Good Parenting Means Remembering I’m a Child

It was a Monday in every sense of the word. 

I was up earlier than usual, and so were the kids. My 3 year old and I were downstairs, wandering around the house aimlessly as I guzzled my coffee, half pleasant ritual, half absolute necessity. 

I peeped through the dining room window, and was caught off guard by the stunning beauty outside. The temperature had dropped overnight after an unseasonably warm fall day, and a thick fog had formed that filtered the sunrise, giving it a breathtakingly ethereal translucence. I rushed to grab my camera and headed out the front door to get a good shot, free of the fingerprints I would have captured through our window. 

A picture worth a thousand tears

My toddlers watched their mother cross the threshold (and proceed no further than the narrow porch) to snap the photo, and immediately proceeded to have inconsolable meltdowns that went on in spurts for the remainder of the day until naps. My lack of sufficient caffeination prior to the nuclear eruption of emotions combined to produce… well, a quintessential Monday sort of day. 

Days like this aren’t often in our home. Usually, I get more coffee before tantrums begin. But that morning left me feeling defeated, guilty about the fact that in such instances, I can often exhibit the same level of emotional maturity as my 2 year old. 

But since I’m weird, such instances turn into opportunities for deep self-reflection, so without further ado, here’s a few of the musings I have after terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. 

I am Still a Child. 

A literate, completely potty-trained, fully-functional child, but a child, none-the-less. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that I cannot be a successful, loving parent if I do not constantly remember my status and relationship to God, my Heavenly Father, and recognize that the way I parent my kids must be a reflection of the way he parents me. 

The truth is there isn’t a whole lot of difference between my toddlers’ incessant demands, utter impatience and periodic inability to just calm the heck down, and my own. How often do my own prayers become frustrated, overly-emotional or end up non-existent because God refuses to operate on my time. I can hear him in my own exhausted words to my littles: 

I said wait, not no. 
I’ll be right back, I’m not going anywhere. 
I said no because I love you. 
I know you can’t see what I see, but I told you to do X for a reason. Trust me. 

It’s been both humorous and heartbreaking to feel the defeat when I try (and fail) to communicate these things to my kids. I could never count the times God has said all those things to me, as incessantly as I parrot them now. The patience God grants to me, who has far fewer excuses to rebel since I’ve seen his provision time and time again for 30 years, is something I have no right to deny my cherubs who only have 3 and 2 years of experience. 

I am Still Growing Up. 

I recently got a letterboard and immediately plastered that annoying verse from 1 Thessalonians on it: “In all circumstances, give thanks.” (1 Thes. 5: 18). 

Not necessarily placed next to the knives on purpose

ALL circumstances. Even the nuclear eruption of emotions. Why? How? 

Because if I step back and have a little humility about it, my childrens’ tantrums have the power to continue to refine me. Every outburst is an opportunity for me to identify an area of my own failings – my desire to control a situation, my anger, my lack of patience – and say to each, Not today, Satan! 

The truth is as a child of God, I’ve still got a lot of growing up to do, and growing up isn’t always a pleasant or comfortable process. Helping my kids grow up is exhausting because it’s constant. Bellies get filled, and then empty again, sometimes within mere minutes. Naps are skipped or last too long. Boredom sets in, and mom is called on to entertain. But every single time I’m called on to say no to myself and yes to them is a chance for me to continue to grow up some more. And so many times when I’m honest and see myself in my kids, I turn to God and wonder, How have you never lost it with me?!

I Must Have a Sense of Humor. 

The incessant nature of parenting is exhausting. There’s no way to spin it otherwise, it’s just a fact. The trick is I have to have a healthy sense of humor about the times that I fail. I can either laugh or cry, and laughing burns more calories.

That doesn’t mean that I find my failings funny. Guilt is a natural and healthy consequence of making a wrong decision, but if I let it have the last word, I can fall into shame, and shame is Satan’s double coupon prize. Shame makes us want to hide, and hiding is the worst thing to do with sin. 

Evidence that some part of parenting is going right-ish.

The reality is I’m a human parent, not a divine one, and I’m going to fail or fall short. What will make me a good parent is my unwillingness to accept my failures. What I’ve learned is that guilt and shame are both products of my own shock at my inability to rise above a situation and respond as God would, not as I would prefer. What has been tremendously helpful when I fail is to say, Of course I messed up! But now, I’m going to get to confession, give God my failings, and try to do better. 

God is so beyond being surprised that we fail at times as a parent (or just as a human in general), that he proactively sent his Son to die on a cross and gave us sacraments, so our failings wouldn’t be a permanent hindrance. Imitating him includes imitating his lack of surprise when we drop the ball. 

Natural Beauty. 

That Monday morning felt so chaotic. It just felt like everything was going wrong, and there was no reset button, even when I tried to hunker down with a rosary (spoiler alert: not even 50 Hail Mary’s could smooth things over).

But I started thinking about that fog. That beautiful fog, the vibrance of fall, the serenity of that sunrise – they are all natural occurrences, nature behaving precisely as it was designed, and the result is breathtaking moments that I want to soak up and capture on camera even in the midst of nuclear tantrums. 

Beauty happens when we act in accord with our nature. My nature is a child of God. To be a good parent, I just need to remember to act like one.