Oh, bless the friend who posted this article on Facebook: “Seven Things That Good Mothers Do That I’m Not Going to Do Anymore.” Maybe it was a really great article, or maybe I just read it on the right day – an eggshell-in-the-muffins, junk-on-every-surface-of-the-house, yelled-at-my-kid-yet-again kind of day. Either way, reading this article lifted the parenting pressure valve for a solid eight minutes.
Included in the list of things the writer was determined to stop doing were “bathe the kids every night” and “spend all weekend with my kids,” but my favourite, the one that really made me breathe a sigh, was “be eternally patient.”
If God engineers situations in our lives to grow fruit in us, then parenting is tailor-made for patience-cultivation. I discover I am sorely lacking in this area. I was chugging merrily along in my parenting career, impressed with my apparent acres of grace and self-control, until my daughter turned two. Then came the temper tantrums: my temper tantrums. I am shocked by how quickly I heat up and how unexpectedly I flare.
Exhibit A – the clothing issue. Until she was approximately three, my daughter was a little dolly to dress. It was a chance to express my taste, and beyond that, the whole parenting ethos I was trying to create, with a perfectly adaptable little being on whom everything fit and looked adorable. Seemingly overnight, however, she developed an opinion. First it was simply that she wanted to wear “pretty” clothes: ruffles, sequins, pink and turquoise, etc. Before long her opinion extended to things like fit: too tight, too loose, too long, too short. Now it is a rare morning when an argument doesn’t ignite at the dresser. I brace myself as I pick clothing out of her drawer, aware that although only one t-shirt matches her skirt, she finds that particular shirt too long. I wait for the first wail of frustration: “Ohhhh, not THAT shirt!” And I deliver my barking retort more firmly than necessary to head off further argumentation. It never works; conflict ensues. The worst is when I expect her to like an outfit and she hits me with a left-field objection. The storm rages so suddenly and so wild then, that words are out of my mouth before I can control them, and they are usually words I regret.
Parents are just people
Scenes like this are frequent and repeating. They can make me feel like a crummy parent, even a crummy human being. But Leigh Anderson who wrote the article – bless her too – insists, “It’s not good for children to have infinitely patient, saintly mothers, because the world is not infinitely patient and saintly.” She goes on, with some choice expletives, to explain that it’s “good for kids to recognize the incipient stages of someone losing their – ” well, let’s just say stuff. I know this, because I lose that same stuff on a regular basis.
Being patient is a good thing – an attribute of Christ-likeness, a fruit of the Spirit, and an essential skill in parenting. It is, by and large, much to be admired and practiced. But because parenting comes with heaps of guilt over everything, and because we parents are just people, it is probably a good idea to remember the heaps of grace that are offered by this faith of ours.
It is easy to focus on the minutiae of the present stage. We can get lost in the events of days, the issues at hand, seeing them spread out before us like an already-determined analysis of our parenting abilities. But the big picture, the canvas of our parenting that our children will take with them into adulthood, is formed slowly, over time. It is not determined by a short night’s sleep or locked to a season of conflict. It is coloured by many contributions, good and bad. And when we fail, we hold onto this one great hope, that all things – including angry bursts of impatience – will be used for our, and their, ultimate good.
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