Her face turned on itself, going a shade of red, as globe-like tears slid down her cheeks. Guilt entered and sat on the couch of my conscience, heavy and unmoving like an unwelcome guest. It was too late, the harsh yells had already ripped out of my throat, still burning and bitter in my mouth. But I saw my little girl with the wounded look in her eyes, and forgot my anger like a lost penny.
I opened my arms up and picked up her damp, warm body, her four-year-old frame was swaddled in a towel. I was the reason for her tears, and yet she nuzzled in my neck for comfort and protection.
It had been a long day stuck at home. Our family has been trying to go gluten-free and so my head hurt and I was irritable. More than that, as the girls giggled and splashed, carefree in the bath, I had been reading about the blood bath of another high school shooting in Florida. When Bree resisted getting out of the tub, after my fourth request, I lost my composure. I gave in to my temper, like you give into a donut, a satisfying rush in a moment of weakness.
My vision blurred, and I let out a command that was half growl, half yell, “Get out of the bath NOW!” It wasn’t the words exactly, but the volume and intensity that they came out of my mouth that communicated a level of anger and frustration that I show only in my most unflattering moments.
After our bath time incident, we silently went about the rest of our bedtime routine until it was time to pray together. I couldn’t just act like it didn’t happen. I didn’t know the perfect thing to say, as a mother who found myself acting more like the child. I’ve never been the kind of mom that kept up the pretense that I’m always right or perfect, rather I keep an open dialogue with my girls about how much I have to learn, and how much I mess up; even when it comes to being a mom. So I just let words tumble out, hoping God would season them with grace, like He seasons my salty soul.
“Bree, mommy just talked to you in a way that no one should talk to you. I yelled in a way that I’m ashamed of, and I’m sorry.”
Having been trained by her dad, how we can extend forgiveness to one another, she uttered in her small person voice.”I forgive you mommy.”
“Thank you. If I get angry and shout like that again, which I probably will, is there a word you can use with me to help me remember this conversation?”
A beat of silence then she answered with resolve, “Please stop, I don’t like it. Its not okay mama.”
“I’m practicing. I will tell you to stop mom, and that I don’t like it. Because its not okay when you talk to me like that.”
Her words surprised me, but they also made me proud. I was expecting some small code word, but here it was—she was doing as I asked, telling me that talking to her like that wasn’t okay.
Its not okay. She is an innocent child and her heart is meant to be loved and protected. But yet, in this moment I realized that it is in the small act of being vulnerable, admitting my weakness, that I can let God enter in to do His sacred and unseen work.
I imagine her saying those words when a friend tries to belittle her with shaming words, when a boyfriend tries to touch her in a a way that is violating, when someone treats her in a way that invalidates her, or makes her question her worth.
Parenthood is the way that we model healthy relationship with our children. But, that doesn’t mean a healthy relationship is free of misunderstanding, dissatisfaction, anger, and conflict. Rather, we live out a healthy relationship when we unflinchingly face these challenges, and still show up and love each other. As a mother I’m tempted to shush and silence the inconsistencies and imperfections in my relationship with my daughters, but in the end, I know it feels inauthentic. While small and imperceptible, I know that they ultimately create giant gaps in out closeness to one another.
For me to show up as a mom, I need to show up all the way—flaws, and failings and all. Its in this vulnerability that I trust that God will work good in me and through me. I trust that God will work good, in all the ways He’s made me good, but even more beautiful and unfathomable, is knowing and trusting that He will accomplish good even when I fall terribly short.
Its not okay. Its not okay to trade our pretense of human perfection for His ultimate perfection that is accomplished only when we realize, as parents, as children, as husbands or wives, that we can’t get everything right. Its in this admission that we’re free to be ourselves more authentically, to truly be present and honest, and to let God do the work that only He can do.