23 February 2007

True Confessions

A while back, another blogger sponsored a writing contest about what raising children has taught you about God. But when I started thinking about it, the biggest lessons I've learned have been about me. How self-centered that sounds! Of course, yes, I've gained some insights on the love of God; being on the parenting side makes the "God as Father" metaphor more meaningful to me. But the daily challenges of parenting have also uncovered aspects of myself that I wasn't aware of (or perhaps, wanted to remain blind to). And the picture is not pretty.

I'm terribly impatient. All day, every day. I always thought I was just easily bored. But nothing will show up adult impatience like a preschooler. A preschooler has no concept of what it means to hurry. She lives in the moment, every moment. And the speed at which she selects her outfit for the day or puts on her shoes does not change, no matter how many times you tell her that she'll be late for school. The decision of which of several pink dresses to wear is vital. She must choose the right one, no matter how long it takes. Late? What's the point of being on time if you're wearing the wrong ensemble?

Of course, in the "getting ready for school" scenario, I have a valid reason for hurrying her. But I find myself clenching my fists and trying to bite my tongue even when there is no hurry. Will you just do it (whatever "it" is) and be done! Do we have to stop five times on the walk to the playground to look at random stuff on the ground and ask fifteen questions about it! Can't we just get there and start having fun already!

So, we must hurryto the playground, or, what? All the swings will be gone?

I also tend towards laziness. I always thought I was just physically lazy. I've never liked to exercise, especially if it involves actually breaking a sweat. (I'm working on that one, by the way. Been going to the gym at least three times a week. Sweating, even.)

But, here's the thing. When your daughter gets obsessed with, say, a video game, it is soooo easy to just let her have at it. For way longer than is really, uh, good for her. Why? Because turning it off brings with it a few consequences for me that my inner sloth doesn't like: first, the protests of the child, which can go on for, yes, the rest of the day (it is an obsession, after all); and second, I'll have to figure out an alternative activity for her. And sometimes? Not really inspired to play Cinderella or Littlest Pet Shop or several games of Candyland. (Candyland at least has a beginning and an end, even though you're in big trouble if you accidentally pick up the Princess Frostine card, because that is Katrina's favorite card and woe to anyone who would evilly keep the card from her with the lame excuse of following the rules of the game!)

Now, that's not to say that I don't value time with my daughter. Snuggling up to read a book to her? Anytime. Hanging out on the playground? Not bad at all, especially after what seems like months of rain. Dressing up teensy-tiny plastic dolls while re-enacting the Cinderella story? Not my favorite.

Sometimes when I ask Katrina to do or not do something, she says emphatically "I want to do what I want to do!" And I think, "Me, too!" Usually, what I want to do doesn't involve wiping a little one's bottom, playing repetitive games, or answering a series of twenty questions on the same topic. (This morning, it was on where the Pharoah's bad guys went when they were drowned in the Red Sea. And why did Pharoah chase God's people? But why was Pharoah mad? Why didn' t he want Moses to go? Why was Pharoah mean? Why did God put the water on the bad guys? Did they die? Is their skin peeling off in the water? Did the bad guys go to heaven? This series of questions brought to you by "Prairie Home Companion" on AFN radio, where they sang a spiritual about Pharoah being "drownded" in the sea. Thanks, Lake Woebegon!)

ANYWAY, when my (natural?) impatience and/or sloth (and don't forget plain old selfishness!) comes to the fore, my mothering suffers. When my impatience builds up, I say things I regret later...or, even if I manage to control my words, my tone of voice gives it away every time. And it's not like my sharp words help the situation or motivate her to get moving, already! Similarly, when I give in to my desire to relax just a few more minutes while Katrina stares at a big screen, she and I both get grumpy later. We lose time when we could be doing something more positive, healthier, more nuturing to our relationship and to her development.

What have I learned from mothering? I've grown in understanding my own sinful nature--and how it can affect my attitude, my habitual reaction to frustration, and my parenting. And from the time we brought Katrina home from the hospital, I gained a new and terrifying understanding of how powerful a parent is in the life of a child.

And that's the kicker. Most days, I am powerless to make my daughter really hurry up. But the words I say and the tone I use are powerful enough for her to remember forever--good or bad. They shape her. Will I use my parental power to build her up or, in my impatience and frustration, will I tear her down?

In the midst of this inward struggle, the cycle of sin and regret, the Lord's Prayer comes to mind. "Deliver us from evil," it says. And me, I always prayed that evil would not harm me or my family. But some time in the past few years, that has changed.
Now, I pray "Deliver us from evil," and what I really mean is, "deliver me from doing evil." Because I see now, the damage that can be done to children. The damage that I am capable of inflicting through thoughtless words and actions, when I operate out of sin. The power of parenting is the power to choose life or death, to nourish a little soul or to stifle it, to give in to our sin nature or to struggle against it. And these grand dichotomies are presented every day, every minute, in the most ordinary circumstances. Do I speak sharply out of my impatience, or do I take a breath and admire the fragment of rock Katrina picks up? Do I stand firm and require more out of both of us than an afternoon in front of the TV or computer screen? Do I kindly answer the twenty-fifth question about the same topic, or do I shut down her curiosity in favor of a few seconds of silence?

Deliver me from evil. Deliver my daughter from my evil. Cleanse my heart, not for me alone, but for my family. And most of all, cover my mistakes, my sin, with Your grace.


Dave said...

Very thoughtful post. See, it's because I do know these things about myself (selfishness, laziness) that I've never been especially enthusiastic about the idea of trying to raise kids of my own, much as love children. It's an awesome responsibility. And it's sad how many parents don't take that responsibility as seriosuly as you do.

Vicki said...

Wow Jen,

Pretty powerful stuff! I'm struggling with the same feelings right now..funny how we seem to go through the same things at the same time!