Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Stay the Course

Tonight before bed, Benjamin said, "I'm tired of pretending."

The statement startled me with its vulnerability, so I said something like, "I know that feeling. Tell me more."

And he did. About how sometimes, other kids talk about books they've read or movies they've seen or things they've done that he hasn't, often because we haven't let him yet. And since he doesn't want to say his mom and dad won't let him, he sometimes plays along, pretending he knows what they're talking about.

"But I'm tired of pretending. I don't want to do that anymore."

I listened hard, restating what I heard him saying, empathizing, asking questions. It's easy to relate, because we all know that feeling of wanting to be in-the-know, of worrying that we're missing out because we lack certain knowledge or experience. We talked about which books or movies come up, with whom he has these conversations, other ways he handles the situation.

At some point he said, "I have two feelings about this, but they're kind of opposite. One is that I don't want to feel left out, like I don't know things. But also," and here he teared up with sincerity, "I really, really trust you and Daddy. I know you are making these decisions because you think they're best for me, so I don't want to read or see those things."

I was stunned: first by his ability to articulate the conflict within himself, but most of all by his faith in us.

I thanked him for his trust and shared how seriously Daddy and I take our decisions, always weighing a variety of factors. We talked and talked about how frustrating and hard it can be to feel left out and about what would happen if he was simply honest.

Eventually he came to the conclusion that there's primarily one kid around whom he feels he has to pretend. "With other kids, it's like they just want to talk about something they're interested in; it's not to make me feel bad. But with [this kid], it seems like he wants me to know how much he gets to see."

And so we discussed motives, how sometimes kids show off not to make us feel bad but to impress us, because they respect us. I shared that most often, people aren't doing things "at us" (stealing Glennon Melton's wise words); rather, their actions reflect something inside of themselves.

We trekked upstairs where he got ready for bed, and then I tucked him in, thanking him for sharing his feelings with me, reminding him that I am always willing to listen or talk.

Benjamin said, "Sometimes I don't like to talk about stuff, but when I do, it just feels so good after."


So here's the thing: aside from how much I enjoyed this conversation with my son, how privileged I feel that he is willing to open up to me, his confession that he really, truly trusts us was a gift of peace. A gift he doesn't even realize he gave me.

If you've been around my blog for a while, you know that as I've raised my kiddos, I've wrestled insecurity as a mama--wondering at times if I was doing this parenting job all wrong, if I was messing up my kids, if my failures would trump my love and intentions. Because let's be honest: when the kids are in the irrational and sometimes insane stages of the early years where they rail against boundaries like it's their job (because it is), no matter how cute they are, you wonder some days if all is for nought.

As we move into the relatively stable years of middle childhood, though, I'm getting to watch my kids emerge from the chaos as these truly remarkable people.

And Benjamin's statement tonight reached down deep in my soul to assure me that, yes--despite the numerous times I've reacted rather than responded, yelled rather than soothed, modeled anger rather than forbearance--my kids see that at my core, I am for them, not against them. They recognize that I love them, that I'm looking out for them, that I'm doing my best to make decisions that will benefit them.

They see that love so strongly, in fact, that Benjamin can acknowledge it even in the midst of discomfort caused by those very decisions.

It is the most intoxicating grace.

And so, parents of littles, I want to offer this encouragement: stay. the. course.

Keep doing the hard, thankless, tiresome work of loving, which sometimes looks like snuggles and other times looks like consequences; which sometimes speaks tenderly and other times speaks firmly (fiercely, even); which sometimes feels fun and fulfilling and other times feels futile and fruitless; which sometimes offers forgiveness in failure and other times fails and seeks forgiveness.

A day is coming when that railing child you're certain you've failed will look you in the eyes and say, "I trust you."

And you will realize that your messy attempts at mothering or fathering have, by grace, been received in the spirit in which they were intended.

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