Category Archives: Motherhood

Facing your fears- Honoring anxiety and courage in children and grown-up children

A New leaf part 3- Facing Fears

 When I was 8 years old, I heard a story on the news about a man contracting HIV through a needle left on a seat in a movie theater.  Panic struck me, and nothing felt safe.  Of course, going to movies was out.  There was no way I would fall victim to the same trap.  Eventually, it went beyond a fear of going to movies to a fear of public places.  If someone could be sick enough to put an infected needle on a movie theater chair, what’s to stop someone from putting a needle in the sand at the baseball field or in my backyard?  The fear became so consuming that one day I found a sewing needle on the floor of our garage, and I started panicking and shaking.  I asked my mom through tears and heavy breaths, “Why would God create a world and allow it to be filled with so much awfulness?” (Still a question that stirs me deeply.)

I was a scared, anxious kid.  When I heard about something bad happening to someone else somewhere else, I immediately assumed it would happen to me, too. (This could also have been the beginning stages of narcissism now that I think about it.)  Once I had a fear in mind, it became consuming and would lead to irrational scenarios where I would be doomed and there was nothing anyone could do to help.  Looking back, I empathize with my mom and siblings. It must have felt so helpless to watch me panic inconsolably.

One of the reasons why I became a child and adolescent counselor is my deep understanding of how small and vulnerable a child can feel and how big and scary the world can seem.  Although I still experience acute fears and high levels of anxiety at times, I no longer exist in that place of constant fear that consumed much of my energy as a child.  As I got older, my fears took on more of an existential focus.  Who am I?  What is my purpose?  Does anything I do really matter?  Are we all just a speck of dust on the top of a flower being carried by a clumsy elephant named Horton?  You know, the little things.  Although these questions could consume me if I let them, I have found ways to re-focus myself from them by connecting with others, engaging in purposeful activities and embracing faith so that the unanswered questions could coexist with what I believed to be true.

I asked my college students to write down alternative words for common emotions like sadness, anger and fear.  A descriptive emotion that came up to quantify fear was the word petrified.  Literally paralyzed; frozen with fear.  Think of the curse “Petrificus Totalus” from Harry Potter.  The victim’s body goes rigid and the only thing he can move is his eyes.  I know that feeling.  And as I incorporate my thoughts and beliefs about fear with my passions and visions for my life, that word seems to be a common reaction to moving forward with my dreams.  Sometimes, I literally feel stuck where I am out of fear.  Fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of rejection, fear of change… Staying still feels safer, but in actuality, it perpetuates the state of fear- the petrification.

As a parent, it is remarkable to watch your child overcome fear.  My son has a beautiful blend of a cautious and adventurous spirit that I really admire.  I can see his initial concern and fear when he is presented with something he doesn’t understand or hasn’t experienced before, but it is followed by a desire to try.  It’s like he  knows he will regret it if he lets his fear take over.  He has a bit of a formula for how he handles his fears.  He starts out tentative and stays close.  He checks things out for a minute or two and takes it all in.  Then he slowly engages.  He tries this new activity for a few seconds, then looks back and smiles.  *This is my cue.*  “Stay close, but I am going in.”  After participating for a little while, he runs over to me with excitement in his eyes and asks if I saw him.  I answer “I sure did!”, and he returns to the activity, not as a novice anymore, but as a student who is catching on and ready for more challenge.

Josh learning to ride without training wheels

Josh learning to ride without training wheels

josh karate

Josh’s first day at Karate

josh jumping on trampoline

Josh jumping at a trampoline playground

josh climbing

Josh climbing his first rock wall

I want to experience life that way.  I don’t want to miss out on adventures because of my fear.  And I don’t want to model for that my son.  I want him to know that fear is normal and appropriate and even necessary, but that it doesn’t have to win.  Some things are more powerful than fear- like love.  In the third book/movie in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, one of my favorite characters, Eowyn, niece of King Theoden, wants to fight with the men. When talking to Aragorn about fear, she says that she fears neither death nor pain, but rather a cage“To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them and all chance of valor has gone beyond recall or desire.”

ewoyn in battle

Eowyn does fight.  In fact, she defeats the witch king, who  touted that no man could ever kill him.  (To which she responds, “I am no man!” Love it.)  And she doesn’t do it for valor or for pride or even for her country.  She does it for her friends.  Her family.  Love.  I have things to fight for.  People to face fears for and take risks for and even get hurt for.  As she rides to battle with the childlike hobbit Merry riding with her, she says the words that I hold on to any time I feel weak and petrified in the face of of my fear.  “Courage, Merry.  Courage for our friends.”

