My mom always told me to be a student of my kids. That sounded so easy. Just watch and learn and take notes of when to lean in and when to stand back. Pray a lot and just go where God leads. I didn’t factor in how much of my own garbage would get in the way. If I had a hundred dollars for every time talking to my kids has prompted me to call a counselor… well I could afford a counselor. I didn’t know I would carry my own hurts into my parenting. I didn’t know i’d watch my kids struggle through heart aches and familiar problems and feel a pang of hurt I once felt as a kid myself. I didn’t know I would need my own mother to talk me off the ledge when it all felt like too much. I didn’t know that being a student meant learning about myself as well.
Yet here I am, watching my kids navigate the everyday hardships off life and cringing as I remember all the things I want to forget about being a 10 year old girl, or about the mean kids in school, or about desperately trying to pay attention but not feeling like it was possible. I think at the end of the day what I really want is to eliminate all of their hurt. I want to create a pain free existence for them so I try to control my way into that happening. If I can just put a few boards over all the major dips that I see happened my own journey they will come out unscathed. It doesn’t work though, because life isn’t a straight line, its a zig zag full of bumps, hills, and a few dark forests. I don’t go to school with them, or ride the bus, or see the 100th fruit snack they sneak when I am not looking. I have come to see that what is more valuable than my desperate attempts to remove hurt is to be able to see into their heart. This is the only way I will ever really be a student of my kids.
I have come to see that the only realistic outcome is not a life that is void of pain but kids that come to me with their pain. I have yet to meet someone who actually got to avoid hurt all together but I have lots of friends who didn’t have anyone to take the pain of their every day life too. Now I know the Christian answer is that God is always willing to listen, and absolutely I agree but I also believe God desires for us to have deep community, not people we know but people who really know us and vice versa. I had two loving parents who were always ready to listen and point me towards a loving God when I brought them my pain.
I had this flashback recently of walking with my mom by the river near our house when I was a teenager. Probably once a week we would walk a few miles and just talk, no agenda (well maybe sometimes she had an agenda) but what she really wanted to know was how I was. The power of that question doesn’t diminish in adulthood. It is still incredibly meaningful when someone asks, how are you? Not what have you been up to or what’s new with kids but, how are you? It gets to the heart of life and I am reminded thats what makes us feel seen and known.
I was recently challenged to decide what my north star of parenting is and I kept landing on the fact that I wanted to maintain influence. What my kids and even my husband do with my advice, wisdom (rarely), or nudges is up to them but I want a relationship where I am the phone call they want to make no matter what is going on. I want them to say, “my mom will know what to do.” That doesn’t have much to do with the advice you give but how you handle the hurts that happen in their life.
This is challenging for me, I am a great drill sergeant but a horrible counselor. If you want orders I am your girl but if you want a soft place to land find Ben. This isn’t true in all my relationships… just my kids. With friends I am so willing to listen and care but God has revealed to me thats because the outcome doesn’t have anything to do with me. My kids though, the outcome feels tied to me. I have had to slowly let go though, knowing my attempts to control my way into an outcome will only compromise my influence with them.
I can always tell when Briggs has something to tell me because he hangs around me quietly. Just kinda following me room to room, often asking me to throw the football. God will nudge my heart to prepare, if I overreact he will be lost, he will not bring me his news or hurts anymore. This is not natural for me, I am a great overreacter. The other day he was just hanging around, I sat quietly and just waited, hands empty, knowing it was coming. It did and when he shared I mentally counted to three before I responded. I was both sad and considering raging on a 8 year old (not a great look). I was so glad I had my north star in my head and my moms gentle voice in my ear. I acted breezy (while panic texting ben) gave him a huge hug and told him I was so glad he told me. He happily ran off to play (while I mentally fought a kid I didn’t even know and waited for the principal to call and tell me what happened). The school had handled the incident incredibly and Briggs wasn’t worried. He didn’t even have to tell me but I was so honored he wanted to. The best part is I know where he will come next time life hurts. I couldn’t change what happened at school but I could make sure he knew he had someone to talk to.