Earlier this summer, I had to drive to Dallas to take my mom to the airport. I am not one to waste a trip to one of my favorite cities, so I planned a late morning museum trip with my two kids after the airport drop-off. It was a crazy busy day at the museum, with buses of summer camp kids unloading from every direction. There were swarms of kids in matching t-shirts and lanyard name tags. But I was fearless. I am a mom and a teacher. Not much scares me.
I had a diaper bag packed with everything a mom could need. We slowly wandered through the various museum floors, looking at dinosaurs and playing games with magnets. We waited in line for three-year-old Jude to try his hand at the remote control trucks. He played for a long while, and then we headed down to the first floor to the preschool play area. My son even got to push the elevator buttons. I fed Ella snacks along the way to keep her content. I was winning at motherhood.
Downstairs, Jude played in a pretend grocery store and filled his reusable bags with plastic produce. Little Ella crawled around the infant play area, staring at herself in plastic mirrors that were covered in baby fingerprints. We went outside for a few minutes so that Jude could dig in the sandbox. But it was creeping up to lunch time (and nap time), so I announced that it was time to go. I knew my announcement would be met with resistance. My son was having fun. He didn't want to leave. But I put on my best cheery voice, and I tried to bribe him with the promise of a snack and drink upon arrival at the van.
Once we were outside the doors of the museum, I made a huge mom mistake. Jude spotted a section of concrete that was covered with shallow water, perfect for splashing. There were shade trees and open spots for sitting. And I feel like I need to tell you that I long to be a yes mom. I want to say yes to Jude baking with me, even though it takes twice as long and I end up with extra mess. I want to say yes to stopping at parks, even though we had planned on going straight home. I want my kids to have wonderful memories of spontaneity and surprise. So I told him to take his shoes off and go run. And he did.
For the next 15 minutes, Ella and I sat in the shade while Jude ran and played. But my poor girl was spent, and I knew it was time to go. And that's when it started.
First, Jude wouldn't put his shoes on. I tried to put them on for him, but he just kicked and screamed and made a huge scene. So I decided we would walk to the parking lot without them. I warned him that the ground would be hot. I grabbed his hand, and
Once I got his shoes on his feet, he would not walk. He literally fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes. I knelt down, picked him up with one arm, and I hoisted him up onto my hip. At this point, he was still screaming and yelling his loudest no, as if he was being kidnapped. I carried him to the parking lot with one hand, pushing Ella in the stroller with the other, trying hard not to burst into tears. When the van was finally in sight (but still not close), I put him down. I told him he would have to walk, as I could not carry him anymore.
And then he sat down.
At this point, I was mad. Like raging mad. Everything inside me wanted to just walk away and leave this child to whatever natural consequences might come from sitting defiantly in the middle of a busy parking lot. It was irrational, and I didn't care. I was done.
I didn't leave him there. Not exactly. I did walk to the van and park the stroller, all the while keeping an eye on my son. As I walked back toward him, he began to run the other direction. And honestly, it was one of the worst moments of my parenting life. I ran after him as fast as I could, and I picked him up like a football and marched him back to the van. He stopped crying. He stopped screaming. He stopped saying no. He knew he had pushed me too far.
I called my husband, and I cried. I don't remember everything I said, but I remember saying things I shouldn't have. Venting about my kids in front of my kids is something I try not to do. But I was just so exasperated. I felt so overwhelmed.
I am a good mom.
I work hard to be patient and loving with my kids.
I do not yell and scream at my children.
So how on earth did I end up with a child that does not listen?
Why did I not get a sweet, respectful child?
It is just so unfair.
I may not feel these things regularly with the same kind of intensity that I felt them that day, but I do feel them. Having a strong-willed child is hard. It requires so much more patience and love and grace than I have. And when I feel like I am not getting the respect, the obedience, and the performance that I deserve, I feel cheated. I hate that motherhood isn't easier. I despise being spoken to in a disrespectful way. I look back on my own behavior as a child - what parts of it I remember- and I wonder why my child treats me in a way I wouldn't have dreamed of treating my parents. I worry that other people will look at him and think "Why doesn't she discipline that child?". I worry about how his outbursts make him look to other people. I worry about how they make ME look.
My son is full of personality. He loves to sing and run and be tickled. He has an amazing memory. He loves music and has better rhythm at the age of three than most adults. He loves his sister fiercely. He thrives on routine, and he loves people. And sometimes, he shows his sinful self. And all of the parenting books in the world can't fix that.
So my confession about motherhood is this: I cannot control my son's behavior. Nor can I control my daughter's. And I don't think I was meant to. That's not my job. My job is to love and teach and correct. I pray for my kids. When we notice our kids struggling with obedience or anger, we quote Bible verses to them about these particular things because we believe that Psalm 119:11 is true. I work hard to respond to them with grace and love. It doesn't always work. I definitely fail. But my mistakes as a mother don't define me any more than my son's mistakes define him. And I don't have to own his mistakes. I don't have to carry them as my own failures. He is still young, and he is learning. And honestly, so am I.
His independent spirit is going to make him a fantastic adult. He is already filled with personality and leadership skills. As he grows and matures, these things that make me crazy on a daily basis will become the things I admire about him. But in the meantime, while I work to convince him that he is not the boss of everything, I have to let go of some things. I have to let go of my dreams for a perfect child. I have to let go of my expectations that fun outings will be fun from start to finish. I have to let go of the feeling that I deserve a certain kind of child.
So instead, I hold on to my faith, to the fact that I was never meant to parent him in my own strength. I can't do this without Christ. I hold onto the unconditional love that I have found in Christ, and because of that, I can love my kids even on their worst days. I hold onto the knowledge that God's word is true, and these verses that we quote to them are not just words but are life-giving. They will lead them to faith and obedience. These things will keep me going on the hard days.