Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Allowing Grace into Parenthood...

Here I am with all my little peeps.
This is a beast of a post, not only in the topic, but also the fact that it spans almost 9 1/2 years of experiences. There is so much here that although I wrote this today, it has taken me a long time to process, ponder and connect it all together.  It is EXCITING to be learning to allow Christ more and more into my every day life.  It is my hope that you can FEEL the Spirit and have the eyes of your understanding opened to recognize the application in your life and situation.  This happens to be my life and my experiences, but I hope in my sharing it can point you to recognition in your own.

Gavin pushing Shipton in the swing.

We have had an on-going situation over the past few years with one of our children that has recently come to a head.  It's too premature to write about the details; however, these circumstances were set into motion & perpetuated by choices I made 5-7 years ago.  The deepest hurt for me with this situation is that my choices hurt my tender and innocent child.  That cuts deep---that although I have been changed and I'm a completely different person, the damage has already been done and the entanglements of the choices I made are still running their course with no end in sight.  I may write more details of this situation in the future, but for now, this is the epitome of the experiences I have on a daily basis---the "mom guilt" for constantly "screwing up" my kids.  Stay with me because this first bit sounds pretty ugly, but I promise we will trudge all the way through it.

Nobody wakes up in the morning and says to themselves, "I wonder how I can screw my kids up today."

This phrase is from one of my teachers and has really sunk in over the past year since hearing her say it.  How many of us swore we would never do it the way our parents did, yet in moments of anger or stress find "our mother/father or ____ coming out of our mouth?"  We do it just they way they did/said what they always said to us even though we promised ourselves we would never do that. What we experienced and watched growing up can become ingrained in us.  It's our go-to or our knee-jerk reaction.  Although we don't intend to harm, we do.  Most of us as parents don't have malicious intentions.  We are just doing the best we can.  But what about when the best doesn't seem good enough?  What about in situations like what I described above?  That I should have known better.  That I should have done better. And because I didn't, my child is paying for it. 

Here is our "burned-est-est-er, burnt cookie"

I recently heard someone describing their oldest as the burnt cookie.  I feel the same way, except it wasn't just my oldest that was "burned."  It has taken us completely blowing it for 3 children before we were even remotely aware of ourselves in regards to pregnancy, birth, baby, and toddlers.  We are learning as we go right now about school-aged children.  I just can't seem to get ahead!  By the time I am starting to feel the tiniest bit comfortable, they are off to a new stage.  PLUS they are all so different I find that experiences and knowledge with one child isn't always transferable to another.  I guess in short, I am trying to describe how I was on one extreme of parenting until recent years: reacting, "sleeping/" unaware to what I was saying/doing because I was oblivious to what I was thinking and feeling.

Awake & Drowning in Mom Guilt:

Although we often refer to it as mom guilt, I think mom shame is more accurate, for at least my experience.  I can't count the times my kids have done something or said something I feel like a complete failure.  I find myself asking, "Why didn't it sink it?  We just talked about that." or "I have told him a million times to talk it out and that hitting isn't nice."  That thinking leads to, "I must be failing them as a mom.  I must not be teaching them well or enough.  I have to try harder" or  I feel despair that I just will never get it right.  Etc.  As I have said before as I write, these may not be the exact things that pop into your head, but I hope you are taking in the patterns and considering how it would look in your own life.

The kids arranged themselves youngest to oldest all by themselves for this picture. :)

It seems that in recent years that now I have finally become awakened to the ways I am parenting, my awareness has become hyper-awareness.

As we moved last year, among other things, I asked two questions.  Both lead me to the same answer.  1.  Should I keep my business right now and teach/see clients/and hold classes?  2.  What is my shortest/most direct path back to God's presence?  I danced around my answer when I wrote HERE.  It was no on keeping my business running.  Nothing on the side or extra. If I were to spend my time outside my home, it needed to be for a REALLY good reason, because I needed to focus on my efforts as a Mom.  Although I didn't completely understand at the time, I could see what He was pointing me to.  I was painfully, hyper-aware of the patterns my kids were playing out because of the ways I had parented in reaction mode.  I was determined to "fix it" and assumed that is what my answer was having me set out to do.  As you can probably imagine, the intent of focusing primarily on being a mom magnified even more the ugliness and failure that had evaded even in my hyper-awareness.

