"i feel like i have failed as a mother." these were the words i cried to my husband one night this week. after the battle was over. after the kids were asleep. after all the hurtful words. after the dust had settled. "i must have done something wrong. it's not supposed to be this way." i was grasping for something, anything to help me understand why parenting is sometimes so, so very hard.
earlier that night, my ten year old had run away from home for the first time. there had been a battle over everything that afternoon...homework, chores, being kind to his siblings. everything was work. i would love to say that i had the time or the patience to pause and get to the core reasons for his behavior but with five kids needing attention at once, the best i could do was to remind him to "think before you speak" and "examine your response." as i was preparing dinner, i asked him to help his younger brother empty the dishwasher while i cooked the meal. he looked at me and his hands formed into fists and said the devastating words, "i hate my life! why do you always do this to me?"
as i was stirring the pot of what would eventually be our dinner, i reminded myself to keep breathing. i picked my heart up off the floor and turned to stare at this stranger otherwise known as my ten year old. my other children were staring at the train wreck that was our dysfunctional kitchen interaction. somehow, by the grace of God, i held myself together and offered my son an out. "you are welcome to go look for another family that you think would treat you better but if you are a part of this family, you will do your chores."
he slammed his fist into his sides and with an angry turn and a "fine, i will," he was out the front door. he was gone for two hours...and i died a little bit with each minute he was gone.
what in the world had happened? this is my first born son.
born while we were living in South America, he and i were an isolated duo.
there were no grandparents nearby. there was no vonage or skype. there were no friends with other children his age. it was him and me. we danced the crazy mother-son dance all on our own, without advice, without help, completely on our own...and that was just fine.
we would sing ourselves to sleep in the hammock.
we would splash in the Caribbean.
we would cover the walls with our artwork.
we would find joy in the simplest of pleasures.
we were a team and he was my joy, my first born.
my days were filled with him.
he had the very best i had to offer, uninterrupted, unshared, completely devoted.
when he needed more interaction, he got it. he got me (and my husband when he was home) 100%. he had it made.
somewhere, that baby, that precious boy who filled my days, disappeared and the tween i look at each day has morphed into someone else. he's hard to recognize.
i used to buy into the notion that, if you do the work when your children are really little, it will get easier and easier as the years go by. there are parts of that idea that ring true. there are other parts that are delusional. i have come to understand that parenting is work, no matter the age, no matter the child. there will always be another area of their character that can be refined. there will always be lessons to learn. there will always be a heart that can be molded,
to be more kind,
those are lessons that don't end when a child is grown. those are lessons that we will keep teaching as parents long after our children leave the house. those are lessons my own parents are still teaching me.
still, in this instance, with tears in my eyes, i looked at my husband and asked, "what have i done wrong? how can someone i love so much be so intentionally hurtful? surely, it is not supposed to be this way. it is not supposed to be so hard."
my husband's response was simple and somehow cut through the weight of what i had felt that day. "he's not done. we're not done. it is like looking at a painting that is only half finished and being critical. the idea of that would be ridiculous. you can't judge a painting until it is complete. our son isn't finished yet. when he becomes an adult, when we see the man he will become, then we can look back at all the parts of his life that made up the light and the shadows and see each piece for what it was." my sweet man did everything in his power to remind me that i'm a good mother.
slowly, i started to believe it again myself. i'm not perfect. i'm full of flaws. i have to pray for grace and patience everyday, but i'm a good mother. as i hold my one year old son and look over at his ten year old brother, i marvel at how much nine years has changed things. my heart breaks a little bit at how fast the time has gone and at how, with each outburst, with each stance of his will, my first born pulls farther and farther toward his independence. i want to hold back the clock and bring back the sweetness that once was. still, as i watch him become the adolescent he will be and see him change before my eyes i'm reminded that everything i have done for him has been a piece to his puzzle, a brush stroke on the painting that is his life. even on my worst days, when it feels like my heart may not recover, i can remember that, by God's grace, i am a good mother...and i'm parenting an unfinished masterpiece.