I think I am parenting “the mayoar” (spelling used by my first grader). Whenever we find ourselves in public settings, he feels the need to work the room, greet folks, share information and schmooze. Sometimes these tendencies are endearing and “cute”. Other moments, I feel my cheeks turning a strong shade of pink wishing I was Mom to a quiet, shy wallflower.
Just this week we were at Trader Joes where my eldest talked up the cashier while also unloading his cart to “help” her, followed by “assisting” with bagging the groceries and simultaneously asking for stickers. As she handed me my receipt and Alex was already pushing his small, kid cart out the door, I saw her lay her head on the scanner. Next she wiped her brow, laughed at the next customer and started ringing up her items. I chuckled too and told her, “At least I didn’t bring BOTH of my boys!”
After loading the car with groceries and seatbelting ourselves in, I too sighed. Instead of the scanner, I laid my head on the steering wheel. I felt shame creep in. I wouldn’t be able to record the number of times folks have “knowingly” looked at me with the boys and commented, “Wow. You sure have your hands full.” While meaning to be kind, I often turn it into something ugly instead. These moments prove that my kids are just harder, serving as confirmation that my lot in life is tough. I lose the will to parent and mother the way I know I need to. I feel pressure to be the best, most accomplished, polished and pulled together mom—on top of every homework assignment, permission slip and unruly behavior. Perfection. Perfection. Perfection. Not giving myself or my kids space and room to be.
God makes it clear, time and time again, that the message we need to hear, the example we are to imitate, is one of unconditional love and grace. In 1 Samuel 16, Samuel is in the process of finding a new king and despite conversations back and forth between himself and God, he is dumfounded. Every candidate he assumes is perfect is instead, rejected. Finally, after meeting many of Jesse’s sons, they get to David. It is this youngest, almost forgotten one, that ends up being the chosen one. In verse 7b, Samuel writes God’s message loud and clear, “for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” This narrative of love and acceptance is made clear and plain. It isn’t about performance. It isn’t about perfection. It isn’t about pressure to fit the culturally-accepted standard. Truly, our call as parents is to make unconditional love believable to our children.
In the moments that I am hiding in shame at my children’s antics, am I unconditionally celebrating who God has made him to be? Do they see and feel and experience a love that looks at the heart, the motives, and not the external? Do they realize, through our interactions, that I care more about them as a people, and not what they achieve, conquer or perfect?
A few nights after our Trader Joes incident, we found ourselves in a local Italian restaurant. Our waitress told us that she hoped we didn’t mind that she was bragging about our kids to her co-workers. The conversation wove around and through food (she was a recent Nutritional Science college graduate). We chatted about food choices and “the mayoar” chimed in, connecting with four other servers, waiters and even the manager before we left. Mid-dinner, he went to the bathroom and came back with a comb-over, water dripping off his slicked hair onto his dress shirt and tie. My husband and I giggled at it all. The need to impress, even after being praised and affirmed, was still there. It is an ache that lives deep and is often hard to relieve, even for a six year old.