Love In A Big World: Good job, Mama

October 13th, 2017

When I was a first-time mom, I wanted to do everything right. Since I had been a professional rule-follower who excelled in school, I was convinced that parenting could be done by the book. There were several popular resources and even a class offered at my church. I was a devoted student, consuming the material hungrily. I don’t really know if I admitted to myself or anyone else how scared I was about being a mother, especially an adoptive mother, which seemed to have its own set of regulations.

Even though I had been working with kids for almost ten years by the time I brought one permanently into my home, I realized quickly that parenting was vastly different from teaching. With teaching, I had the kids for a specific time period each day and we had a prescribed order of activities; with parenting, I had this little one 24/7 and there was no down-time. With teaching, I was responsible for what the kids experienced in my classroom; with parenting, I was responsible for all of the decisions that shaped this boy’s world. It was overwhelming for someone who wanted a clear-cut plan.

By the time I brought child number three home, my views on parenting had changed drastically. In fact, I was only given a few hours-notice from the adoption agency that it was time to pick up my two-day old son from the hospital. I knew we had plenty of clothes, blankets and bottles in the attic. I needed to buy diapers, wipes and formula, and we were good to go. Although I still abided by a schedule, I was much more relaxed with this baby. I held him as much as possible and whispered “I love you’s” constantly.

All of this came quickly back to mind last week when I went to dinner with some friends. Their daughter is a first-time mom of a two-year-old boy who is full of laughter. His smile and play captured the attention of the six adults present. He was adorable, but mom was frantic. Although she kept herself perfectly composed on the outside, I knew a storm was brewing on the inside. She was me.

The comment that struck me most was when she said, “We need to discipline him because of the sin in his heart.”

My own heart broke. I had said the same thing years ago.

Yes, I know we sin. But, as Jesus tells us in the Story of the Prodigal Son, the love of the Father for us is greater than our sin; it’s also greater than our hurt, fear, loneliness, confusion, and mistakes. And sometimes what we think is sin, such as a willful “No!” from a little one, is actually part of healthy child development. More than anything, God wants relationship with us. We need a Savior, and sometimes we need to be saved from our own harsh judgment of ourselves.

I wanted to hug her and tell her all of the things I needed to hear when I was a young mom. Most of all, I wanted to say, “You are loved. You are beautiful. And you’re doing a good job, Mama.”

Understanding that I am loved, even in my mess, has transformed how I parent and how I teach. Instead of seeing kids as problems to be fixed, I see them as children of God with whom I have the privilege of sharing this journey. The teaching and learning — the giving and receiving — are reciprocal.

I’ve had to go to all three of my kids, especially my oldest, and apologize for being too hard on them. I tell him I was doing the best I could with where I was at the time and that I love him with all of my heart. He nods his head knowingly and smiles graciously, “I know, Mom.”

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