The next time you think about avoiding your fears, ask yourself, “Who needs my courage right now?” And “Who could suffer if I don’t stand up and fight?”

The Madness and Sanity of Parenting

josh in tree

While sitting in a research meeting on campus yesterday, my phone rang.

Oh no. My son’s school. 

“Josh is fine, but there was an incident, and we want to meet with you.  Today.”  My heart is beating out of my chest.  I am told that I don’t have to come now, but that it needs to be before pick-up.  “Wait…But hurry.”

Uggh.. This part is so hard.  The waiting.  The uncertainty.  The fear.  That out-of-control feeling when you realize your kid, however young he may be, is a real person capable of having his own thoughts and making his own decisions.  She wouldn’t give me any details over the phone, but after hearing the director’s tone and choice of words, I was pretty sure my son was the offender.  This filled me with a range of emotions from fear to guilt to concern to helplessness.  “What if it’s really bad?”  “How will I respond?”  I realized that allowing my imagination to run wild was not productive for my stress level or sanity, so I tried to quiet those voices and pray.  I prayed that I would handle the situation graciously and thoughtfully.  I prayed that I would be receptive and not quick to judgment or anger.  (Both toward my son and toward others involved).  But mostly, I prayed for my son.  I prayed that he would know the love and forgiveness of God and trust in the love and forgiveness of his parents.

I didn’t know how I would feel when I found out the specifics of the incident in question, but I knew this.  I wasn’t going to reject my son, no matter what the school told me or what he had done.  I know my boy.  He is sensitive and empathic and intuitive, and he knows the feeling of rejection so acutely already.  My mind was imagining the worst possible scenarios, and as I played them out, I pictured myself moving toward my son in love and grace, reminding him that even when I am mad and disappointed and hurt (which I will be at times because that is a part of relationships and the impact our actions have on others), his offenses will never be greater than my love and commitment to him as my son.

In typical Karin fashion, I have now built up this story to an anti-climactic point where I tell you that, although the offense was definitely disobedient and even dangerous, it was not among the worst of the fears that bounced around my head on my drive over to the school.  That is a technique I use as a counselor, too.  Think of the worst case scenario.  Process how you would handle it and what it would feel like.  Now imagine an equally plausible scenario that is not so horrible.  How does that feel?  Okay, if I am being honest, my approach in the car may not have been as therapeutic as I just described.  But the relief I felt was palpable nonetheless.  And for the record, I can say that his sweet and intuitive teacher handled it superbly, and I am grateful for that.

After a positive and encouraging interaction with the director and teacher, I was eager to walk down to my son’s classroom and receive him with grace and love.  When I came in, he gave me a sheepish smile and wavered before walking over to me.  He was trying to read my face and body language to see if I knew, and he was watching me to see how I would respond.  I smiled and said, “Let’s go home.”  He walked slowly next to me, looking at me every so often, then looking back down.  I didn’t make much small talk, but I didn’t give him the cold shoulder either.  I just walked with him.  I put him in the car, then came around and sat next to him in the back seat.  He was surprised and kind of laughed, not knowing what I was up to.

I looked my son in the eye, told him I loved him, smiled slightly but intently, then asked him to tell me what happened today.  As we sat there together, I watched my son wrestle through the events of the day painfully in his mind, telling me bits and pieces, then withdrawing.  This cycle went on a few times, then finally, after most of the story had been retold from his perspective along with remorse and guilt, he said the thing I had been fearing and praying through since I first got the call.  He said he was afraid I wouldn’t forgive him.  He spoke the words with such raw emotion and genuineness, and he wouldn’t look at me after he said them.  I turned my son’s face to mine, kissed his nose, and told him that I forgive him and I love him, and I always will.  Always.  Then we had a serious conversation about obedience, respect, and thinking about consequences before acting.