With my boys in our backyard

I think of two experiences from the past year to share here.  Experience 1: during tithing settlement our Bishop praised us for the wonderful job we are doing as parents.  Instead of taking that in, all I could think of as he talked were things like, "You have no idea how much I have hurt these kids by the choices I have made and the ways my parenting attempts have hurt them!  You must not know that even though I know I shouldn't, I lose my temper and become impatient...often over the smallest, most stupid things.  I feel like a monster as I see the path of destruction my unawareness has caused these children.  All I see is the damage that seems beyond repair."
Shipton "smiling" with his bowl of strawberries he picked himself.
I shared these thoughts with Mark and he was my sounding board as I went back and forth processing this experience between him and on my knees.  I knew God was wanting me to focus more on parenting well, but it just felt beyond my ability.  All I could see was the failure and incompetence. After much time on my knees before and after this experience, the closest I have come to peace about the reminder this experience served of all the ways I am falling short as a mother is this answer: Just like I needed to have experiences that gave me a journey, my kids need a journey too.  They need a reason to need to turn (return) to Christ.  By nature of our relationship it does involve me.  I can't change what I have done, but I can point them to the One who can change hearts and heal hurts.  I must focus my efforts on turning them to Christ.  That helped, but I still didn't feel like I completely understood.  There were pieces missing in my understanding.

Leland with a picture he drew.

Experience 2: there was one Sacrament a few months back where my 5-year-old was really trying to push my buttons.  If you have or have had kids, you probably know exactly what I am trying to describe.  He tried everything in the book because he really wanted to just leave the meeting.  He had complained it was boring and I wasn't responding by taking him out like he hoped.  Well, when he punched me in the face and the ruckus he was making surrounding his actions became too disruptive to stay in the meeting, I finally caved and we headed out to the car.  I couldn't get him calm enough to go back in through the rest of the meeting time, so I decided to step into the mother's lounge to rock him for a while.  I felt so defeated and the usual failure questions and dark mother shame were swarming in my mind.  "How could he have hit me?  Seriously?!  He is 5!  How many times have I tried to teach him?!  It just shows what an awful Mom I am that I can't even get my child to be quiet for a simple meeting!"  I was pulled out of my thoughts when over the speaker I heard my oldest child's voice.  It was fast and testimony meeting and she must be standing up.  Tears streamed down my face as her sweet and confident voice bore a powerful testimony filled with the Spirit.  Instantly I felt some comfort knowing that I must be doing something right for her to speak like that.  The meeting ended and I got my child successfully off to class.  I had just stepped into nursery when one of the bishopric counselors pulled me out for a minute to speak with me.  He offered me a new calling as the primary chorister (teaching music to children ages 3-11).  I was shocked,  but quickly  accepted.  As he walked away, the hyper-awareness, mom guilt/shame on steroids kicked in.  "If I can't even take care of my own kids, what will this be like?  What a joke!  How many kids are going to go home and punch their moms in the face because of my influence?"

I am not kidding, these are seriously things that went through my head.  Typing out these experiences and what went through my head almost sounds funny now, but at the time they were so jarring that as I mentioned in experience 1. I had Mark support me through it and in 2. I called my bestie to support me as I partnered with God to unravel it.  Again, these may not be your experiences, but what parent guilt/shame have you had?  Two things to point out from these experiences.  First, notice how many up's and down's I had in a matter of minutes in experience 2.  So often I find that my feelings of succeeding as a parent are conditional.  They depend on whether or not my kids are doing or aren't doing XYZ.  As long as they are cute, polite, perfectly well-behaved angels
Gavin and Senn "caring" for their "pet" garden snails.
I can pat myself of the back knowing that I am doing a great job.  The minute they use their agency to choose something I don't agree with, I am falling to pieces and beating myself up for somehow missing something.  Do you catch what I am pointing out?  The fact that I have been so volatile in how I feel I am doing as a parent is a familiar red flag to what I have learned about being dependent on outside circumstances and people to bring me happiness or peace.  Second, as I step back I can easily recognize the critical (non-constructive) mom guilt source as not being from a source of light.  The part that has left lingering struggles to sort through for me is what about the parts that are true?  I really could try harder at some aspects of motherhood than I have been.  I really do human-y things in any given day.  I am far, far from the God-like parent I know I should be, want to be, and hope to become. How can I reconcile this?

