Proactive Parenting

If I were to die today I would hope that one of the first, if not THE first, things said about me is that I loved my children.  I am a woman who waited late in life to have my babies.  I had my daughter when I was 33 and my son at 34.  I can promise you that for the 18 years (and possibly even longer) prior to each of their births these babies were hoped for, prayed for, dreamed about, and waited on.  I knew that there were many things I wanted to do with my life, but my number one goal throughout has always been to be a mother.  I know that in this day and age of  women’s rights and the quest for sexual equality statements such as this may make some people’s hair stand on end, but I don’t care.  I don’t agree that women should be thought of as the weaker sex.  I feel that being designated and designed “female”, the only creatures chosen to carry that tiny, miraculous life force inside of us for nine months, is statement enough of the unspoken strength the Lord knew that women, especially mothers, would possess.

I guess this is why when I see people take a backseat approach to parenting I get so confused.  I can’t imagine that there is a more awesome responsibility bestowed upon us as humans than to shape, mold, and guide the little spirits which are gifted to us.  I can count on two hands right now the number of people who immediately come to mind who- for one circumstance or another (divorce, laziness, etc.)- have just decided they no longer want to parent their kids.  Really?  When was this sheet passed around?  I didn’t realize that children and the responsibility of parenting came with a return policy.

Is being a parent difficult?  Yes.  Is it exhausting some days?  Yes.  Is it the most challenging responsibility you will face in your lifetime?  I’d be willing to bet yes, but I can also assure you that it is the task which will most pay off in the long run if handled prayerfully and properly.  Am I implying that I’m a perfect parent?  Far from it.  I have made my share of mistakes, and will probably make more before they both cross that stage to get their diplomas; but there are two things I can go to sleep each night knowing with certainty there is no one on this planet who loved those children today anymore than I did and there is no one else on this planet who will stand up for them and protect them like I will.

I remember when my kids were little we used to go to the dreaded McDonald’s playland at least weekly.  That place was a nightmare.  It smelled like chicken nuggets and dirty socks.  I shiver to think of the bacteria festering on every square inch of that plastic hell.  This “playland” was very often just a loud, torturous, free for all for children under the age of 8.  One afternoon I sat and watched with my own eyes as a bigger kid took his foot and kicked my then about 3-year-old son in the face.  I was mortified.  My first instinct was to run to him, which I did.  My second instinct was to look around for the parent of this brute child whom I knew would be rising out of her seat to come and offer assistance and apologies.  Hardly.  After scanning the room I knew she had to be one of two women, both in their early 20’s, sitting and casually chatting with one another.  Neither woman so much as lifted an eyebrow.  I entertained for one second the idea of not saying anything.  What if they thought I was being pushy?  What if they thought I was overreacting?  Then SANITY set in.  My child is 3 years old and can’t stand up for himself.  If I don’t do this then who will?  It was a liberating thought.  It’s my job as Elijah’s mother to protect him.  I marched my not-s0-happy-yet-calm self right over to that table and stood there until these young ladies looked up.  “Your son kicked my child in the face and I just wanted to let you know because I’m sure you’re going handle this with him.”  The girl didn’t move.  There was no apology.  No disciplining of the child.  It turned into her noticeably being perturbed that I had even bothered her with this situation.  Chalk this up to the “kids will be kids” theory and just move on.  Wow.  Yes.  Kids WILL be kids especially when they aren’t being parented, guided, and instructed.  Anyone whose child has ever experienced an injustice at the hands of my children (and my having knowledge of the event) can be assured that their child will get an apology from mine and I will offer an apology as well.  How my child behaves is a direct reflection upon me.  I’m the parent.  It’s my job to ensure that my children know how to behave around others.  They are also expected to know how to behave when we are at home.  Do my children always do what they are supposed to do?  Of course not.  I don’t need to go into a complete psychology on the dynamics of a child’s mind and how it is perfectly natural for them to push boundaries, especially in times of stress or transition, to see just what exactly they can get away with doing.  My children do know, however, that for misbehavior there is consequence.  It’s not fun for me either, but I know it’s what God expects of me.  Just as I expect good behavior from my children, God expects proactive parenting from those adults to whom He has given the responsibility of rearing a child.

