Her hair was slicked back out of her face. Her eyes showed the kind of tired that one night’s sleep wouldn’t make up for. Her tears came as easily as her laughter.
She’d come over to get out of the house with her three kids under four.
“I’m just worried I’m going to ruin my kids!” She said echoing the fears I’ve swallowed back myself. The fear that formed alongside my first daughter and never left. It planted when I first laid eyes on her mustard seed shape. She was a striking white dot of life against the flat black ultrasound screen.
“I give you permission to just survive,” I said, making sure my eyes met hers.
She needed that permission. Permission to breathe—to breathe in the baby smells and soak up the belly laughs. She needed permission to turn off her “perfect parent” switch and just take it all in.
I think we all need this reminder. While I think it’s important—necessary, to be intentional about our parenting, I think it is equally necessary for our souls, for our kids’ souls, to offer them the ministry of presence.
The ministry of presence happens when we stop thinking about how we should parent, we lay down our fears of forming them for the future, we get out of our own analytical heads and we just live life with them…
…we listen to their big questions and don’t provide an easy answer
….we lick ice cream cones with them
…we laugh at ourselves
…we experience emotions in a healthy way–not swallowing them or exploding, but letting our kids see the way we work through the real and necessary emotions of life
…we cry…we laugh…we laugh-cry (it’s totally a real thing just ask my husband)
…we admit when we’re angry, frustrated, exasperated…HANGRY!
…we get dirt and play dough under our fingernails
…we let our kids comfort us
…we let them kiss us a thousand times
…we let them cry on our shoulder without trying to tell them what to think or try to cheer them up.
… we cry with them and ask life’s hard question
I need to slap duck tape over the mouth of the imaginary critic that lives in my head and zoom in, up close, really close to each passing moment with my children. This is scary. It means laying down my plans and my parenting books and letting our messy life unfold in an unpredictable and chaotic way.
But I find that sometimes the best parenting moments happen when I sit on top of a question mark with my girls as we ponder the world– rather than stamping our life with the tidy period that marks things as resolved.
I love a clean house as much as the next person.
I love finished thoughts. I love questions with answers.
I love when a task is as easy as a check mark on a list.
But parenting isn’t any of these things? It’s untidy and unfinished? It cannot be contained in an answer? It is ongoing? (My grammar-check is trying to get me to change these question marks?)
We need to worry about ruining our kids, a little. Just like you’ve got to smell week-old chicken, it’s important to smell our kids to make sure they aren’t spoiled—kidding. But seriously.
But we can’t stay in that place. Once we test our intentions, methods, and goals—once we seek wise advice, and heck yes, once we pray—then we need to roll with it. We need to zoom in and enjoy the messy and complicated reel of parenthood.
Let’s sit on question marks with our kids, ask them our own questions as we figure out life together. Let’s love fiercely and show up with our whole messy selves, trusting that God works in our strengths, but He also works through us in our glorious imperfections.
We will ruin our children (a bit). The Bible reminds us that we’re all cracked pots. But God remakes us and repurposes us. With Him, even our biggest (parenting) mistakes can be repurposed for His greatest good. Amen?