I had a couple of really hard days with my three-year-old son Jacob last week. Like, really hard. Friends had warned me that the “terrible two’s” were mostly a myth and it was really three that was horrendous.
They were right.
I was entirely at the end of my rope by 1:30pm, when I put Jacob down for his nap and called one of my best friends, a seasoned mother of four. And the youngest two of her four are currently three.
“Oh Leah!” she said when she answered (I had already texted her the summary of our difficulties). And then she said two things that I haven’t stopped thinking about since.
“Know that you are just going to screw up,” she said. “No one is expecting you to be perfect, and no one is expecting you to parent perfectly.”
Really?? As your typical Type-A-Firstborn-INFJ-Perfectionist, I don’t expect that other people will expect me to be anything other than what I expect, which is perfect.
But what freedom! I WILL screw up. NO ONE is expecting me to be perfect or parent perfectly.
Of course. And yet – it’s so hard for me to give myself the grace to cover those shortcomings. But that reminder made me feel so much better about my morning with J. It might not have been ideal that I screwed up, but it was okay. I will have the opportunity to try again – I can always try again.
I’ve written about this idea before – how motherhood is a learning process and one that involves lots of “self-grace” – but my friend took it one step further.
“Your kids need to know that you need God,” she said.
My kids need to see me in need. And they need to see what I do with that need.
If I’m having a hard day, and I silently pray to God for help – what if I did that out loud? If I’m worried about something, or can’t figure something out, or don’t know what to do in a situation – what if I prayed in the presence of my kids, out loud? What if I admitted my weakness and lack of perfection to them?
What if the next time I get frustrated and yell, I not only tell my children that what I did was wrong and ask for their forgiveness, but I also asked them to pray with me when I ask God for more self-control, more patience, more love?
When I screw up, I go to God. I say I’m sorry. I ask Him to give me the strength and humility to say I’m sorry to the person I’ve wronged. I ask Him for the strength to do it without rationalizing, explaining away, or defending myself.
With the kids, we pray to thank God for our food. We pray to thank God for our day. We pray for a safe flight, the people in the ambulance, when we are glad we saw a fire truck (really!), when we fall and hit our head (here’s the scene: Jacob running in our living room, tripping, and hitting his head on the bookshelf. He cries a little. Me: “Jacob, are you okay? Should we get the ice monkey for your head?” Jacob: “I’m not okay. My head is broken. But I will ask God to fix it. No ice.”).
So why not this, too? Why not use these failures as opportunities? Why not pray with my kids about my screw-ups, my imperfections?
Why not pray to the One who is perfect about my lack of perfection? Why not use this opportunity to remind them that no one is perfect – except God?
And why not use this opportunity to remind myself that the grace God offers to me — I also need to offer to myself. The truth is: I am going to screw up, I just am. I am going to fail at being a perfect parent. But truth holds both great freedom and great opportunity.
Wondering what the second thing she said was? You’ll have to wait for next time.