Today in church Pastor Greg made the statement that if God made you a parent He will provide you with the tools you need to do the job.  I think it’s easy for some of us to lose sight of that.  Myself included.  The truth of the matter is that parenting takes time.  It takes effort.  It takes prayer and consideration.  It involves mistake making and learning from those mistakes and moving on.  I don’t think there is any way for us to be the parents we were designed to be without having a direct line of communication with God.  How are we supposed to hear His instruction and plan for our lives and the lives of our children if our lines of communication with Him are full of static?  Greg said that God will give us the knowledge we need to protect them and to steer them through challenges.  He may even give us insight into future situations to be on guard for.

There are times my children may come home from school and tell me that a particular child was not nice to them.  Maybe the child called them a name or made fun of them.  I will usually begin by explaining to my kids that some people have bad manners and this is never acceptable, neither for other children to do to them nor for them to do to other people.  I then encourage my child to go to a teacher if the behavior continues again so it can be dealt with in the moment it happens.  There are times when even that doesn’t solve the problem.  If the issues continues I will then take it up with the other parent.  I think so much of how we handle situations in our lives can be influenced by whether we handle the problem negatively or positively.  A negative situation can be handled in a positive fashion.  I don’t have to find this parent at a ballgame and throw a chair at them.  I firmly believe the Jerry Springer-esque behaviors that so many adults exhibit are  childish, redneck, ridiculous, and fruitless.  If I truly want to get a message across to someone this is most effectively done in a calm, rational manner as opposed to throwing a screaming, insane, arm-flapping tangent.  I will calmly call or speak to the other parent in person.  In most cases a solution is found and that’s the end of that.  I’m sure there are some mothers out there who wouldn’t appreciate such a phone call from another parent, but let me tell you this- if MY child is the one making fun of someone or misbehaving I EXPECT to be informed.  Otherwise, how am I supposed to be dealing with this issue at home?  I’ve never been afraid to ruffle feathers when it comes to my children.  My love for my children will always supersede my pride.

When I first gave birth so many people said to me jokingly, “Too bad they don’t come with an instruction manual.”  We as parents aren’t given a manual on what we are to do perfectly do in each circumstance.  Our children likewise aren’t given a manual on how to perfectly behave in each circumstance.  We are, in essence, the “manual” for our children.  They will do their learning through us.  They will see in us how to deal with this world we live in.  That is why it is imperative that in order to give the most informative and up-to-date information and guidance to our children we must literally bury ourselves in the Word.

I can promise you this- if we don’t parent our children ourselves then our children will be parented by the world around them.  Think how scary that though is.  Society is selfish and sinful and corrupt.  As Christians we are IN this world, but we are not OF this world.  Thank goodness.  That’s our saving grace in this insane rat race.  So, mothers like myself who find yourself newly single- I urge you not to lose sight of the harsh transition your children are going through.  Their lives are literally turned upside down.  This is the time your children will probably need you present the most.  Don’t be so wrapped up in that new boyfriend or search for one that you put your kids on the back burner because you’re too busy planning your outfit for Saturday night.  Dads, I can’t even tell you the vital importance you have in your children’s foundations.  You are to be the very reflection of Christ in their lives.  Don’t bring these children into the world and then think it’s okay for you to bolt when times get too hard or when you’re transitioning on to your next family, next phase in life.  All of us, whether divorced, single or remarried, have the same responsibility to our children.  If you are man/woman enough to bring a child into this world you should be man/woman enough to do the best job of parenting that you can.

