I am a horrible mother. At least, I felt like the world’s worst mother last week at Books A Million. And I am pretty sure a few other people in the store may have shared my sentiments about my parenting. I would have had some pretty harsh thoughts toward me a year ago. All the signs were there: a disrespectful child who is actively defying his authority figure, a mother who is clearly getting more and more upset and resentful by the minute, and a store full of witnesses. Disaster. “How did I get here?” “Is this some sort of cosmic retribution for all of my acts of defiance and disrespect toward my mother during my teen years?” “Should I even be a counselor since I clearly can’t manage my own kid?”
In that moment, I felt so helpless. This adorable little 5-year-old monster was holding all the power in his hand, taunting me with it as he ran from aisle to aisle. I remembered times when I was a young child, and my mom would make us leave the store when we couldn’t act appropriately. She was so consistent with this, even when it really inconvenienced her. I thought about this, but I also faced the horrid reality that I could not remove my child from the store if I couldn’t catch him.
Josh had never done anything like this to me before. (My pride felt the need to share that.) He has certainly had his fair share of meltdowns, but not like this. Not this deliberate. Not this mean. Coming from an adoption standpoint, I might say that this is a good sign. “He must really trust my love and commitment as his mother if he can show his behind so boldly in public.” Or I could choose to take the non-biological “out” by thinking “this behavior must be a result of his early parenting and not at all a reflection of his current stable and loving parenting”. But the reality is that Josh and I are just two humans full of sin and insecurities and fears and unmet needs. And on that day, our wills collided.
My tendency is to look at situations like this from a clinical standpoint. “What is going on in Josh’s mind right now? Did something trigger this kind of behavior? What needs are not being met and how can I help him express his needs in a more productive manner?” While this therapeutic lens can be helpful to me as a mother, I am learning that this isn’t enough to be an effective and consistent parent. I can do everything “right” (generally speaking) as a mother, and Josh could still act up and disobey. This is enough to drive a parent crazy. Give me a checklist, and I will nail it. I am a learn-by-seeing kind of person, so give me the name of the world’s best mom, and I will just emulate her. It’s a shame it doesn’t work that way. But there has to be some common denominator to all of this? Some ingredient that may not make everything perfect, but that can establish a solid foundation for a healthy relationship.
For me, the word that continually comes up is compassion. When I love my child fully and accept him as he is, just like our Heavenly Parent does for us, I seem to have much more energy and capacity for my child. Having an abundance of compassion certainly does not mean that I excuse inappropriate behavior or compromise on my values as a parent. It simply means that everything I do for my child is done in love and that my motives are for him to prosper and not to be harmed.
As a human, my motives may be pure, but I still may be misguided in the way I choose to respond. That is where grace comes in. My incident at Books A Million reminds me that I am not called to be a perfect parent. That’s impossible. However, I am called to be diligent in my desire to love my child well and to be humble in my realization that I will never have it all together.
When we got home from our disaster of a trip to the bookstore, we were both exhausted and exposed. After an epic struggle to turn my monster back into my precious little boy, tempers subsided and love began to peer its head again. We sat on the bed and talked calmly about what happened. I gave him some initial consequences, hugged him, and told him I would always love him. I was grateful for the resolution, but I felt totally depleted and worn down.
And then Josh asked to help me cook dinner.
Honestly, I wanted space from him. I didn’t feel like being gracious to him in that moment. I wanted to retreat and lick my wounds while I waited for Dave to get home and take over the parenting responsibilities for the night. But then I looked down at his little face, and I saw the vulnerability in his eyes. I could sense that this moment was a turning point for us. I had shown him that I could love him when he was cute and sweet and full of affection for me, but had I really had many opportunities to show him that I could love him when he was less than lovable? Could I demonstrate love to him when he is actively resisting my love with everything in him? Hmm.. Is this how God feels about us all the time?
I love my son. And I forgive my son. But I certainly need to ask for forgiveness also- from God, from Josh, and from every mother that has ever lived. Random woman in the check-out line at Publix, I’m sorry. Friends of mine with kids who have different parenting styles, I’m sorry. Lots and lots of mothers of my clients over the years, I’m sorry. This is a really hard job, and I hope that the quality of my mothering is not based on that day at Books A Million. But I am thankful for that day. (I can say that now that I have had a few days to process and reflect.)
Finally, to my own wonderful mother, I’m sorry. And thank you. You’re a really good mom, and you have set a beautiful example for me.