There is a line from the movie Spanglish that reminds me of my feelings yesterday.  The main character says, “Worrying about your children is sanity.  And being that sane is enough to drive you nuts.”  In the midst of all the stress and anxiety I felt yesterday afternoon, I also experienced a deep sense of gratitude.  I have wanted to be a parent my whole life.  Now I am a parent, and sometimes my child drives me nuts.  I love this little person so much and so deeply that it makes me feel crazy sometimes.  But in those moments when I get wrapped up in my own craziness of worrying about my child, I also remind myself that I cannot control him or protect him from the world’s problems or make all of his decisions for him.  He is his own little person with a will and a mind and a heart and a body and a soul.  I have been given the privilege of being his mother.  And with that privilege comes a great deal of responsibility and diligence.  But every day, whether we put our kids on school buses or home school them, whether they live in our house or have a house and a family of their own, we have to release our children into the world and hope and pray they will be okay. (Mom, I get it now.)

Being a parent is the most maddening and sane thing I have ever done.  And even though yesterday was a tough day, it was important.  Josh needs those moments.  He needs to make bad choices and mess up sometimes.  And I need those moments, too.  I need to be reminded of my lack of control and trust God in my parenting.

The poet Kahlil Gibran sums up the complicated and beautiful mystery of caring for your children and releasing them at the same time.  Here is an excerpt that is meaningful to me.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

I pray that I will be a stable and glad bow for my son, the adventurous and spirited arrow.

And I hope for no more school phone calls any time soon.

Carolina on my Mind: How I Learned to Embrace my Outdoorsy Self

                 mountains 8-fam pic                                                                             mountains 4-fam pic 2

I am not really an outdoorsy person.  I like nature and the environment and fresh air, but when left to my own devices, I am much more comfortable in air conditioning.  Coincidentally, I have a son who loves animals, bugs, dirt, exploring, risk and all that accompanies the outdoors.  (Pretty common interests for a 5-year-old boy I guess).

It is amazing (and scary) how quickly we as parents can set tones in our families.  Dave and I joke that one reason we are such a good match is our mutual discomfort with the idea of camping and our similar feelings about loving animals most when they are not in our homes.  And who knows? In the nature vs. nurture debate, maybe Josh would feel this way if he had been in our care since he was born or if he had our genetic predispositions.  Maybe not.  All I know is that our son is nothing like us in either of these ways.  He is an animal-lover, an adventure seeker, and a naturalist.  I have always admired people like this, but I just accepted (and even touted) the fact that I am not so much like that.

 mountains 7-scenery 1                                    mountains 6-scenery                                    mountains 2-deer

And then I went on vacation in the mountains of North Carolina.  What a beautiful reminder of the magnificence of creation.  As we were driving further and further into the mountains, I felt calmer; more peaceful.  I cared less about emails, texts, and even responsibilities (luckily, because I didn’t have service anyway).  I gave myself permission to breathe and take it all in.  It felt like Josh and I were both children in that car, looking around and pointing out amazing things we were seeing.  It was awesome.

What is it about nature that brings me back to myself? To God? To genuine connection with my surroundings?  It seems like I just get busy and preoccupied, and I stop looking around.  But when confronted with such majesty as I was during that drive into the mountains, I was forced to notice; compelled to appreciate it.  How could I not see such raw and magnificent beauty?

A few months ago, we got a sweet card and gift from family friends who live out West.  In the card, there was a check, and with the check, we were instructed to put the money toward doing something adventurous and outdoorsy with our son.  I felt slightly overwhelmed at the thought, but also motivated.  “We can do this.” I thought.  I just wasn’t sure how.  For a while after receiving it, I kept my eyes and ears open for opportunities to use this gift.  And then slowly, I forgot.  Life got busy, and our outdoor time remained limited to bike rides and the occasional park visit.

