Every Tuesday in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.
Last week, my elder daughter struggled to color an online picture of Doc McStuffins, her current favorite character. She wanted it to be perfect, she told me, so that she could send it to the real Doc McStuffins. I tried to explain that since Doc is such a kind and gentle spirit, she’d appreciate the feeling and intent of the gift, even if my daughter’s small hands couldn’t completely command our irascible mouse. I’m pretty sure I failed to soothe my child though, and I felt heartsick at her frustration even as I identify with it.
Frustration in itself is not necessarily bad; it fuels us and instructs us, and I want my children to learn to cope with frustration so they can work through to the satisfaction of mastery and of learning as a lifelong process. But frustration over being imperfect is a different sort of frustration—an idle (and I could say idol) one that centers us on the self in ways I know all too familiarly. I lost my temper with this same child this week, in a different sort of frustration still at her failure to listen to me and let all of us get the rest we so desperately needed. I quickly apologized to her and to God, but forgiving myself proved a much harder task.
I felt ashamed, like in failing on this occasion I was failing as a mother, forgetting that my interactions with my children are relational and not wholly defined by the ordinary failings of ordinary humans. And therein lies the problem—where I don’t like to think of myself as ordinary. I was forced to confess to both myself and to God that my refusal to accept God’s forgiveness and my inability to move forward are firmly rooted in my own pride. I know I lost my cool after weeks of inadequate self-care and accumulated exhaustion. I told myself those were excuses, and any excuse is a poor one, yet at the same time, I would never speak to my child the same way about her attempts to portray Doc McStuffins.
I told my daughter I was sorry, that I was wrong to raise my voice and that she deserves better than to be talked to that way. I asked her to please use her words with me about her needs instead of crying and whining and yelling at me. I think we grew from this interaction. I’m human, and I can only handle so much. The whole experience reminds me how much I do need to prioritize my own care, not as incidental or a privilege but as a necessity—treating myself the way I want to treat others in a sort of mutual exchange where care flows both directions. This experience also served as an uncomfortable spiritual wake up call for me, where for weeks I’d been motoring along on my own strength and wondering why I felt worn out.
How could I have healthy, happy relationships with my family (or even with myself) if my first relationship to God lay untended and neglected? I couldn’t feel forgiven because I had alienated God—not the other way around. I know the truth about what God says regarding forgiveness—as far as the east is from the west!—but I wallowed in my sin because I wanted to parent in my own strength, my own righteousness, even as I watched them fail me. I’m not saying that prayer is a substitute for sleep or decent hygiene or good nutrition (and yes, I’m working on all those things), but I do believe God cares about the tending of our bodies, or He wouldn’t have provided coffee.
At my wedding seven years ago, the pastor asked us if we were proceeding onward to perfection in Christ. And somewhere between then and now (back and forth, and really through most of my life), I substituted being perfected by Christ for being flawless in my own image. Letting myself be refined involves submission and humility, accepting that I need to be forgiven and that (even in my tremendous pride) I am not somehow beyond that forgiveness. And that is what I want my daughters to see—not a perfect portrait of a flawless mother, but a humble child of God who cloaks herself in the righteousness of Christ. I cannot be flawless or produce children without flaw, but, I hope, I can still teach my daughters what it’s taking me so long to learn: that God longs for the spiritual good for us, for drawing us to Himself to reflect His perfect image and holy reconciliation.