Thursday, September 1, 2011

An owner's manual.

They don't come with an owner's manual. You know why? Because there just isn't one. There never could be, for there never has or ever will be a parent on earth qualified to write one. None of us are perfect, and even at our most perfect, the methods we endorse simply cannot be universal. Even if our loving Heavenly Father wrote a book it would likely need interpretation and individual adaptation (see "scriptures").

I remember looking at this certain, beautiful family, and thinking, "wow, that woman has it all together." At the time our oldest was only about six months old and I felt like I was sinking fast. She wrangled three, tiny children (all girls) while horrendously pregnant, and she treated them with such loving kindness and deliberate attention. This woman awoke early each morning and prepared breakfast for her husband and kids, in time to wake them all at 6am to eat together. Toddlers. And they had no where they had to be, no bus to catch!

Yes, I remember wondering why I could hardly even manage one.

The truth is, though, I have no idea what their family was like, really. I know ours intimately. I compared the worst of ourselves with the best of them.

Now here I am with three, tiny boys and a big, pregnant belly. Wrangling away. And doing some things very well.

But lest you become tempted to compare the worst of yourself with the best of me, be cautioned.

I am hopelessly prideful. Impatient with my... everybody. I don't like to read to my children very much. My voice rings out critically to my husband sometimes and it embarrasses him. I am the Primary president at church and often I wish I wasn't because I don't always want to be around kids. Self-indulgent with my time on the internet. Overzealous. Close-minded, masquerading as incredibly open to change. I expect a great deal from my children, to the point of sometimes setting them up for failure.

But who puts that kind of stuff on their resume? Or blog.

The other night, Duke and I knelt together in prayer about our middle son, here nick-named Iggy. He is strong-willed and stubborn. Aggressive and highly frustrated (slash, frustrating). We prayed for help to understand him. To lovingly parent him. To meet his needs and channel his qualities in a positive direction. We prayed to be able to see what the "positive direction" was.

We were parents asking for a just one, little section from a yet-to-be written manual. This manual applies only to us as parents, and only to Iggy as our son. I have a feeling that we end up spending each day of our parenthood jotting, scribbling, drafting, and editing these guides for each child. I never intended to write a how-to book, let alone four. But having children requires that kind-of effort on the part of their parents. By the end of the journey, I don't think we'll even have the manuals quite right, but in writing them upon our hearts, we give our children our best efforts.

After our prayer, we sat pen-in-hand and brainstormed. We thought of his motivations; to be adored, to be free, immediate gratification, independence, autonomy, to avoid punishment, to be funny. These things guide him, not every child. They're also not negative motivations, really, but they, like anything we desire, could lead him on a path of selfishness OR love, depending on the approach. We then made a practical plan to help him in his approach.

Anyway, the sharing of this information is mostly for him to read, later, that he might know we loved him desperately, and as exasperated as we may come across, we really are trying despite our many imperfections.

I am truly humbled to be a mother.

And in this mind-frame I can look to the other parents around me, no matter how much our parenting styles may differ, with a general awe. How do we do this?

My hope is that we can build one another up with encouragement and love. That we might help one another through the great trials, avoiding snap-judgements and unhealthy criticism.

As parents we have much in common, but we are allowed to be different. May we understand that our journeys are our own and may we each find the peace that comes in letting go of unhealthy comparison, focusing instead on becoming our best selves.


Scott and Stacia said...

I love this post. Just the other day I caught myself being critical about something another mother did....then I remembered I'm far from perfect and that it is okay that we all do things differently. I realize I have a talent with children and things come naturally for me (for the most part). I still get frustrated or need me time, but I realize this mother has many talents I don't have or ever will have. I am so grateful for the mothers that have inspired me and for all the talents we all have. Mothers we are great! Enjoy raising your children! Love them!

Angela Brown said...

Thank you! That was just what I needed to hear!I have been ragging on myself for being a terrible person and a terrible parent. Sometimes it's easy to get wrapped up in doing our own thing and then assume every other mother in the world is June Cleaver. You are definitely one mom I always think has it together! Parenting is hard, isn't it? But the little rewards feel a lot bigger when we get them from our kids.

janandtheboys said...

Yesterday I was talking to another teacher who has no children. She is in her 50s like me. She looked at me and said to me (the woman raising 6 young men) as she sat observing other children in the room; "It just seems so cut and dry to me, why don't the parents just set down the boundaries and rules and make the children obey." I sorta giggled at her and said with a very long sigh, "well I am afraid it is a little more complicated than that and intricate." It always looks much easier on the outside.