Confession: There are times when I parent poorly.
There are times when I put my needs ahead of my children’s needs. There are times when I’m more interested in what’s on Instagram than I am in my own kids. There are times when I allow my frustration with them to lead me to say harsh words that harm them. There are times I ignore them, and in doing so, devalue them.
I am not a perfect parent. I make mistakes. And there are times when I hurt our relationship by how I treat them.
I am guilty of this sad reality. I think, at some point, we all are.
A few months ago, when I was immersed with the demands of writing and maintaining this blog, I would wake up in the wee hours of the morning and slip out of our family bed. I would make a cup of coffee, do a few yoga stretches, and settle into the love seat in the the corner of my living room, feeling the weight of my own deadline on my shoulders. I would type away, as the sky slowly began to brighten, with the sort of pressure that comes from high expectations.
There were several times when I would hear little feet hit the ground in the room above me just minutes after I got situated, and I would become immediately angry. I would utter an ugly sigh, and moments later, my three-year-old would be descending the steps, looking expectantly at me. And I’m sad to say that what he saw, by the glow of the laptop, was a scowl of disappointment looking back at him.
Often, he would ask something of me, and I would say shortly, “Can you wait one second?” And he would cry, and I would roll my eyes, and though I would meet his needs, I was grumbling through it. Then, I’d put on a show for him, though it made me feel insatiably guilty, and keep working until I heard the cries of his sister, which would evoke another sigh as my productive time for the day would be finished, whether I met my goals or not.
These mornings greatly affected Levi, and I’m not sure why I didn’t put two and two together. Should I have been surprised when he spent the rest of the morning exhibiting poor behaviors? Should I have been shocked to find that he was more disobedient, more aggressive with his sister?
Thankfully, this ordeal didn’t happen every morning. If I had completed my work, or made good progress, I was more cheerful when my children awoke.
The problem, though was this: my productivity was prioritized over my children. And my relationship with them, especially Levi, suffered.
Thankfully, guilt began stirring within me, and I was able to reflect on this. Grace reminded me to take a step back and think, how would I feel if a person I loved looked disappointed when they saw me enter a room? How would feel if, when I expressed my needs, someone told me to wait, demonstrating that the thing they were doing was more important than me?
You can imagine.
After this revelation, I made a commitment to try and greet Levi with kindness when he awoke in the morning; to look at him in the eyes and smile, even if I didn’t complete my work. I want to convey to him, “Hey! I’m so happy to see you!” and remind myself that I, in fact, am.
I don’t always do it perfectly, and I still can get distracted by the tasks at hand, but I have worked really hard to make our first interaction after some time apart a pleasant one. And I can tell you, it had an amazing impact on how our days began and how they carried out to completion.
The Ministry of Greeting
This past week, my pastor preached a sermon on the importance of greeting each other. Using Romans 16 as a foundation, he went on to offer a convicting and applicable message on how we are to welcome each other with intentionality.
“Everywhere we go,” he stated, “we find people who have an innate need to know that we know that they are.” If the love of Christ is in us, we ought to see them, and not merely appreciate them, but value them and help them to feel as if they belong.
While my pastor was primarily addressing the way we interact with other in the church, I couldn’t help but consider how this applies with my children. I loved that he coined it the “Ministry of Greeting” and I think that it has an important place in our homes.
Who, more than our children, should be recipients of our welcoming arms? Who, more than our children, should know that we value them, that they belong with us?
And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
Luke 6:31, ESV
Greeting Our Children
What if we all made an effort to greet our children with compassion? Whether first thing in the morning, after a nap, after school, after work, after they come home on college break; when they have a question, or present a need, or even when they treat us poorly.
It may not always be easy. I know what it’s like to be reunited with baby after putting her down to bed forty-five minutes earlier. I can imagine the struggle of trying to greet a teen with whom I am in conflict.
But I can also imagine the impact it would have on our children if we made consistent effort to smile at them, embrace them, look them in the eye, and ask them how they were doing with sincerity and interest; to see them, to acknowledge their needs, and esteem their value simply by giving them attention and care.
Charlotte Mason, a twentieth-century educator, is famous for saying, “Children are born persons.” Our children are unique individuals of value, worthy of respect, even from birth. We, as parents, can either reinforce or tear down their own sense of worth based off of how we treat them. It is a humbling and convicting reality.
But if we do take the time to value and esteem our children, we will see that they will want to draw near to us. Children, too, have the innate need to know that we know that they are. And when that need is met, they will find comfort and love in relationship with us.
This morning, I was sitting in love seat with my cup of coffee when I heard the pitter-patter of feet. I put my book down, although I really enjoyed what I was reading, and I looked up to the staircase and smiled. When Levi came down, I saw that he, though bleary eyed, was smiling, too. He climbed on my lap and I held him a little and asked him how he slept.
After a few moments of cuddling, he asked if he could watch a show, which I approved, seeing as it’s our current routine. He looked at me and said, “Do you want to sit with me?” And I said, yes, and sat beside him. I continued to read, but I had a little guy beside me who was calm and at content.
When Lucy awoke an hour later, I ran up to get her. I kissed her cheek and said, “Good morning!” and when she came down and saw Levi with Kevin, who had joined us, a smile lit up her sleepy face. When we were all sitting on the couch together, Levi wished his sister a good morning, and said, with a grin, “Now we are all a family.” It was a sweet moment I will treasure, and one that was unlikely to have happened a few months ago.
I am not a perfect parent. I keep stumbling through this journey, but grace and sanctification mean I don’t have to keep stumbling over the same rocks. With a little conviction, grace, and humility, I can become a better parent.
And for that, I am grateful.