It all started with the oatmeal.
It was supposed to be cereal - after all, it was Sunday - but lack of grocery prep and no milk in the house left us with the only breakfast option being the disappointment of the standard weekday fare.
The result was dealing with fits of epic proportions as we tried to get the whole family ready and out to Sunday Mass. It was brutal and unprecedented, at least on this level. We were frustrated, uncertain, angry, stressed, and at a loss for what to do. We did manage to get there and as the tear stained little boy sardined next to me in the crowded pew (the other one still recovering in the back with dad), I was thankful for the chance to breathe and pray before we decided what, if anything, needed to happen as a result of the morning behavior and struggle.
"When I'm hurting, draw me closer."
This is what popped into my head as I knelt and my dripping hair streamed rivulets down my cheeks (because of course it was pouring that morning).
When I am hurting, I don't want to be frozen out, shamed, punished, or pushed away. There are few things worse than baring your wounds and needs and feeling like they - and you - are just too much for anyone to deal with. Why should I not expect the same for these little humans I've been given to raise? Why when they show me their hurt, whether it be something as simple as too little sleep or something bigger like feeling out of control or disconnected from the family or something we can't identify at all, why would I expect better behavior and reactions out of them than I sometimes give myself? For them and for me, fits and anger, defiance and moodiness are a symptom of something else. As much as it may seem like it some days, they didn't wake up with the intention of ruining my day. Insert the reminder here that my kids aren't *giving* me a hard time, they're *having* a hard time. I can take their behavior personally or I can recognize that they need help dealing with emotions in a healthy way. And that's kinda my job. It's so easy for me to see the world through my newborn's eyes. It's quite a different story when it's a thrashing and defiant five year old.
What would they learn by us punishing, pushing away, isolating, hitting, or shutting down? What would they learn by us doing the opposite? Not an unhealthy permissiveness...but an acknowledgement of wrong and the chance to be held and heard and loved and forgiven in spite of it.
I need to treat them with the same respect and compassion and mercy with which I long to be treated. There is no exception made in the whole "do unto others" thing. Charity and compassion mean nothing if I am offering it to the world but deny my own children.
I don't know what that means for every specific situation. I don't know how to do it all (or even most) of the time. I fail a lot. I have habits to unlearn and voices in my head to silence. Too often I resort to easy-fix solutions that just get me the immediate outcome I want. Too often I parent out of a place of hurt pride (how dare you disobey me!) or simple exhaustion rather than genuinely wanting to love them where they are in that moment and take the energy to discern whether there might be something deeper causing it all.
But I want to mother from a place of compassion and selflessness. I want to draw their hearts in and give them the peace and grace of knowing down to the core of their beings that no matter what I do or how I fail, I am loved. I want them to know deeply and without a doubt that they are seen and they matter. I don't want children who ultimately obey out of fear of the consequences but out of love and freedom. Obedience without love is mere slavery. I question and second guess it all regularly but in the end I have to trust that while I don't have deep experience to draw from, I have the best parenting model of all in my Heavenly Father. It's His parenting advice that should mean more than anyone else. How does He respond when I fail? With punishments and threats and withholding and scare tactics? Or does He respond with mercy and forgiveness and a safe place to be held? My deepest calling as a mother is to draw them to that type of love. It won't be convenient. Love rarely is. But it will be real.
I've learned over and over that I can't do it on my own. But I can draw from His grace and His Presence in me in order to better raise and love them. I can trust in the graces of my marriage and we can let those lead us in parenting these children that are the blessed result of it. I can pray with my husband for the grace to be better and for guidance in the big and little decisions. I can believe that He will provide and that He can be trusted...learning myself the very same lesson I am trying to teach to them. I can ask forgiveness from Him and from them when I fail.
That morning ended in hugs, mercy, apology letters, and starting over. There were no dramatic or victorious feelings that made us feel like we had fixed it all and figured it all out. Hardly. We were exhausted. But that one little morning, at least, grace won.
"The commandment "honour your father and your mother" indirectly tells parents: Honour your sons and your daughters. They deserve this because they are alive, because they are who they are, and this is true from the first moment of their conception.”
Saint John Paul II, Letter to Families, 15