Facing my five-year-old, I see her vibrating with rage.
Her continued disobedience had spiraled into a situation where rather than the five books she usually gets to look at quietly during bedtime, she was now down to two books and precariously close to losing another.
Gripping the Twilight Sparkle’s Magical Journey book tightly in her small hands, she lashes out at me, arms pinwheeling. Flinching a little, expecting a blow that thankfully never comes, I grab her arms and pin them to her sides.
“Stop! Just stop,” I say, composure fraying. My husband, reading to our 3-year-old from the sidelines, adds his own stern warning as he steps in to intervene.
“Go on out,” he tells me, part of our tag-team parenting when things get rough.
I exit the room, tears welling as I open the door to the master bedroom, knees cracking as I kneel to pull out my essential oils reference book. Turning to the entry on “anger,” I grab the oils and head back into my girls’ room.
“Let’s put some oils on,” I tell the girls, now lounging next to Dad, alternatively listening to the story and poking at each other. Quietly, methodically, I apply them. I keep my touch gentle, praying over my children even as I smooth the oils into their soft skin, hearing them giggle and watching them squirm as I hit ticklish spots. Afterwards, my youngest daughter snuggles onto my lap while vying to see the book’s pictures. As we finish the story, the prayer time that follows is still a bit tumultuous, until my husband gives out hugs and kisses and leaves the room.
In the momentary silence, I remain an extra moment. Seated, kneeling on the floor like a supplicant, I pause to pray for patience, mercy, kindness. More. Reaching again for my oldest child – this strong-willed child, the one who has tested me from the moment she arrived six weeks early, five years ago – I hug her tightly to me, rubbing her back as she relaxes into my embrace.
Standing next to me, Noelle pops her thumb out of her mouth long enough to ask: “Mommy, why are you crying?”
Still hugging Elise, I wipe my face and tell them the truth: “Because it hurts my heart to see you so mad.”
“It does?” Elise pulls back to peer at me.
“Yes. And because when you’re sad, Mommy’s sad.”
“Oh,” Elise says, pausing. “And you’re happy when I’m happy?”
“Yes,” I say, once again folding her into my embrace.
And I hope that, as I continue smoothing her long blonde hair for a few more precious minutes, my message is clear: This isn’t a “me vs. you” thing. I’m on your side.
Because the truth is, I can see her struggle in myself. Despite my soft-spoken nature, I have a terrible temper that flares into brilliant displays of anger when stoked for too long. It never lasts long, but remains simmering under the surface. That unreasonable anger, that frustration I feel when I can’t control my surroundings. That desperate feeling of wanting to lash out, in fear, in fury, at my circumstances.
I want my children to know that it’s ok to feel all those big, out-of-control feelings, but it’s what we choose to do with them that makes a difference. Feeling more deeply, in greater measures, doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s ok to be more sensitive, more empathetic, more passionate — more.
Because on the days when I feel weighed down by the burden of my own unhealthy triggers, my own mistakes, the flaws that arise again and again and the sense that sometimes I just feel too much, I try to remember God’s response to me as a parent:
“Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.” Hebrews 4:14-16 (MSG, emphasis mine)
More grace, more mercy. More. I want that so desperately in my parenting; I want my children to know that I have hard days too, and it’s ok. It’s all part of an imperfect, messy life. A beautiful life.