passenger’s seat) four teens how to drive
- Moving four kids in and out of college dorms and college apartments (one night she actually slept on bath mats…the softest thing she could find in said child’s off-campus apartment)
You can see why she was wiped out. W-I-P-E-D out!
A couple of days later, back home snug in her bed, hoping to finally get some much-needed sleep, she patted herself on the back for a mom job well done.
As she headed off to dreamland at the luscious hour of 10 pm, her phone DINGED, the familiar tone reserved for her blessed four.
It was a text from her college junior. “Mom, can you help? I need to figure out how to switch a class.”
She quickly responded, telling him he needed to wait until the morning.
“Okay Mom. Love you.”
“Love you too. We’ll figure it out.”
Five minutes later, another DING, same familiar tone.
Slightly annoyed, she checked to make sure all was well with whoever was now texting.
Her recent college graduate was sending a note from the kitchen.“Mom, where are the spatulas?”
She told him which drawer. He said he already looked there. She unwrapped herself from her cozy covers and walked down the long flight of stairs. She opened said drawer. It was right there, hiding in plain site.
“Thanks Mom. Love you.”
“Love you too. Good night. Please clean up after yourself.”
She marched herself right back up those stairs, slipping back under her covers and shutting her heavy lids. Sleep came quickly.
Different child (this time, adult and oldest child living on her own).
“Mom? You up? I’m a wreck. Can’t sleep. My roommate is being a jerk. I think I should move out. What do you think I should do?”
She pressed #2 on speed dial.
After 45 minutes of listening and listening and listening and then more listening, the two of them said the same words to each other since forever.
“Love you to the moon, Mom.”
“And I love you all the way to the moon and back again, Peanut.”
She was now fully awake. She tossed and turned and tossed and turned.
The clock had struck midnight and her restless legs were acting up.
She turned her pillow over to the cool side.
She stared into the darkness.
She irritatingly glanced at her fast-asleep spouse, mouth agape.
“WHAT NOW? WHO NOW?”
It was her baby.
“Mom, I love you. And miss you. Sorry if I woke you up.”
She answered pronto.
“Love you too, honey. And miss you like crazy!”
She laid her head back on her not-cool-enough pillow, closing her eyes tight. Wise words from an older mom friend echoed in her mind, and she understood them just a little bit better.
“This parenting gig never ends, because love never ends.”
She drifted off (FINALLY) to a sweet sleep, all phones quiet.
As she woke in the morning, her mom body ached a little and she was still tired, exhausted actually, but her mom heart, just like every day for 25++ years, was full to the brim.
It starts early:
Should we PUT DOWN our four-month old (let him “cry it out”) or PICK him UP when he is fussy? Holding him tends to calm him. He sleeps better. He stops crying. He is basically happier.
How about the daily battle of knowing how much to help our budding adult children (pick them up when they are “fussy”) or let them figure things out on their own (many times painful and uncomfortable)? Helping them tends to calm them. They sleep better. They stop “fussing.” They are basically happier.
It never ends:
What about an aging parent’s battle about how much to help their youngest son with the care of his children? He lost his wife about a year ago and the situation is complicated. They are 84. He is 56. Helping him calms the situation. Everyone sleeps better. The “fussing” is abated. He is basically happier.
No matter how old our child is, the battle of whether or not to PICK UP or PUT DOWN is one we will fight until our last breath.
It can be teaching a baby to sleep by themselves, driving a forgotten homework assignment to school for your elementary daughter, purchasing a car for your new driver, allowing an adult child to live at home rent-free for a season, watching grandchildren for your middle-aged son, the list goes on and on.
The questions are basic:
How much do I “PICK UP,” help, console, “save the day,” when my child has a need or even a want?
How much do I let them “ride out the storm,” figure it out on their own, “PUT them DOWN” so to speak?
Where is that line drawn?
When is that line drawn?
How is that line drawn?
What choice should we make so that we are promoting emotional health and good boundaries, yet making sure the other feels safe and completely loved?
We fight this battle on the daily, no matter how we old we are or how simple or complicated the situation is.
Our hearts burn with this question:
“What should I do in “X” situation with “such-and-such” child? Do I PICK them UP or PUT them DOWN?”
If I “PICK them UP,” the voices in my cute little brain shout loudly.
You are doing too much.
Your boundaries are too lax.
They need to learn for themselves.
This is unhealthy.
This is bad.
If I don’t help and PUT them DOWN, I hear opposing and equally noisy voices.
You aren’t doing enough.
Your boundaries are too rigid.
They need to feel loved and not alone.
This is unhealthy.
This is bad.