It wasn’t until we were hiking in the woods of North Carolina that I remembered the gift and the charge that accompanied it.  I smiled as I realized why these friends did what they did.  It was not out of judgment for our suburban/city life.  It was out of pure passion and enthusiasm for nature and their firsthand experiences in how meaningful it can be to engage in outdoor adventures.  After spending a few days connecting with nature and seeing the joy in my son’s face as we hiked, searched for animals, and had picnics, I realized that I wasn’t just doing it for my son.  I was being renewed and invigorated right along with him.  I get it a little better now.  I want to get it even more and keep growing in my love and appreciation for nature and the environment.  I don’t want my son to grow up feeling separated from his parents in his love for the outdoors because there are enough reasons why kids can feel separated from their parents.

So I have come to a conclusion.  I think people who say they are not outdoorsy (like me) could be setting themselves up to be nature-avoidant.  And after my renewal experience this week, that is just not acceptable for me anymore.  I may never want to bike to work every day.  It is likely that I will still prefer to take my son to a movie than on a nature hike.  I am pretty sure I will always prefer to see a snake in a book than in real life.  So maybe I am not really outdoorsy.  But I am a nature lover.  I do value the earth and all of its inhabitants (including snakes).  And I need to make that more clear in the way I live my life.  I need to emphasize it more in the way I parent and the way I spend my time.  If I want my son to believe that I value something, I have to show him.

My son has taught me more this year than anyone else in my life.  And this is one more thing.  Thank you, Joshua, for reminding me to love and appreciate nature, animals and even bugs.  And thanks to our dear friends for sharing this week with us and lovingly encouraging me to tap in to my outdoorsy self.  It’s in there.  It just takes a little coaxing to come out.

My personal challenge this week: Do something adventurous.  And do it with people you love.

                                                      mountains 1-walk                              mountains 5-group pic

It’s official. I’m a mom.

josh-sick day

I have been a mom for over a year, and these days, my parental identity is solid and clear.  I remember when we first brought Josh home and started introducing him to people, I felt sort of awkward and uncertain.  I realized in those moments that other people, even those who knew me well, didn’t know me as a mom, which meant I was introducing them to my 4-year-old son and Parental Karin at the same time.  The trouble with that was that I didn’t really know what my identity as a parent looked like yet. For a while, my parental identity seemed to be getting stronger when I was interacting with Josh and establishing our family with my husband, but it seemed confusing and foreign when I was engaging in other aspects of my identity or when I was in “mom-centric” environments where the parental identity of others was in full force and I felt like mine was catching up.

Naturally and gradually, I have grown into my parental identity, and now I have very few days where I experience those out of body “Whose life am I living? How did I get here? This must be a joke” moments.  And that feels good.  It feels like growth.  But as established as I may feel as a parent, I appreciate it when I have new experiences that expand my parental identity, like today.  Well, around 2 am this morning to be more precise.

Caution: This next part is not for the weak-stomached.

After a year of parenting, I am finally able to commiserate with parents who say, “I was up half the night with my sick child.”  Of course, Josh has been sick before.  But this time, he was sick sick.  Like puke everywhere kind of sick.  His upset tummy turned into a full-blown violent expulsion of his stomach contents, and I was right there in his bed to witness it (and smell it and see it and even hear it).  A million thoughts raced through my head, including, “Yuck”, “Poor baby”, “I have to get him to the bathroom”, and “I am going to have to clean this”.  Oh, and “I hope it didn’t get in my hair.” 

It was a rough night, to say the least.  But I have to say, it was a good night, too.  Some situations just make me feel more like a mom, and as someone who still feels like I am catching up in the parenting department, clear “mom moments” are encouraging and motivating for me.  The image of the throw up all over his bed I could do without, but the image of my son looking at me with upset eyes and a quivering lip, seeking comfort from me, that is lasting and sacred.

After Josh’s hard night, we all woke up feeling dazed and depleted, but unified.  We had made it through, together.  We had a lot of things planned for the day (t-ball, a brunch, a drive to Orlando for a special bridal shower), but the reality was that all of our plans changed as soon as Josh got sick.  Dave and I looked at each other with understanding and contacted the people involved in our plans to let them know we wouldn’t make it.  I don’t like to disappoint anyone.  Sometimes, that results in my pushing myself too hard or compromising my highest priorities for extra commitments, but not today.  Today, I trusted my instinct and snuggled with my son in my pajamas.  And it was a really sweet day.