I’ve heard it joked that when our kids are young our only job as parents is to make sure that they don’t die.  As a new parent you are so careful and cautious about each breath they take, each step they make… This doesn’t stop at infancy.  We need to be just as watchful over them and mindful of them throughout their lives.  Your ultimate responsibility for your child(ren) is to see that they come to a saving knowledge of their Heavenly Father.  Their safety and their success here on earth is secondary.  You have a spiritual responsibility to your children as well as a physical one.  Parenting is a hands-on, 24-hour-a-day responsibility.  The moment you become a parent your life stops being about you.  That’s how it must be.  That’s how it should be.  Parent with conviction.  Let your children rest securely in the love that they witness you possess for them through your parenting.

“…and he’s looking down.”

In exactly 28 hours and 45 minutes we will have felt the absence left by of the loss of my father for an entire year.  It still seems like much of it happened in a haze and not a day passes that I don’t half expect to get a call from him and to hear his familiar voice on the other end saying, “Manda?” 

I was just reading the other day someone explaining what it feels like to lose a loved one.  And by “loved one” I mean a person who truly is a daily part of your life and one whose absence leaves a gaping hole.  I read this person say that in time the hurt goes away.  I’m not buying into that.  Today I sit, feeling just as sad and hurt about his absence as I did the day he left.  The only difference is that now, instead of having to face it everyday head on (impossible not to do through each conversation and moment I had with him), I simply refuse to let myself go there.  There’s not even 1% of me which feels ready to face that reality.  I’m smart enough to realize this probably isn’t the best coping skill to utilize in the year following a death, but for me- well, it just has to be right now.  I know my dad is gone and he’s not coming back.  I just need to mentally press pause and leave things where I can best cope with them.  In time I know I will have no choice other than to begin a slow and challenging unveiling of reality from the moment he left until my current circumstance.  It is said God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.  I’m trusting, but standing on that tightrope with one leg dangling out to the side searching desperately to find my balance.

Our closest friends are aware of the sweet meaning that snow has taken on for the Elder women.  I wrote my dad a poem about the snow while he was very ill.  The day he was taken to the funeral home and we would see him for the last time a beautiful, gentle, and unpredicted snow began to fall and my mom and I discussed the significance.  I reminded her that I had written about the snow for him and she said she knew.  She stated that the only difference is that this time we’re looking out and it and he’s looking down.  Those words were so powerful in that moment.

Last night the most beautiful snowfall began in our little town.  Messages from sweet friends began rolling in to remind me (us) that God was blanketing us in His love in preparation for the next few days.  I have no doubt that my sweet daddy up there, in that same earthly way he always wanted to see us happy, quietly pulled God aside and asked Him for this small favor.  It means the world to me.  I know it does to mom and Jess as well.

I loved that man.  I still love that man.  I know people are often spoken highly of after they pass, but each thing that I say of him is true.  I don’t have to sit and think and stretch the truth to make him sound fabulous.  He truly was.  The day after my dad died I went to the store.  I remember being almost angry that life was still going on all around us.  Surely the absence of such a huge, powerful soul would cause time and life to stop even if just for a moment. 

I’ll admit something and I had hoped not to have to go here- I’ve really let myself pull back from God this year in the middle of all these adjustments.  I’m not angry at Him and I don’t hate Him, but I guess deep down I do have lots of questions and I’ve not used a great deal of judgment in some areas of my life.  My earthly covering is gone now- no father, no husband.  I guess I have let myself flounder around a bit.  I’m sure if my dad were here he would want to have one of our infamous discussion over the kitchen table about life and decisions and consequences. 

This year my first order of business is to get right with my heavenly Father and to come to terms with the loss of my earthly one.  Both, frankly, are daunting tasks which I know I must do.  I want to make my father proud.  I want to be an example to my friends and the world of the hope and fulfillment we can find only in Christ.  I want to make both of them proud.  The snow is such a precious reminder to me that even during times they may feel far, they wish the best for us.  They are still looking down.

%d bloggers like this: