A week ago, my 16-year-old left his breakfast dishes on the table for someone else to clean. Chris was still in Mississippi, and the full-time working/single-parenting/new home/new community gig was getting to me. I was ready to explode with frustration; ready to scream at Sam to come DO HIS DISHES. Ready to rip into him for NOT CONTRIBUTING, for BEING LAZY, for choosing to BE SELFISH instead of HELPFUL.
Instead, I texted my husband first. This was the dialogue that followed:
ME: I just walked in to find his breakfast remnants still out on the counter and dried cereal in the sink. WTF?? Why do I have to have this conversation EVERY SINGLE DAY???
CHRIS: Because he is still a kid. We are still teaching him. He is still learning. He likes to learn the hard way. That has always been his issue. Go give him a hug. 🙂
I remember back when my Mom was a single parent. She — 99% of the time — was kind and patient and forgiving. More so, probably, than I would have been under so much pressure. Every once and a while, however, she blew. And when she did, my sister and I would rush around maniacally, trying to right our wrongs, trying to silence the storm. But our actions were more about appeasing our Mom’s anger, about easing her pain, than learning a lesson. It was when my Mom sat down, looked me in the eye, and said calmly and with love, “I’m disappointed in the choice you just made,” that my heart and mind were most impacted. When she took the time to talk with me, calmly, rationally, I knew what she needed to convey was important, that I was important.
Mary Claire said to me just the other day, “Mom, we don’t really listen when you yell. We just tune you out.” And it’s true. When I begin ranting, my kids disconnect. They disperse to their respective corners of the earth. They roll their eyes behind closed doors. They lose themselves in the comfort and familiarity of their technology. They complete whatever task is required of them, not out of respect or a sense of duty, but because they want me to Shut. Up.
Those crazy, maniacal bursts of frenzied yelling don’t do anything to connect us as a family. They simply serve to separate us both physically and mentally — some of us sitting alone with our tears, others with our regrets.
At 43, I still ask for grace and forgiveness on a daily basis. I disappoint people I love. I don’t do enough for those who need me. I take others for granted. I fail to live up to my own potential. I say unkind words out of frustration and fatigue. I make bad decisions. Every single day, I do these things. Every single day, I vow to do better the next. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t. But the point is this: If I need to be understood and loved despite my shortcomings and poor choices, my kids deserve at least that much… and a million times more.
I am helping to build character in four young human beings, not chasing perceived perfection. Crumbs left on the counter will not contribute to nor dismantle the pursuit of world peace. Yes, they need to learn responsibility. Yes, I will require it of them. Yes, I will approach those expectations with kindness and strength instead of desperation and anger.
Yes, I will hug them.
Each one of them.
Yes, they will roll their eyes at me. But they’ll do it with smiles instead. And the lesson we’ll all learn? That life on this little blue planet is too precious and fragile to be spent lamenting crusted Raisin Bran in the sink. That what really matters is grace, forgiveness, and understanding.
Always, unequivocally and without fail, love.