Most days, I feel the strain of balancing family, work, school, and other commitments, but not today.   Today, I pressed in to my parental identity and let everything else go.  And while he napped, instead of doing schoolwork or making calls, I watched Star Wars and ironed clothes.  And this distinction makes me more than a mom.  It makes me my mom. 🙂

Life gets busy and full before I even notice it has happened.  Sometimes, it takes a force of nature, like a hurricane or projectile vomit, to slow me down and simplify things.  As I reflect on the last 24 hours and I think about my son sleeping soundly in his bed (with clean sheets), I feel full.  And I realize that I feel a little more like a mom tonight than I did last night.

I missed the poopy diaper stage

first day meeting Josh-play place 1

Exactly one year and two days ago, we met our son for the first time.  He was 4 years old.  We planned to meet him at a neutral location, so his guardian chose a McDonald’s with a play place so he would have something to do. (Smart thinking.  I love a good play place.)  It was the most surreal experience of my life.  We had just driven over 5 hours, leaving my stomach feeling queasy from anticipation, nerves, and car sickness.  When we walked in, I searched my surroundings until I saw a little brown-headed boy with his back to me, playing in the play place.  There he is.  Does he have any idea what he is really doing here?  Could he possibly understand the weightiness of this meeting or what it would mean for him? 

When he finally turned around, I could sense Dave’s breath catch in his throat.  “He’s so small.” Dave whispered to me.  Up until that point, this 4-year-old boy was theoretical- a dream.  Now we are standing right in front of this little creature, and reality sinks in.  In an instant, we both become paralyzingly aware of what we signed up for and are fighting the urge to pass out on the floor in amazement and fear.  We walk toward this little wonder and tentatively say hello.  He half-smiles, looks at the guardian, glances back at us, then resumes his play.  At that moment, I realize the answer to my initial questions.  This intuitive little boy knows exactly why he is here.

All of my training in play therapy and child development flies out the window at that moment.  All I care about is getting this boy to like me.  I hold off on my desire to engage him immediately as he walks away, and instead I choose to watch him for a few minutes.  I notice he keeps looking back at me as he plays.  I track him with my eyes and respond with positive facial expressions.  At one point, he jumps over the side of the slide, and I could sense as he looked at me that he wanted to assess how I would respond.  I caught his eye and gave him a silly/scared face to let him know I saw what he did, and his safety is a priority to me.  He smiled.  After that, I stood up and initiated play with my son.

I tracked his movements and his choices… “You’re picking that up. You’re looking at me.  You’re smiling.  You’re laughing; you think that’s funny.” Then I began reflecting his feelings… “You’re not sure about me.  You seem curious about that.  You feel happy when you do that.”  Gradually, we began connecting.  Dave thoughtfully approached and looked for his moment to engage his son.  Josh asked me to lift him up to the highest part of the play area.  I took this opportunity to incorporate Dave by making a comment about how much taller he is than I am.  Josh looked at Dave, then back at me, then back at Dave with an affirming smile.  Dave continued to lift him on to that platform for several minutes, and I sat there and watched my husband and my son play for the first time.

We have had many firsts since that day.  The first time Josh rode on Dave’s shoulders; the first time he called me Mommy; the first time he said “I love you”.  We also have had other not-so-pleasant firsts.  The first time Josh threw a shoe at me; the first time he fell off his bike; the first time he said “I hate you”.

I often think about all of the firsts I missed in Josh’s life.  I will never be able to tell him about the day he was born.  I wasn’t there when he said his first word or learned to walk.  Sometimes we laugh with our friends who are dealing with diaper explosions and stained sheets, saying, “Ours came potty-trained!”, to which someone undoubtedly responds, “Lucky!”  And I do feel lucky in many ways.  But I still wish I had some  stories about poop to share with other parents. (Well, technically I do, but for some reason it becomes less appropriate to talk about your kid’s poop as they get older.)

Although I do have times when I long for the missed moments, I don’t dwell on these thoughts.  There are so many firsts and new experiences that I do get to have with my son.  There are also firsts that I have gotten to witness with my nephew and nieces and close friends’ children.  I was visiting one of my best friends the day that her oldest daughter walked for the first time.  It was precious and sacred, and I will never forget it.  I don’t begrudge others these beautiful moments, even though I didn’t get to experience them with my child, because I know that my son had these moments.  These sacred moments happened, and whoever was there to witness them now has memories to hold on to and cherish.  I take great comfort in that.  And I take even more comfort in thinking about all of the firsts that I won’t miss.  Josh’s first baseball game; his first trip to Disney World; his wedding day (God-willing).

