Swim goggles and caps.
Baseball uniform belts, socks, and hats.
And sippy cups and water bottles.
Just a few of the “necessities” around our house that are never in their place and are nowhere to be found when we need them.
Last summer, our daughter participated in competitive swimming for the first time. And as we prepared for the season, I purchased one team swimsuit, two swim caps, and two pairs of goggles. We had the goggles for less than a week before we lost them.
So I had a talk with our daughter about a strategy to keep up with her goggles (I’m a strategist by trade so I love to troubleshoot these kinds of pitfalls with my kids), went to the store, bought two more pair, and wiped the slate clean.
The next week?
There were no goggles in the house when the Saturday swim meet rolled around. And at the wretched hour of the morning when swim meets begin, there wasn’t a place in town open where I could buy a decent pair of goggles for her to use at her meet.
So we borrowed a pair from one of her teammates. And I put our third-born up as collateral.
After eight hours of sitting outside the natatorium in the HOT Texas sun waiting for the three, thirty-second increments of time when our daughter would actually be in the water, I went to the store and stocked up. I bought five pairs of goggles, gave her one pair for the next meet, and put the rest in my closet.
The pattern continued until we’d lost all those too. And then I had an epiphany that finally put an end to the lost goggle saga.
I took our daughter up to the swim store, let her pick out several more pairs of goggles, and paid for them. When we got back into the car, I told her that I had purchased the goggles for her on an interest-free loan. That they would be stashed in a secret place in my closet, and that if she needed a pair, she could purchase them from me for $10.99.
We didn’t lose another pair of goggles all season.
Funny how that worked, isn’t it?
So last weekend, when we went to the swim store to get fitted for her suit, I purchased three pairs of goggles. I gave her the first pair. After all, she’s a year older, and I want to give her a chance to demonstrate how much she’s matured in the area of keeping up with her things. But I gave her the same speech, and the rules still stand. If she needs another pair of goggles, she can buy them from Swim Shop a la Jennifer for $10.99.
It’s a brilliant plan.
So why on earth did I allow our oldest son to get the best of me yesterday when we discovered — 30 minutes before his baseball game — that his hat, socks, AND belt were missing?
Y’all, I don’t know what happened. But before I knew what hit me, Ursula the Sea Witch (my unfortunate alter ego) made her appearance (minus the cleavage, which is also unfortunate). She had smoke coming out her ears and flames spewing from her mouth. And friends, she let our son Have. It.
It was a tirade, the likes of which I haven’t seen in a while. Something about money and trees. Life and silver platters. And fingers she’d worked to the bone. She went on and on and on. Which is no surprise because she’s quite the drama queen. (I can hear it now…my adult children mocking “Ursula” for these kinds of episodes. Heck, my grandkids will probably call me “Ursula.”) Her big finish was that she’d “Had. It.” with the lack of responsibility he was demonstrating in the arena of keeping up with his things. And, with a wooden spoon flailing in one hand and a kitchen towel popping his direction in the other, she shooed him back up the stairs TO FIND HIS BASEBALL STUFF OR ELSE…
(I’ve always wondered what “OR ELSE” actually means. Have you?)
Geeze. Why do I let Ursula out of the closet when I have a perfectly brilliant plan and know exactly how I need to respond to my children’s inability to keep up with anything that isn’t attached to their bodies?
Because I’m not just a mommy. I’m a human too.
In Romans Chapter 7, Paul has this to say about our humanity, and I think it’s a poignant word for parents:
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. . . . Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
(Verses 15-19; 24-25, emphasis added by me because I do not understand my own actions!)
I don’t know what it was about becoming a mom, but it came with a cloak of perfectionism that’s brought me to my knees. I expected myself to be on my A Game all the time. There was little room for error, and when I did screw it all up, I swam in a sea of guilt and condemnation, wondering how my latest failure was going to scar my kids for life. I’ve shed many tears. I’ve been in a counselor’s office. And I’ve experienced many sleepless nights trying to shake the “worst mom ever” mentality from my mind.
But I’ve learned something along the way. I’m human. And you are too. We’re not going to parent perfectly no matter how hard we try. And trying to pretend like we can parent perfectly makes for a heavy burden and a lonely road.
So instead of running from our humanity, I think God wants us to parent into it. To set realistic expectations for ourselves. To embrace our imperfections. And to live with a spirit of humility along the way.
When we live into our humanity in our parenting, I think the following things will happen for the benefit of our families:
1. We obtain a heightened sense of our need for the grace of God.
2. We acknowledge our own limitations and lean on the Holy Spirit to help get us through the day.
3. We combat the myth of perfectionism which is so prevalent in our culture.
4. And we demonstrate what the process of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation looks like each time we find ourselves seeking forgiveness.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t strive to live lives that are characterized by excellence. Of course we should! There’s always room to move from good to better and from better to best. And we honor God and lead by our example when we give our best efforts.
What I am saying, though, is that we’re going to mess up. Every day. And when we do, we ought to embrace those moments as teachable ones. Because when we parent into our humanity, we’re demonstrating what an authentic life in Christ looks like for our children. We’re teaching them how to embrace God’s grace in their own lives and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to help them make wise choices. We’re saying “no” to the pressures of perfectionism, and we’re giving our children the freedom to fail. And when they do fail, we’re giving them the tools to pick themselves back up, try again, and make it right with whomever they may have wronged.
On Saturday, after Ursula moved on down the road (thank goodness she always does), and our son was getting ready to warm up with his team, I realized I had to make it right with my him before he could play ball. No — he didn’t get out of doing chores around the house to earn the money to replace his baseball supplies — but he was able to do those chores with dignity instead of shame. Because through my own failure, I was given the opportunity to demonstrate God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit by admitting my own mistakes, seeking forgiveness from him, and committing to do better next time.
Now that’s a moment that can teach, isn’t it?