I racked my brain about what to write this month and I hesitated when this idea came to me. Why? Because I know I’m only just beginning to see the tip of an iceberg here in my own life. I’m no expert, folks. In fact, I pretty much feel like 80% of my motherhood is me flailing in an open sea. I just happen to know a Guy who is always ready with a rescue boat and that’s how I survive. So here from the dinghy, I write about my survival, thinking maybe someone out there is in the same boat. In praying about what to share, this is what I got: you can’t make your kids happy.
This is a revelation for me because I am a true-blue, card-carrying people-pleaser; always have been. I like it when people are happy. So this little nugget seemed like heresy when I heard my priest share it in a homily. But, don’t you know it’s true? You can’t make your kids happy. How many times have you bent over backwards to give your child something he wanted? Maybe you took him to the park and had a picnic. Maybe a clown showed up out of nowhere and made him a balloon animal. Maybe a bunny hopped up into your lap for a little visit. Maybe the ice cream truck pulled right into your driveway. And maybe after all of that the day still ended in tears because he really wanted vanilla instead of chocolate and he didn’t get to spend as much time with the bunny as he had hoped and his balloon animal popped and the swings were too hot and for a million other reasons that probably make no sense at all.
I think we would all say that first and foremost, we want our kids to be happy. But the culture has conditioned us to approach happiness in all the wrong ways. The tip of the iceberg is telling me that my job as a parent is to build a foundation for my kids and that standing on that foundation, they will be more likely to find happiness, or rather, joy. And the foundation I am building is peace. You can’t have happiness without peace and peace comes from the security you find in boundaries, limits, and order. Example: I’m happy when I’m road-tripping through my home state alone with the radio on (whoa, who’s that awesome girl in the Chrysler Town & Country?) I can be happy in that experience because of the peace that comes with the security of the road: the lines, the lights, the signs, and the limits. Without all of that, I would be a nervous wreck and therefore not happy.
As a people pleaser, it often feels to me that boundaries and happiness work against each other. How can my child be happy if he is crying because I won’t let him do what he wants? And there it is, people: the way that God uses your motherhood to shine a light on every nook and cranny in your soul, every disordered understanding, every wound, and every issue. Motherhood is a never-ending process of refinement leading us to holiness if we allow it to be. The refining light is shining on my disordered belief that happiness happens when we serve the needs and wants of the flesh. In the light of reality, I see that as a recipe for disaster. The wants of the flesh are ever-changing and never satisfying. Trying to give my child everything he wants breeds only chaos.
Last year my husband and I spent a few days with a missionary group from our area. There was a family preparing to go on mission with eleven kids. They invited us over for breakfast. My baby was still pretty new and my oldest was in major tantrum-mode and truth be told I have no idea what was going on with my daughter at that time (hello, middle child). But, my oldest; he can pitch a fit. So I’m trying to put on my holiest family face here, but the truth was none of my kids were sleeping, I was in zombie land, and my son was currently on this woman’s back porch practicing for his big break as the lead singer of a death metal band. I sat on her living room floor with my baby. She sat in her chair fixing her daughter’s hair for mass. I could have launched in the whole, “he’s just hungry/ he’s just tired” bit. But, there was really nowhere to hide; surely not from a woman with eleven kids. I didn’t know her at all, but I just looked up and said, “I’m really sorry about this. I have no idea what I’m doing.”
She sat there and shared wisdom with me in patience and grace, not judging, not preaching. It was the Lord in His rescue boat. She said that she didn’t really get a handle on her kids sleeping at night until she got a handle on discipline. She found that when she could really get into a system of helping her kids to be “first-time listeners” throughout the day, that nighttime, and basically all of life, became easier. Epiphany for me: so disciplining my kids (i.e. giving them boundaries as opposed to everything they want) will help them to sleep better, eat better, have peace in our home and therefore be happier. I told you I was a slow learner.
And on the light shines. I came to see that my desire to give my kids everything they wanted at every turn came out of a broken place in me. I was a happy child, a generally happy person, but I did live through some tough things. My parents divorced. My dad died when I was nine. I remember vividly a deep and aching childhood sadness that couldn’t be fixed by a million balloon animals and ice cream cones. I realize that maybe that’s what I’ve been trying to do with my own kids. I think it’s very common for us as moms to bring our past hurts to the table of our motherhood and even subconsciously believe that we can heal something in ourselves by giving them what we needed, or protecting them from what we felt hurt by. I held my first baby in my arms and promised myself that he would never feel those hurts that I felt and in doing so I sent myself on a wild-goose chase by trying to keep him perpetually happy, thinking that I could just give him everything he wanted in order to avoid any pain. But trying to glaze over any hurt with more stuff is just slapping a Band-Aid on a wound. For the hurts inside of me, and for any and every hurt my children will face, there is ever only one real remedy: the love of the Father. And how does the Father love?
I see it best in the image of the Shepherd. I think Psalm 23 is so well loved because it paints a picture of what we all long for: peace. “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” He loves us by giving us everything that we need. That sums it up. The way we are taken care of by Jesus, the Good Shepherd, that’s how we are supposed to be taking care of our kids. The shepherd gives the sheep the things they need in a divine order that breeds peace. When it’s time to eat, He leads them to the right pastures. When it’s time to drink, He leads them to the still waters. He leads them to rest. He keeps them in spaces that are safe. He protects them from the enemies. And that’s how the cup overflows. There is an order to it, a structure, with limits and boundaries. He doesn’t do a tap dance and a comedy routine when times are tough. He fulfills the deeper needs. He tells us all throughout the scriptures that things will be hard, but still He is there.
“I have told you these things so that in me, you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” —John 16:33
It’s a tough pill for me to swallow: that my kid could be calling me a “mean mommy” and I could still be doing the right thing for him. It’s kind of like when we curse God and reject Him and deny Him because He didn’t give us what we wanted and things didn’t go according to our plans. But, He wants more for us than we want for ourselves and the same is true for my kids and me. I want more for them than a happiness that is fleeting. I want a joy for them that stands up on the foundation of peace. It’s so much easier to give them what they want in the moment just to make the whining cease. It’s harder to let them feel the disappointment that comes with being told “no”. But sometimes that’s what they really need. And giving them what they really need takes a lot more effort. So, stay tuned as I attempt to make that effort for the sake of the peace of my family. Consider this one of many notes from the lifeboat and please, pray for me! God bless you!
Copyright 2015 Kelly Pease
Photo: Kid-395657_1280 (2015) via Pixabay, CC