How CAN I Reconcile This?

I will have to write more details soon about what I have been learning about ambiguity and paradoxes, but for today, let me share in this context.  When we notice a "gap" between where we should be and where we are, it isn't a mistake. God didn't somehow miss something, nor is the situation or experience before us an exception or mistake.  It didn't break the mold and is somehow off free-floating without a way to reconcile it.  For whatever reason, motherhood was somehow sealed off from the rest of what I have learned and I am learning about grace.  When I have these gaps or paradoxes where it seems I am being asked to do something I can't do or two things at once, I am learning to look for the overlying doctrine that will reconcile it and bridge the gap between the two.

We found a grasshopper and when some of the brave kids touched it, it landed on Gavin's nose!

When it comes to this shameful paradox I have found in motherhood or feeling like when I was aware I was hurting them, but even as I have become aware I am still far from the perfect parent I know I should be, I just was blessed with my answer!  This quote changed my understanding in an instant.  I now am armed with the truth I need to combat the attempts of Satan to discourage and confuse me.

 We recently stayed with some dear, dear friends from our previous ward in Rexburg.  As I shared the details of the situation I started with in this post, she immediately pulled out this quote.  It comes from the manual for the class taught at BYU-Idaho on the Family Proclamation:

"God does not expect parents to be perfect or we wouldn't have children in our twenties, or thirties, or in this life, for that matter...Even the best efforts cannot sufficiently prepare us for the experience of parenting which ultimately demands at least a measure of on-the-job training.  In fact, it could be said---given this quality of parenting of learning as we go---that the primary product of parenting is not the child, it is the parent.  Parenting, like marriage, is another opportunity for us to become more like the Savior.  And, of course, as we become better parents, and the more quickly we learn to improve, the more we can also bless the lives of our children.  Nevertheless, each child will choose for himself or herself to accept or reject the opportunities available to children of caring parents.

"Parents need to understand both the responsibilities of parenthood and the limits of that responsibility.  Those who get caught up in excessive guilt are often so intent on surviving emotional devastations that they end up focusing more on themselves than on the child.  We are not good resources for our children she we feel excessive guilt.  Guilt should be reserved for sin.  Of course, we should feel guilt if we are sinning---abusing or neglecting our children, or behaving in other telestial ways.  Such behavior should be corrected immediately.  Parental imperfection, however, is a part of the plan, or we wouldn't have children at all in this mortal sphere.  We are responsible to learn and improve, not to be perfect parents from the start.

"Problematic parents do not doom children to miserable or sinful lives any more than wonderful parents guarantee successful, righteous lives to their children."

There is so much meat in these paragraphs, but the bolded portion is exactly what I was needing to understand in order to reconcile this paradox in my life.  I am part of God's plan, both on a macro scale by nature of being a parent and being tied to generations, but also on a micro scale as He sets it into motion in my children's personal lives.  I am part of the plan, not in spite of my failings, but because of my failing.

Seriously.  Just let that sink in.

And then to read that if we were to be good at it instantly, we wouldn't be parents. Ha!  For some reason I was thinking I had somehow "earned His trust" or that "He was entrusting these children into my careful care" because I was somehow trustworthy.  Nope.  Now let me explain carefully that I am not throwing my responsibilities to teach, nurture, or redirect my children, or to learn more or improve myself out the window.  I am simply swinging more to the center from the opposite side where I have been in recent years as a hyper-aware, swimming in mommy shame parent.  It reconciles my questions surrounding how.  He isn't expecting me to do it perfectly, especially with all the on-the-job training that is required.  JUST LIKE THE REST OF MY LIFE, BECAUSE OF JESUS CHRIST AND HIS GRACE, I CAN TRY AND WHEN I FAIL, I CAN SIMPLY DUST MYSELF OFF AND TRY AGAIN.

Rootbeer and orange floats!