I don’t have any poopy diaper stories to share with other moms.  That’s a bummer.  But forever embedded in my memory and my heart is the day I first met my son; the first time he smiled at me; the first time he hugged me; the first time my husband picked him up; the first time I heard his little voice; the first moment I felt like a mother.

And our first family photo, right there next to the McDonald’s play place.

first family picture  first day meeting Josh-play place 2

Give it a year…

josh on the beach

So much can change in a year.

I am on vacation with my husband’s family this week, a Fields family tradition that I have participated in since Dave and I started dating.  As I soak in the calmness of the beach and watch my son play in the waves, I am struck with a deep sense of gratitude and awe.  “One year ago, could I ever have imagined this?”

So much can change in a year.

A year ago, we first heard the name Joshua and allowed our hearts to be open to exploring possibility, but it still seemed so unlikely, so far-fetched.  I had gotten so used to “not being a parent” that the idea of actually becoming a parent seemed like a cruel joke.  I remember thinking to myself, “If only I could be sure this would work out.”  I wished for a Back to the Future situation where Future Karin would come to me and tell me how happy I was with my son and how all the struggle and waiting and uncertainty was worth it because, in the end, everything worked out.  But I knew that I couldn’t have that kind of assurance.  We never really can.  That’s where faith comes in.

Often, as a counselor, I work with people who are desperately seeking that kind of assurance from me.  “Just tell me my daughter will turn out okay” or “Promise me things will get better”.  We just want to know; we want certainty.  And the older I get and the more difficult things I live through, the less certainty I have in anything other than God.  And I find when I am not trying to control my circumstances or grasp things with a tight fist, I feel free- free to be reckless and free to explore life and its possibilities.

Present-Day Karin understands that if I had known a year ago what I know now, I would have missed out on so many opportunities to take risks and to be forced out of my comfort zone.  I wouldn’t have had to fight so hard, emotionally, physically and spiritually, to push through my fears and really experience faith, vulnerability and community.  If I had known 3 years ago that I not only would be a mother, but that my child had already been born, I could have spent the next two years just coasting.  I could have avoided doctor’s appointments and medication and heartbreak and a substantial amount of time and energy as I waited for the right time to pick up my son.  But that wasn’t the plan.

I know that I needed to go through all of the experiences I went through on my journey to motherhood.  My personal and spiritual growth the past few years reinforces this, but more than anything, I am humbled by the connections that I have been able to make with so many others through my own experiences.  When everything comes easily, it is difficult to truly empathize with the plight of others.  My struggles may look different than someone else’s, but there is a comfort and an understanding in knowing that we all have to fight.

In some battles, we may never feel victorious.  Some people who yearn to find their life partner never do.  Some people strive every day to move beyond desolate living conditions, but it never happens.  Some people fight a daily battle against mental illness and past trauma, and eventually become fallen soldiers.  We don’t know that everything will turn out okay, but we also don’t know that it won’t.  I have come to appreciate this uncertainty and use it as a motivator.  Although I can’t control most things, there are some things I do have a say in.  I couldn’t control tons of variables in the process of adopting Josh, but I could make the calls.  I could get the paperwork done.  I could pray.  I could surround myself with a loving, supportive community.  I could get his room ready and allow myself to hope because I would rather hope than be hopeless.

A year ago, I heard about Josh.  I saw his picture (see below) while I was at the beach with my husband’s family, and I sensed that I was supposed to pursue him.  When I felt like giving up at one point, I asked God while running on a treadmill at the gym, “How hard am I supposed to fight for this?”  What seemed like a rhetorical question became a genuine plea for direction and hope.  And on that treadmill with my headphones in, surrounded by people, I heard a voice say, “Harder.”  So I did.

When things feel discouraging, or even hopeless, give it a year.  It is amazing how much can change in a year.

first pic of Josh beach vacation family pic

An Apology to Every Mother I Have Ever Judged

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.