The child was screaming in the Target parking lot as I retrieved my own two kiddos from their carseats. The sound of her wails peirced through the crisp, morning air. I did my utmost to not stare at the child or the mother as I toted my offspring past their car into the store. I even tried my best to look casual and to not appear like I was avoiding eye contact. I probably failed, but I did try.
As I entered the big double doors and settled my little ones in the shopping cart, I have to admit, the sweet silence was a relief. Calm is always refreshing, is it not? I lingered a moment to browse very quickly through one of my favorite areas (also known as a money pit), the Dollar Spot. My son and I both enjoy looking at all of the “eye candy”, toys for him and home stuff for me. Just as I’m wheeling my empty cart away from the dollar deals, I heard a familiar sound enter the store.
Incessant crying and sniffling. The child was still upset.
For the next fifteen minutes, the echo of the little girl’s unhappiness could be heard throughout the store, sometimes distant and sometimes not. Then suddenly it was gone. I’m not sure if the absence of her cries indicated that the child had finally calmed down or if she and her mother had simply left the store. At any rate, peace and quiet reigned again.
As I looked down at the two small faces in my red cart, a bit of maternal pride was tempted to creep in. Thoughts of “Look how sweet mine are being” or “I’m so glad that my kids are behaving”. You know what I mean – when life is going smoothly and the sun is shining on your world, it is so easy to condemn the actions of others, to judge what they should or should not be doing.
Yet I couldn’t separate myself from the vision of that weary mom pushing her sobbing toddler around. I couldn’t help but feel her struggle, her fatigue, her frustration and yes, even her embarrassment.
Why? I’ve been there.
I’ve walked in her shoes, more than once actually. I’ve been the one on the receiving end of the harsh stares and heard the mutterings as I hurried by. I’ve been the one who wished that I could just sink through the linoleum floor in Aldi. I’ve been the one with the cheeks stained a bright red as I tried desperately to calm my distraught child (and quite frankly, on rare occasions more than one child) while rushing through my shopping list. I’ve been the one to bounce a wailing, hungry baby on my hip, quietly admonishing my older two to get along and keeping the two toddlers out of the conveniently-placed-at-kid-level candy and treats while checking out with the cashier. I’ve been the one who felt the immeasurable relief to finally be back in the privacy of my own van only to realize that I had neglected to hand the cashier my stack of coupons.
Motherhood can be hard, can’t it? The pressure to measure up and meet expectations can be heavy.
I mean, we all want to have the good kid, don’t we? Sure we do. But for what reasons? At what cost? Far too often, I’m afraid that its for the appearance and for the convenience that good behavior brings. A well-behaved child certainly makes us look good as parents, and the ease and laid back parental approach afforded with an obedient son or daughter makes life pretty sweet too. And while I firmly believe that a well-behaved and obedient child (or in my case, children) is a wonderful blessing, the status of my parenting and the comfort of my time should be the furthest things from my mind. Parenting isn’t all about me.
It’s all about them.
If my children leave the haven of our home and cross over the threshhold into adulthood as simply good people, then I have failed most miserably. Good people sometimes fall apart and disappoint. Mere goodness doesn’t matter in the end. Not really. And while focusing on rearing a “good” child can be tempting, for sure, it ought not be our goal.
However, if my children know God and love His Word, then I, a simple mother, have been blessed with the opportunity to change the world through five, and soon-to-be six precious people. You see, when God is the center of their lives and the guidance of His word the pull of their heart strings, goodness will pour out in the end. Let God be the reason for the additional “o”. He alone can truly make them “good”.
Sure, the surface of “goodness” may look nice, but it doesn’t always last. Cultivate the heart of your child with love of God first. Give them time. Give them grace.
One day the fruit of goodness will blossom (along with many others fruits) and it will have nothing to do with me but everything to do with Him.
So the next time you see (or hear) a small child clearly wanting his own way, remember as I did that God’s work in their hearts has only just begun. He is not finished with them yet. Don’t pass judgment too quickly, allow children the opportunity to grow, to develop, to change.
Additionally, extend grace to the mother. Her parenting journey may be new and even if not, every child is different. No one wants to be critiqued on unfinished work. Perhaps you may remember the difficult waters of those early and yet so important years in the lives of your children. The smooth, easy moments of child-rearing are indeed precious days, but challenging, hard times are also part of the course of motherhood. Parenting stretches you.
You may also relate to the weary moms who are out there, the ones who have attempted to do everything right and at the end of the some days, still feel like they have failed. Have you felt that pressure before? Or maybe have even experienced the mortification of transporting a tiny child who is, ahem, loudly expressing his displeasure as you wisk him out the door?
You may even understand the plea in her eyes and the cry of her heart to the watching world around her, to be offered empathy, not judgment. A simple word of encouragement can be more uplifting than you may ever know. As a mother, she desires but one thing—
Better days are ahead, mom. Hang in there.
(P.S. This post was already weighing on my heart and then I went out to run my typical shopping/grocery run in town this week only to see another struggling young mother with two very small children. At Target. Again. I guess that it just really struck a chord in my own life. Parenting is hard work, folks.
***Please also note that I am not condoning inappropriate behavior in small children. I am just wanting us to remember that small children, and even older ones, are not exempt from having bad days. Let’s extend grace.)