We attend a small, but incredibly social church. Sometimes, this means before and after the service the aisles are crowded with people. This is a charming feature of our church, unless you’re actually in a hurry to get somewhere. You know, for instance, if you were supposed to be leading music, but you couldn’t get to the stage and you were holding a thirty pound toddler who was supposed to be in the nursery, but decided he wanted to sing with you instead and your arm was already sore from hauling him up and down the church stairs and now you’re going to have to hold him the whole time you’re singing and you can’t even get to the stage because THESE PEOPLE WON’T MOVE. . . hypothetically speaking.
So the other week I was stuck in the “clogged artery” (as my husband has affectionately named the main aisle of our church) and happened to be right in front of a grandpa. He looked down at me, lugging my giant toddler and said something sweet about my son and patted his head. I said something vaguely annoyed about how big he was and how hard it is to lug him around, but that he was a good boy. This grandpa looked me straight in the eye and said, “Be kind to him. Some day he will take YOU by the hand.” I saw a gentleness in that grandpa’s eyes that brought a tear to mine as I looked at my baby boy and imagined the day I will no longer be sighing at his slowness as I’m rushing to get where I need to go, but he is sighing at mine. It was a dose of reality I desperately needed.
Parenting little ones is exhausting. The temptation to be short or cross or sarcastic is strong. I want them to fall inline with my agenda, make me proud, and give my life purpose. When they make my life complicated, even when it is unintentional, I’m irritable. The phrase, “Are you serious right now?” is my all-too-frequent response to their entirely predictable inability to be miniature adults. It is easy for me to feel entitled to peace, freedom, and control and to feel angry when that doesn’t happen. There are days I misunderstand the goal of parenting and assume it’s about making my life rewarding instead of about raising adults. . . adults who may someday care for me.
I needed a reminder that I’m modeling daily in my interactions with my children what it means to care for someone who doesn’t have your capacity, your speed, your physical abilities, your priorities. When I imagine some day struggling to put on my own shoes because of arthritis or muscle weakness or any other complication of the aging process, I don’t want to think about my own words coming out of my children’s mouths. I don’t want to imagine the pain and shame in my heart if my daughter audibly sighed, rolled her eyes and said, “Are you serious right now, Mom?” Is this what I’m modeling for my kids when I parent from a place of frustration?
So what’s the cure? We are going to be frustrated as parents. I imagine my kids may someday be frustrated in helping care and guide me as an old woman (if I am blessed to see old age). Frustration, irritation and exhaustion are inevitable. How do we cope with those feelings and responses without negatively impacting our kids?
I don’t think it’s reasonable to become Mombots that don’t have real emotions. But I do think it’s possible to retrain our brains to find responses that won’t damage our relationships with our children. Sometimes I sing or hum when I’m irritated. Sometimes I take a deep breath. Sometimes I give myself a time-out in the bathroom for a minute. Self-care is a great preemptive strategy to make sure you aren’t trying to fill their own little cups, but find yourself constantly feeling empty. Memorizing Bible verses that you find comforting can be a help.
And sometimes you need a kindly Grandpa to look you in the eye and remind you of what you know to be true—these years are short, but your relationship with your child will be long. They don’t intentionally want to be a burden to you any more than you intentionally want to be a burden to them someday. I fight my frustration because I know, some day it may be me they’re frustrated at. When that day comes—when my children take me by the hand and may have to lead me where I do not want to go, as I have so often lead them—I want there to be love and tenderness between us. I am parenting today with the long game in mind. The very longest game. And maybe, in my heart, I’m a good mom for all the selfish reasons. I want to be a gentle, loving, safe, nurturing, patient parent because someday I want to have gentle, loving, safe, nurturing, patient adult children.
Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”– John 21:18