One might think that with nearly 17 years of experience under my maternity belt and exposure to a wide array of character traits, I’d have mastered this parenting gig by now. If I’d spent this much time and effort studying a particular field/subject, I’d have attained a doctorate. Surely, the same amount of time devoted to a single career path would have led to promotions and accolades.
But alas anyone who considers herself thoroughly proficient in mothering should be honest enough to admit that she is less an expert and more of an adapter. Because the moment we think we’ve got it all figured out, a child will do an about-face or God will bless us with a delightful new bundle of joy, who will no doubt turn our well-learned lessons upside-down.
Picasso Paints The Picture
I remember how smart I once thought I was. Raising two little balls of energy (aka boys), I was proud of the fact that neither of them ever drew on the walls of my well-kept home. Certainly, it was my careful instructions, my thoughtful parenting and my wise securing of art instruments that was responsible for this kind of obedience and intelligence. Those parents, whose walls were littered with chicken-scratch scribbling, hadn’t been putting in the time or paying enough attention to their little Picassoes. Then, came little ball number three and I’m pretty sure I heard God laugh at my pride. Mr. Clever waited until he was just old enough to scale the top bunk of his elder brothers’ bed and it was up there that he, blue ball-point pen in fist, decorated my solid colored walls with his tot-inspirations.
Like so many other misguided parents, I began this journey with a clear notion that boys had no need of guns and competition was overrated. Following suit after their father’s passion, we offered our eldest sons a kitchen set and to instill the proper fathering abilities a baby doll made its way into the playroom. However, I was ill-prepared to deal with the wrestling matches which commenced every sunrise. No sooner did my little loves carry their footy-pajama-ed selves into my bedroom each morning then they threw one another down and began kicking each other with ferocious concentration.
Nothing was out of bounds when it came to competition either. From who could eat his cereal faster to who could jump higher, those first sons engaged in all manner of rivalry. Despite what one might think, they were also the best of friends which I suppose is what boggled my female brain all the more.
Son number three entered the picture and as he grew he found himself the odd-man-out. It was painful at times to watch as he attempted to fit himself into the brotherly bond and transform the familial couple into the three musketeers. My husband and I did our best to shove him in between and instruct the trio on the value of sharing (toys, time and space), but ultimately that child needed to establish himself in the pecking order. His role had less to do with mom and dad’s well-planned parenting and more to do with finding his own way in the world of Brelinskyville.
A Life-changing Book
My college roommate was raising her own duo of sons at this time and so inspiration led her to mail me her only copy of Dr. James Dobson’s book Bringing Up Boys. A life changer for me, that book explained the value and necessity for male masculinity, as opposed to male femininity. Dr. Dobson knew my kids it seemed, he’d seen their kind of “odd” behavior and he enlightened me as to it merits. He demonstrated how boys learn to be men through competition and feats of strength. How they gain confidence and establish themselves as leaders through rough play and conflict. Dr. Dobson allowed me to remove myself from the picture, to separate my own feminine ideals from my parenting method.
Life changing, indeed, to realize that God has called me to raise these boys into men. Yes, they are my children, but they aren’t truly little pictures of me, little extensions of my ideal-self, they are images of their Father, their Almighty Father.
So just as I’d established some new ground rules for myself, God smiled on me again and sent us a sweet armful of pink. Here she was, my first daughter, the fulfillment of my piggy-tailed, baby doll toting dreams. Someone who would think like me and act like me, or so I thought. However, if son number three gave numbers one and two a run for their money, he’d have nothing on this tiny sweetheart. Dresses and frills were tolerated only so long as required, but what she sought was inclusion and top-billing in the world of brotherhood. If they could run fast, so would she. If those boys could score a soccer goal, so would she or at least she dedicate every ounce of her female energy to trying.
Another pink darling came along and finally accepted my motherly inspirations of rose-colored ruffles and sparkles. Then came a couple more parcels of male moxie. Through it all I never cease to be awed by the individual characters they are. Each has his or her own personality and drive, each one had a different purpose which he/she brings into our family and the world.
While there is no doubt that some emulate their dad in the kitchen and others mirror his sense of humor at the dinner table, they are definitely made in another’s likeness. Of course, the realization of that is both freeing and frightening.
Freeing because I realize that their future is not completely tied to my lacking abilities alone. Yes, I must devote myself, my entire self, to modeling right behavior, correcting wrongs and praising achievements, but I am not alone. And thank goodness because I fail probably as often as I succeed. In addition to their awesome and involved father, I turn continually to their Creator, the One Who knit them in my womb, Who knows their life’s vocation.
Frightening, too, because I understand that it is not enough to allow them to be adopted by the “world.” Though I may be tempted to call it quits some days, particularly when the house seems in utter chaos and a teenager has me balancing at the edge of sanity, I cannot. The eternal souls of these children are at stake and I’ve been entrusted with the privilege and duty of delivering them back home some day. While I am constrained by their own individual free will, I am not at liberty to simply let them learn at the knee of the culture.
I’m No Expert
As I said, I can’t claim expertise in this parenting assignment, but I know that success doesn’t rely solely on my skills and talents or lack there of. All those new-aged, modern-minded parenting manuals are only as useful and reliable as their human-minded authors. Better still is the catechism and the Word which comes from the hand of their All-wise Papa. Rather than try on the habits of the latest worldly child psychologist, I reflect on the examples of biblical parents and faithful pew-partners because we all have the same eternal goal in mind.
Most importantly I remember that I am still a daughter and my Father is continually showering me with His mercy and leading me toward the narrow pathway. So, when I have to admonish my 7 year old for disturbing the peace for the one hundredth time this afternoon, I remember that my own imperfect choices are forgiven without a score. When my daughter forgets to make her bed for the twenty-fifth day in a row, I recall the countless times I’ve forgotten to set my day’s priorities straight. That is not to say, that I am off the hook for the hard and tiresome duty of disciplining my beloved children, but that I am better able to see myself reflected in their eyes.
Not a day passes that I am not grateful for every moment with my children. Yes, even when I’m bone-tired, grumpy and praying away the seconds until bedtime, I still remember there is no greater job than this, that God would give me such precious gifts and allow imperfect me to help shape their consciences. What confidence He has in me that I will lead them home. What abundant mercy He displays knowing that I will mess up and yet He still places so great an honor in my well-filled lap. What unending love He pours out through the tiny arms of my offspring.
So when I’m tempted to run and hide (okay sometimes I do stake out in the laundry room for as long as it takes for someone to realize I’ve gone missing), I recall that my vocation isn’t to become an expert. In fact, there is probably some sin of pride involved in thinking myself so brilliant. My vocation is to remain open to life, to accept God’s Will and to repeatedly humble myself by seeking His aid.
While my task may never garner me framed certificates on the wall, lofty titles when I’m announced or extra initials added to my signature, it has gained me a refrigerator covered in lovely stick-figure images of me, the title of mama and a place at the head of a table surrounded by the loves of my life.