She bent low toward the sobs of her sister, a beautiful posture of grace.
“Do you need love?” A question to the two year old whose face was pressed angrily into the floor.
With patience fragile, I only wanted the fussing to end. But gentle big sister’s words drew me around the corner toward grace poured out. Little legs stopped flailing and a piggy-tailed head lifted toward a reaching-down sister. Then big sis held little sis and spoke life.
“We love you. You aren’t a fussy girl. You are my sweet girl.”
This undeserved, soul-tending kindness was a gift to my drained mothering self. It was a glimpse into the eternal impact of changes I’m striving for. Long term pay-off played out. The feisty, tender, but passionate big sis, who has melted down and erupted out so many times before, was now dishing out the very response that I’m finally learning to give to her. Grace upon grace.
In different seasons over the years, red faced and temper flaring, that six-year-old big sister has screamed with all she could muster. Her eyes showing anxiety and exhaustion, and her words peppered with “no” and “you never.” There have been stormy, yelling moments, and more times than I care to recount, words have flown from my mouth that I instantly wanted to retrieve. Yes, she was only two, three, four, and five, but we share matching mother/daughter tempers. She’d melt down, and I’d hold it together a couple times, for a couple days. But then she’d fuss right over the top of my patience limit.
I’ve got a thing about well-behaved kids. For years as a teacher, before children entered our world, I found it easy to gain control of behavior. By September, classes walked down hallways in lines, shared baskets of pencils with ease, and whispered during quiet concentration times.
But now there are four little, multi-temperament people in my house. And oh, how I tried the teacher-turned-mommy-discipline techniques: time out, counting to ten, early bedtime, spanking, ignoring, yelling. Some have value, but mostly I’ve found they only stir up or temporarily diffuse.
At some point, after heaving around an oversized load of guilt, I realized I’d been tearing down rather than building up. Managing moments rather than heart tending. Then, God gently nudged me toward grace, for myself and little people with their dander up. Especially them.
“The moment when you are most repelled by a child’s behavior, that is your warning light to draw the very closest to that child.” – Ann Voskamp
These tiny humans are living in a turned upside down world, and I long to be a refuge. I desire to lavish grace, and then once more again. Even when I’m offended, overextended, or over it. Even when they are difficult, deserving, or discombobulated. I want to stop allowing harmful things to escape from my lips, even in messy moments.
“Let all things be done for building up.” (1 Corinthians 14:26)
Discipline probably falls under “all things,” so I need to do some bending low to build up.
When my child is raging, there is an unspoken need aching to get out: fear, self-doubt, anxiety, or weariness. I want to parent for the long-term rather than the moment. Intention versus reaction. So, now, I’m attempting to do the opposite of what I want to do during those hard moments. I’m stepping toward instead of away from.
First comes breaking in with some love and silliness: “Do you need a hug?” “I can hug those mean words right out of ya’ if you need me to.” “How about some tickle therapy?”
When the fussing slows just a bit, speaking in: “You ARE kind.” “You are NOT mean.” “You ARE loving and patient.” “THIS is NOT who you are.” “I believe in you.”
Finally, digging in for her to consider: “Is THIS who you want to be?” “Do you like to yell at your family?” “Do you want our family to be kind to one another?” “Do you think I should let you yell?” “Are you treating us like you want to be treated?” “Are you feeling tired/jealous/mad?”
Usually, at some point, tears flow, arms fall limp, and a head sways “no.” Grace wins. Is she off the hook? Sometimes, but not always. Always, she needs to ask for forgiveness, and be reminded that we are told that, “When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need — words that will help others become stronger” (Ephesians 4:29).
I never imagined I’d mess up this much as a parent. I’ve strained under my expectations, clung to an obsession with behavioral order, and uttered harmful words. Admittedly, I’ve got my own temper that needs softening, and I let mommy grumpiness linger like an unwanted guest. Now I’m at the end of myself. With unclenched fists, I am becoming aware of a full of grace God bending low to build me up, even when my dander is up. Especially then.
Thinking about my daughter speaking building up words to her sister, my heart swells, and I’m challenged toward habitual grace. We are a dinged up, flawed bunch, but still I want to see more anger melted by tickle therapy, tantrums stopped by hugs, and tears dried by building up words. During tension steeped moments, I want to scoop up grace for myself, and then bend low to pour it back out over my children. I can only pray that grace wins more today than yesterday.