“How does this look? I come out of my closet with an ivory silk scarf wrapped around my neck and in my favorite sweater, both draped over an emerald top.
My oldest daughter, sitting on my bed, pauses, looks me over, and takes it all in. “The scarf looks great. So does the sweater. But not both. The styles really don’t go together.”
“You’re right. I agree.” I shed the sweater. It’s a gorgeous day and I don’t really need it anyway. I keep the scarf.
“Mom, why do you use that hashtag on Instagram?” My oldest daughter is sitting on our oversized chair, one leg hanging over the arm.
“Which one?” I am walking through the house, passing her on my way to the kitchen.
“That one you used on your last post. It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s weird.”
“Ha! Well, people my age probably get it.” I exaggerate “my age” with a smile and a self-deprecating laugh. “Either way, I like it. Thanks for telling me, though.”
My kids are a constant mirror to me. Constant. They are a continuous stream of feedback.
I don’t always handle it well.
But, I try. I really, really try.
Sometimes, it crosses a line and I say something like: “So, I don’t think you meant to, but what you just said hurt my feelings.”
Here is what I want as a parent…maybe more than anything else. I want my kids to be honest and kind. I don’t want them to be afraid of their voice and opinions. I want them to be able to give and receive feedback. I want them to be able to have genuine, hard conversations with grace and love and strength and respect. Open. Loving. Strong. Respect. No games.
I know that how I respond to their opinions…their precious thoughts…their tender ideas…how I respond to them in big and small moments will play a huge role in the development of their integrity…their ability to be whole and authentic and honest and true to themselves.
The ability and courage to be SEEN. To not hide.
They sometimes come to me with some idea or thought that triggers me. It worries me. I can feel myself tightening up. Where will this thought lead them? I worry because I love them and care.
AND, here is…perhaps…where my most important parenting work happens.
I calm myself down. I self-soothe.
I parent ME so I can parent THEM. I remind myself that I am not solely in charge of their development. I am a PART of it. And, God loves them and has them and is working in them and my response right now will determine if she (or he) KEEPS talking to me. And, that’s what I REALLY want.
“So interesting. Tell me more.”
Then we have a conversation. I am in awe at their depth of thinking. Their questions. Their love. Their grace. Their care. Their curiosity.
I do my very best to cultivate a posture of respect and awe towards them. I let them teach me things. I allow them to have some authority on topics.
One day, they might return the favor.
And, I don’t try to tie it all up…nice and neat. She is in process. It is my deep hope that she stays close….that she keeps talking to me. Because what I want more than for her to do what I want her to do?
I want a relationship.
Last weekend we were celebrating my son’s 9th birthday. I was thoroughly happy with how it was going. My son had been asking for a Greek mythology party for months. Think togas. A Medusa cake. Scrolls for each boy that told him which Greek god he was while at the party. Party planning is one of my love languages. So, I was thrilled watching the boys have fun. And, I was more than a little proud of my son for his party idea. So cool. I just followed his lead.
I was also tired. It had been a long week. Towards the end of the night I went what we therapists call…a little “flat”. My oldest child must have said or done something and I had not responded. I didn’t realize it, but my lack of response caused her to think that I was upset with her. I felt her touch my arm. “Mom, I’m sorry I said that. I didn’t mean to be inconsiderate.”
I fought back tears. I don’t know if there was a moment when I had been prouder of her.
I pulled her close, hugged her tight, and breathed her in. “Oh, sweet girl. I’m not upset with you. I’m just tired. I honestly didn’t notice what you said. Thanks for checking in, though.”
I wasn’t proud that she was trying to take care of me. I was proud that she had a heart to connect—to check in—to be willing to consider how her actions impacted others—to admit she might be wrong.
There have been other times I have responded to a comment like that with: “Yes, that did hurt my feelings or made me angry. Thank you for apologizing. I love you.”
There have been times when the roles were reversed and it was me that said: “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
Look, I’m human. Lord, am I ever. I’ve got to be able to spout things off—things like— “Can you believe they said that me?!” I have got to be able to get frustrated…angry…or even laugh at something one of them did. But, I’m going to work those feelings out with their dad, a friend, or my therapist.
And, sometimes I’ll say: “I’m angry” or “I’m sad”. I am working on being honest about my feelings with my kids, too.
But there is a difference between naming feelings—and working them out on someone. It is not my kids’ job to be the beast of burden for my emotions.
Honest. Authenticity. YES. Or else I will get this comment, which I have heard on more than one occasion: “Mom, you have that look on your face where you are upset, but you are trying to pretend like you aren’t” OR “Mom, there’s that laugh. That laugh when you are sad or angry, but you are trying to laugh it away.”
Oh, MAN. Thank God for my kids. THANK GOD.
Because as I raise them, they are helping God to keep raising me.
And, as they serve as mirrors to me…I hope and pray I am doing the work to be a mirror to them…reflecting respect, awe, and love…worthiness of being heard…and the courage to be present and listen.
***Image from madegoods.com