I love, love, love the part: "the primary product of parenting is not the child, it is the parent."  That is the PRIMARY reason why He has allowed me to be a parent.  Although I may do some good for my children, and I certainly hope that even though they may not choose for themselves, we can both say together that I honestly tried to point them towards Christ.  But the PRIMARY reason I am a parent isn't for my kids to have great parenting.  Even on a really, really good day, they probably aren't getting God-like level of parenting.  It isn't about that.  It is for me.  It is for me to learn to become more like my Father in Heaven.  When I step back and look at parenthood through the lens of eternity, it makes perfect sense.  In the few moments of hearing these words and in pondering them in the days since, I have come back around to understand more clearly.  It isn't that the answers to any my prayers have changed at all.  It is that I can finally FEEL His words to me.  I can finally understand what He was saying all along and it is sweet and fills my heart with hope and joy!!!

Shipton was cutting all 4 2-year-old molars and it was a "hold me" kind of week.  Hanging out in the wrap making plum jam with Mama.

It Doesn't Matter What Has Brought Us To This Point:

I love that at the end of the quote I shared it talks about how God has a plan for all parenting mis-haps.  Just because our parents blew it some, or even BIG, BIG time, we don't have to stay trapped and a powerless victim to it.  If you have poked around on this blog before, you shouldn't be surprised that I point out that Christ is the antidote to this.  I have watched my husband and have experienced it myself in my own life.  We can be changed!  We can be healed of all hurts!  We can move on and do better!  Not of our own strength, but as we partner with God and let Christ in to the details.  I love that the quote also points out that even though parents may have done a wonderful job (even if there were such thing as a perfect parent) we can't prevent a child from using his/her agency.  Parenting is no guarantee.  Don't get me wrong, again, parenting matters...the hyper-aware part of me is all over that.  It just isn't a guarantee for either the ways we were parented to stay stuck or parenting in ways that will promise specific outcomes for our posterity. When I try to force the way I parent into a promise, as I have frantically done the past few years, I have completely missed the point of why I am a parent and the place of parenthood in God's great Plan of Happiness.

With Leland

One quick story a dear friend recently shared:  When she took her oldest to the pre-registration for kindergarten, she was confident after 2 years of preschool she would breeze through the testing.  To her amazement and humiliation, her daughter didn't know a single letter or number.  However, by the end of the year, she was caught up with her peers.  She recently graduated from high school and has stayed caught up all through her years at school.  It doesn't matter what experiences have brought us to this point.  It does in that it they have shaped us and given us experience, but as far as mattering for tainting our future, we choose here in this fresh moment.  It doesn't matter what roles we may have played in our children's personal journeys back to God.  It doesn't matter what has happened in the past.  As I recently wrote about HERE, as we are in the moment, we will be able to do what is needed.  If we don't, we simply dust ourselves off and try again.  THIS is God's plan and because of His Son, we can choose to participate in it.  His grace is sufficient for all aspects of our lives, including, as I have recently learned, parenthood.

With Shipton

All of this has culminated in my realization that I can't just grit my teeth and try harder to be a perfect parent.  Trust me, I have tried really, really hard, but all of my best efforts either fizzle away or explode in my face.  I of my own strength simply can't do it.  Just as in the rest of my life, I have realized He isn't expecting me to save myself or muster up God-like attributes I can't produce in my natural man state or self control in a fallen body.  Again, this at first glance seems contradictory because He has commanded me to be perfect.  It has been in understanding the Doctrine of Christ and grace that this paradox has started to become reconciled in my life.  He has just been waiting for me to recognize that motherhood is one more example of that.  The rest will be the familiar process that is becoming engrained in my heart: He isn't lowering His standards for me or taking away the call to be perfect.  He just doesn't expect me to do it in an instant.  Together, we can work out the details and together we will walk through this process of becoming ever increasingly like God. In this situation, learning to parent the way God parents.

We are the pretty part of our family. :)

Focusing on motherhood and the seemingly every day moments motherhood entails truly is my personal straight and narrow path to become like God and return to His presence!  I am thankful for a loving and patient Father who is guiding me along my way.  I am grateful He has answered my prayers even though I don't always get an immediate answer or instant understanding.  I can see the ways He is directing me, drawing my attention to more and more details and giving me strength beyond my own to parent closer and closer like Him.  With understanding the "why," I will continue to throw my full heart into motherhood and the refining process it was designed to be---not only for parents everywhere, but for me personally.

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