There’s a whole lot I don’t know about parenting, but if there is one thing I’m willing to stake my claim on, it’s this:
We are going to hurt our kids.
And this is the very reason I didn’t want to have kids in the first place. Genuinely.
I remember as a newly pregnant mama, I’d be asked often, “Are you excited?” And though I truly wanted to answer with an emphatic “absolute yes” with no reservation, I never could. In fact, more often than not, I would say something along the lines of, “Yes, but if I’m being honest, I’m also afraid that I’m going to hurt them.”
It was an honest answer AND an awkward answer, but it was my very-real, ever-near fear.
I knew I was a fallen soul who has broken tendencies;
I knew I was an imperfect follower who doesn’t perfectly love;
I knew I was a sinner who was capable of hurting others; and
And I knew that I couldn’t prevent my brokenness from hurting those who I desperately wanted to love.
And though I knew (in my head) that this wasn’t a “good enough” reason to not rejoice over life, I knew it was “enough of a reason” to tremble at the task that lay ahead. And so before our firstborn came out of from the safety of my womb, I vowed in my heart that I would make a regular practice of allowing our kids to give us feedback about our strengths, our struggles, and our sins.
And so I have.
About every other month (since about the age of 3), I take some time and ask each of the big kids the following questions:
How am I loving you well? How have I hurt you? And how can I love you better?
The answers have evolved over the years, but the questions and intent have not, and I pray it never does. With an open mind and a soft heart, I give them a space to share the good, the bad, and the ugly. And though these little souls are so gracious to focus on my strengths and highlight the kind parts of my behavior, they have also given me some much-needed feedback over the years.
Sometimes the feedback has convicted; sometimes the words have caused confession; and sometimes the conversations have brought about some healing changes. But more often than not, I’m not usually shocked by what they say. Sure, there have been some times where they have opened my eyes to my blind spots and sure, they have given me some new ideas for how to love them better or differently, but I’ve never really left a conversation feeling shocked.
But about a week ago, I left shocked.
I had taken Evie on a little date and while sipping on pumpkin lattes over a shared donut, I said, “So Evie. How am I loving you well? How have I hurt you? And how can I love you better?”
Immediately and very quickly, she rattled off a bullet list of positives. Quietly, she continued to munch on her sugar. Honestly, I kinda thought that the conversation was going to be short. She seemed done; she hadn’t shared anything constructive; and she didn’t appear to be super interested in the conversation. Pushing through the silence and the sprinkles that lay on the table in front of us, I asked, “Is there anything that I’ve done to hurt you recently? Anything that has made you feel unloved?”
“Well, sometimes you put the pain on Daddy.”
Honestly, my brain couldn’t comprehend her words.
“Sometimes you put the pain on Daddy.” And as she said the words again, she pushed her thumb into the table.
Now I was shocked by the thumb.
“What are you talking about?”
“I mean. You sometimes put the pain on him…like this.” Again, she pressed her thumb into the table.
Realizing that my heart didn’t feel all that soft in the moment and recognizing that the point of this was to HEAR and RECEIVE the feedback that I had always said I wanted, I took a deep breath (attempting to swallow my pride) and said, “Can you give me an example of what you mean?”
“Well, sometimes you speak in a mean tone to him.”
“Since when did you become his protector?!?!?!” “Well maybe sometimes he needs to feel the pain, okay kid?!?!?!” “What about his tone?!?! And his thumb-pressing pain?!?!?!” “Just wait until you are married, girlfriend!!!”
“Oh. Okay. And that makes you feel unloved?”
“Yeah. I don’t like when people say things that make people feel pain.” And again, she pressed her thumb into the table.
(The thumb felt like it was pressing itself into my proud soul)
I honestly feel like the Holy Spirit was the one to utter the words from my proud-filled, mama mouth. Because if I’m being real, my fallen self was having a REALLY HARD TIME mustering the strength to accept the truth of her words and the reality of her feelings. A REALLY HARD TIME. And though I wish I could tell you otherwise, I can’t. Because even though my mama-self was so fearful of hurting my kids with my sin, my sinful self was so unwilling to want to OWN IT. SOOOOO unwilling.
“That makes sense, sweet girl. That makes sense. (INSERT BREATHING PAUSE) Well…I’m sorry that my tone with daddy has sometimes made you feel unloved. I can see why that would feel unloving to you. (ANOTHER HUMBLE SWALLOW) Sometimes mommy gets frustrated with daddy and you’re right…sometimes I don’t always use a very kind tone. I am sure that doesn’t feel loving to daddy either; I will work on that. Thank you for telling me that.”
And just like that, she had cheerily moved on to our board game.
But ya know what? I haven’t stopped thinking about that conversation since the day it happened. And the more I think about it, the more I’m thankful for it.
Because if we don’t give our kids (and others) an opportunity to hold up a mirror so we can see some of the broken blemishes and the sinful sags of our fallen faces, we can’t address those issues. And if we can’t address those issues, then we can’t change those behaviors. And if we can’t change and attend to those behaviors, then others will be (repetitively) hurt by our brokenness. And if we are repetitively hurting others without an attempt to address our JANKITY-JUNK, our relationships are bound to be broken, hurtful, and even damaging.
And ya know what?
Our pride isn’t worth that cost; it’s just not.
Intentionally and unintentionally, we are going to hurt our kids. At times, we are going to throw arrows and inflict wounds. And though we don’t like it or don’t want it, we are going to do it wrong, mess it up, and all the in-between. WE WILL.
The hard-fast truth is that we aren’t going to be perfect because we can’t be and because we can’t be, we must confess, repent, ask for grace, and then REPEAT. And not just from our kids, but from our Savior.
Friends, the Truth stands that we are sinners in need of a Savior; it’s inescapable. But there’s another Truth that reigns in freedom and wins in victory and it’s this:
By the power of His Spirit and by the enabling of His grace, we can choose (as far as it depends on us) to love others, seek forgiveness, pursue healing, and live redeemed…even in our brokenness. For though our sinful selves are prone to using our “broken thumbs” to “put the pain on others,” we can live victoriously through His nail-scarred hands! WE CAN!