We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. Hebrews 5:11-12
As Lent was approaching, my kids and I were talking about what to give up for the 40 days. Zack automatically chose dessert. But Mason and Jocelyn were struggling. I threw out some random ideas and examples, but nothing seemed to click.
Frustrated because he couldn’t think of anything, Mason started to sulk. When I saw his shoulders slump and the “whoa is me” look cross his face, my knee-jerk response was, “You should give up big reactions to little problems for Lent.” When Mason agreed, I knew I had struck gold.
We have been battling disproportionate responses for years. When something bad happens, no matter how minor, Mason always reacts in a “Henny Penny, the sky is falling” way. He can’t seem to match an appropriate response to any negative situation. He automatically defaults to doom and gloom. He also thinks he’s the worst kid on the planet whenever he does even the smallest thing wrong. It drives me crazy!
Thinking I had come up with a solution to the thing that bothers me most about Mason got me thinking. If I could use Lent as a solution to Mason’s issue, maybe I could do the same for Zack and Jocelyn. I proceeded to challenge the two of them to give up a bad habit as well.
As I was highlighting my kids’ most annoying flaws, I heard that nagging voice in my head telling me I needed to do the same for myself. Of course God’s love is unconditional, but I am certain I have a multitude of flaws that annoy Him. Nonetheless, I’ve avoided turning the mirror back on myself. My justification was I had already outlined my Lenten resolutions, and I didn’t want my list to be too long. But the real truth is, I just didn’t want to have to work that hard.
Now that I’m finally ready, I have to admit that my biggest flaw right now is my high expectations of my kids. I don’t necessarily think God is annoyed by that. However, I do think His heart breaks every time I freak out on them when they fall short.
When my kids were little, I didn’t have expectations of them. I viewed them as clean slates, clay that needed to be molded. They were too young to know better, so I never assumed they’d know how to behave. Instead, every mistake they made was a teaching moment, an opportunity for me to hold their hand and show them how to problem solve. Of course there were consequences, but I doled them out with patience and compassion. I spent countless years teaching them right from wrong, and then repeating the same lessons over again so they would sink in.
Now that they’re older, I do expect them to know better. Consequently, I’ve switched from teacher to police officer: I no longer teach the rules, I just enforce them. Moreover, I’ve lost all patience because I’m tired of repeating myself. So when I dole out punishments, I do so swiftly and with fury.
This realization stuns me, and embarrasses me. I knew the train was off the tracks in my motherhood, I just couldn’t pinpoint why. I was blaming it on a lack of patience, which clearly it still is. But the lack of patience is just the symptom, not the root cause.
God knew we had a lot to learn, and that we learn slowly. So not only did He send Jesus to teach us for three years, but He also gave us the Bible, the greatest “How To” book ever written. Furthermore, He gave us the workbook of our daily lives to practice those lessons. Have you ever noticed that we keep experiencing the same issues over and over again until we work through them successfully? I believe that’s the workbook piece.
Best of all, God is the most loving and patient teacher there is. No matter how many times we make the same mistakes, no matter how many times we have to repeat the same lessons, He forgives us. Like the teacher who allows “make up” quizzes, He does whatever it takes to help us pass this class called life. If we still need to be taught as adults, you can be sure our kids still need us to continue teaching them.
I’m now seeing that a mother is a teacher, always and forever. Although I can now expect certain things from my kids, the reality is: some lessons have to be taught over and over again, ad infinitum. My job is to stay the course, and remain a teacher for however long my kids need me to be one. Most importantly, I need to be sure that when I hand out consequences, I do so with the motivation of reinforcing the lessons, not as a way to purge my frustration.
We are now past the mid-point of Lent, and my kids continue to make progress. Of course all three have faltered and have broken their “fasts,” but all I have to do is remind them of the bad habits they gave up and they get right back on track. I have never experienced such an easy fix in motherhood before (Oh how I wish we could extend Lent straight through to Advent!).
It’s not too late for me to jump on board. I need to add fasting from “conditional expectations” of my kids to my Lenten list, and beyond. Obviously I have to expect certain things of them; I can’t raise them to be sociopaths. But my expectations, like my love, have to be unconditional. If they don’t meet them, I can’t remove my patience and support. I need to review the lessons, reteach them if necessary, and if and when consequences are necessary, carry them out with right intention and compassion.
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