We like to talk about the fun parts of parenting – the wonder of a baby’s tiny toes, the cute things our kids say or expressions they make, and how they snuggle up to us. But sometimes, if I’m honest, parenting can be ugly.
I feel intensely vulnerable in acknowledging that sometimes my temper can get the best of me.
Last night it happened at bedtime. Elise had been sorting through pictures in the office, putting them in a container for some project she had in mind, but it was getting late so I went in to tell her to put it away for the night. She objected loudly, rudely, then tried to storm off and take all the craft supplies she’d been working with to play with them in her bed.
And – I snapped. I just lost it. I yanked the items out of her arms to put them on the table, but it went awry and they spilled, dropping on the floor in a messy pile. I grabbed her and set her in the hallway outside the office, closing the door firmly so she couldn’t try to run back in. And then I headed downstairs in a huff.
Tim knew I was at the end of my rope, so he stepped in as I went downstairs to clean up dinner. From the kitchen, I heard the murmur of his voice, reading “Alice in Wonderland” to Noelle, as Elise cried from her place in the hallway.
After a couple of minutes, I heard my husband try again,“C’mon, Elise, it’s time for bed!” he called.
And then I heard her say that she wanted to be carried to her room, in words that broke my heart: “I want somebody to hold me. Just hold me.”
As my husband picked her up in his strong arms and set her down in her room, the night returned to normal.
But downstairs washing dishes, with my children upstairs, I felt like a terrible mother. Why can’t I control my temper? When I see my daughter having a meltdown of her own, I can’t say I blame her. Maybe she’s learned it from me.
As an adult, conflict with others is mostly smoothed over with the veneer of politeness, but that’s not possible in the intimate confines of a family. Before I had kids, I didn’t realize that it would expose the best and the worst parts of me. And that, sometimes, I would break.
After reading time is over, I return, once more calm. The girls bounce around me, picking out clothes for the next day, before settling into bed. Noelle lays on her tummy, sucking her thumb while I rub her back. Elise curls up next to me on the floor, head in my lap. As I urge her up to her bunk bed, following behind, the sheer normalcy and quiet of the moment softens and quiets me, too. It’s our habit to do a couple of pages in a Look and Find book, and we take turns “spying” things for the other person to find. While we do, she tells me about how her teacher hurt her back and what books they read in class. She tells me that she wants to put pink dresses on her Christmas list and how she wants to eat Goldfish like the ones Noelle got as a take-home treat from preschool.
And somewhere in the mix of finding fairies on a page and talking about Splat the Cat, I find myself whispering, once again, that I’m sorry. I’m sorry that Mommy got so frustrated. I’m sorry if you felt sad because of it. How can you and Mommy both work on not getting so mad? What could we both do, together, that would help us calm down and not hurt each other’s feelings?
It’s true that a child’s tiny toes are one of the lovely parts of parenting. But for me, the true miracle of parenting is that, when we ask for it, our children forgive us. Again and again and again. That they love us without reservation and without fail. And they give us grace when we need it.
When God asks us to come to him as a child, I think that’s what he has in mind. Those qualities that allow us to learn from our mistakes with our children and become better parents are the same qualities he values in our relationship with him. Love. Trust. Forgiveness. Grace. And the courage to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and try again another day.