As a mother, spending days at home with my six-, four-, and two-year old often felt like an unending cycle of diapers, tantrums, and cries for help. But over time I started to see that in the midst of caring for them, in the midst of helping them grow and mature, I was changing. Now, three years later, I can look back with gratitude and list some of the ways my kids helped me grow up. --Amy Julia Becker
I said those three words every day when our children were younger. Eventually I realized how much I needed to hear them too. As an adult, I’m happy to share my physical goods, but I forget that I also can share my time, my money, and my relationships. Both professionally and personally, reprimanding my kids has reminded me to be generous in every area of my life.
Our son William has always had trouble sleeping. He woke every 45 minutes as a baby. He stayed up until midnight when he was moving from a crib to a bed. Even now, his eyes pop open around 5:30 every morning. As I started teaching him how to calm his mind and body, I started paying attention to my own need for rest. I was reminded of Psalm 23, where David writes, “God makes me lie down in green pastures.” I too, sometimes need God to “make me” lie down, just like my son sometimes needs his mom to make him get in bed.
It’s taken awhile for us to figure out the proper vocabulary for messing up in our household. Sometimes it’s deliberate—like when William stomps on Marilee’s foot, or Penny throws William’s toy behind the bed. But sometimes it is unintentional, like spilled orange juice or accidentally tripping a sibling midstride. Some of my kids’ actions have moral weight. These—hitting, saying mean things—we call bad choices. But others are simply accidents. We call them mistakes. As an adult, differentiating between my own bad choices (gossiping about friends, drinking that extra glass of wine, yelling at my children) and my own mistakes (losing the car keys, forgetting the Halloween party) have helped me to know where to take responsibility and where to give myself grace.
In the midst of the hardest season of my life as a parent, I had trouble knowing how to pray. I didn’t pray for patience because it made me feel too guilty when I snapped at the kids yet again. I didn’t pray for help because I was worried it wouldn’t come. I finally remembered advice a friend had once offered: “Pray for laughter.” So I did. And every time Penny made Marilee giggle by bouncing her up and down in her crib, every time William told a ridiculous made-up knock-knock joke, every time my husband Peter picked one of them up and twirled them around the kitchen and they laughed with delight—there was this moment of answered prayer, of holiness in the kitchen.
In my early thirties, I looked in the mirror one day and the image looking back shocked me. Flabby waistline, jiggly arms, the beginnings of age spots on my hands, wrinkles beside my eyes and across my forehead. At exactly the moment I was sinking into a state of despair, Penny, sitting nearby, looked up and said, “Booful, Mama.” I saw myself through the lens of our culture’s impossible standards of beauty. She saw me through the eyes of love. I want to learn to see everyone, including myself, with those eyes.
Amy Julia Becker is the author of Small Talk: Learning from My Children about What Matters Most (Zondervan, 2014) and A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny (Bethany, 2011).
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