My three-year-old is laying on his floor crying “I am not happy”. All I have to say is, “me either, kid, me either”.
When I put him down for a nap he said “don’t leave me alone. When you go bye-bye it make my heart feel broken”. I don’t know where he learned that but I know that for years I have made mothering about making my kids happy, loved, and trying to give them everything they want. I had the intention of doing all of this because I wanted to care for them well, because I wanted them to know beyond the shadow of a doubt that they were loved. But, I wasn’t showing them love. I was making myself comfortable, I was surviving the night feedings, the newborn baby stage, the terrible-twos that move into terrible-threes. I was surviving feeling alone, being screamed at by kids, always having a bathroom companion. Everything felt difficult: sleeping, making breakfast, getting people out the door, getting people back in the door, making dinner. All the normal, everyday life situations were not simple. So I tried (and failed) to make their attitudes bearable. I made decisions and let the kids change them, I solved problems and then when my oldest had a logical reason to do it differently I allowed it. I said “no” five or six or ten times before any discipline happened because I was convinced eventually they would get it. Wouldn’t they understand by some magical age how to help me, how to play nicely, how to walk away when something made them mad?
I made loving them about giving them their needs and wants, playing with them and creating fun. I let that define if the reason I was a good mom or not. I made those things the priority for mothering well. But, it is not. It created kids who expected their own way, who when told “no” over turning off the sink or not running in the parking lot would throw themselves down screaming and yelling, hitting me as I picked them up. My attempts at loving them, at giving into them, allowing them freedom were because I wanted to feel loved back. It was as if I thought they would remember how many books I read them, how many songs I sang as I rubbed their back at night and then they would sleep longer in the morning as a thank-you. A back forth dance of I give to you, you give to me, we both help each other out. But this isn’t a friendship or a marriage. There has to be a clear authority figure.
The parent is supposed to love always no matter what they receive in return. We have to love because God gave us these children and we want to show them His love. We have to love because God loves us and it changed our life. We cannot love to get affection in return for that isn’t truly love. Merriam-Webster.com defines love as “unselfish loyal concern for the good of another”. My love for them wasn’t unselfish, I deeply wanted to feel important, I wanted to be listened to, I wanted them to be less wild so I could get my task list finished! I called it love, it wasn’t. A parent is defined as a “person who brings up and cares for another, a group from which another arises and to which it usually remains subsidiary” (Merriam-Webster.com). I will never argue that I am more important than my children but at three, five and six they should be subordinate in our household. I wanted friends, I wanted a group of people to live life with and play with and go on adventures with and tackle house cleaning with. But, I was given the commanding position and I didn’t take it. I am the general who gathered around his troops and said “let’s throw out the plan and do whatever we want for now, we will figure out dinner whenever we get there”. It was a mess.
This task of leading the troops, of taking charge and holding our kids to obedience is not easy. It requires me to ask friends to leave because my children will not obey simple rules, it causes us to not get the ice cream we wanted after dinner because the kids are being disrespectful, it causes me to get little done on my to-do list and be late to an appointment because I had to discipline the child instead of ignore it. But, I think that is a more accurate picture of love. That is a life concerned about their good more than their happiness. I think that produces children who know they are loved because they were invested in, taught, disciplined. They can move forward to love others well because they were not taught selfishness or love for the purpose of getting. That is the kind of love I want to lead with!