Ugh. Double Ugh.
So what do we do when we feel trapped in this impossible and never-ending battle?
- We remind ourselves that even though the questions seem easy, the situations are complicated. No two are the same and rarely is there a quick answer or fix.
- We recognize that this dilemma is part of being a parent, period. There’s no getting out of it.
- We realize that other parents are in the same boat. We all need each other, not to judge and give solutions, but to listen and give grace.
- We stop asking ourselves if the decision is right or wrong, black or white, good or bad. Rarely are decisions that we make all one way or the other. That’s an exhausting treadmill and only promotes fear, guilt and shame. Either decision will have both difficult and wonderful attached to it. Usually it’s some combination of beautiful and messy.
- We ask these questions instead: What do I really need? Why do I want to help? What do they really need? We can take the long-view and dig a little deeper.
- We allow ourselves to change our minds if we need to. We give ourselves permission to re-evaluate and get counsel from others. There is great freedom here.
- We show ourselves boatloads of grace no matter what we decide. We remind ourselves that God loves both of us and He can come in and provide all that’s lacking no matter what decision is made in the moment.
- And lastly, we ask God for wisdom because He gives it GENEROUSLY and FREELY to all without finding fault, and we trust that will be given to us (James 1:5).
Do not forget, my friend, that we are in the same “mom boat,” paddling along, trying not to sink and, at the same time, enjoying the big, bumpy, beautiful ride together.
From my heart to yours.
**first published on Liquid Church Family Devotional**
I could see that she was holding back tears as she walked down the steps of the school bus and into the passenger seat of our family minivan.
The words came tumbling out like a waterfall, “He broke up with me at lunch.”
My heart sank as I watched her body curl into a ball and her head flush against the window, tears flowing freely now.
“Oh honey. I’m so sorry. I know how much you liked him.”
I laid my hand on her arm for a moment and she wrapped herself further into a ball. Silence ensued for the rest of our drive home.
She bolted into the house and to her room, shutting the door. I followed her up the stairs, and as I rested my head on her closed door, I could barely make out muffled sobs.
My heart sank even more. My girl was hurting. And no matter what I did or said in that moment, it probably wouldn’t help at all. She was suffering the normal heartbreak that comes with first kisses, first crushes and first rejections.
I would just let her be for now, alone with her own heart and all the feelings that were new and confusing and downright difficult. It was the best and only thing I knew to do. It seemed to be what she wanted and needed the most.
I meandered to the kitchen, not sure what to do with myself. I wanted to run right back upstairs and wipe her tears away with a kiss, a hug, an emotional bandaid, an “I love you” or one of the other many mom tricks I had up my sleeve. Not this time. Instead, all I could do was pray (and I sure did) and feel awkward and start to make dinner.
Time seemed to march ever so slowly that afternoon, normal when pain is loud for us or someone we love. Time feels achingly long and almost cruel. Why can’t it pass quickly so that we are on the other side of loss and grief and back to our hopeful selves?
How I wished that for her that insufferable day.
Right before dinner, there was a knock at our front door. Odd at that time of day.
I glanced through the window and right in front of my own teary eyes, one of my daughter’s best friends was anxiously standing there, carrying two spoons and a huge container of my girl’s favorite ice cream flavor.
I opened the door, gave her a quick, thankful hug and whispered, “She’s up in her room.”
I heard another knock, footsteps, a door open and then shut again.
Talk about strange and hard for my mama self, yet somehow wonderful and what I hoped for all at the same time.
What I couldn’t do anymore as a mom (as much as I desperately wanted to), her friend was able to do. Listen. Relate. Comfort. Eat ice cream out of the container right before dinner.
All so normal for that season of her life.
I kept milling around the kitchen, gratitude welling up inside of me for this friendship that my daughter had.
The kind that goes to the grocery store instead of her dance practice.
The kind that shows up instead of stays away.
The kind that hangs out with the tears instead of just the laughs.
I heard the front door close and a car pull away.
In what seemed like only a few moments, her friend was gone again, just like that.
Had it been enough for that very miserable afternoon?
I wondered what would happen next.
Only moments went by when I heard the familiar creaking of my girl’s door opening and loud footsteps down the stairs.
She bounded into the kitchen, hair a mess, eyes all puffy, but the next words out of her mouth were priceless.
“I’m going to be okay, Mom, even if I’m not right now.”
She threw her arms around me and we hugged for a long time and as I held her close, I knew deep inside that it had all been enough.
“What’s for dinner?” she quietly asked.
As we unwrapped ourselves, I whispered one last thing into her ear, “I made your favorite.”