“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Paul)
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?
BUT I TRIED MY BEST AND LOVED HER WITH MY WHOLE HEART, WHY IS SHE STILL NOT OKAY?
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.
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