02. My parenting report card
All you need to find joy and peace in your mothering
I unloaded my kiddo at school on a sunny Fall day, the sky almost as bright blue as the rustling leaves were yellow and red. I glanced down at my phone and saw a text requesting my presence in the Director’s Office of their school for a meeting.
My nervous system did a weird flight-freeze back flip, and I shoved my phone into the cup holder and fled my parking space before I even had a chance to read the whole message. Which, it turns out, went on to mention serious behavior concerns.
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It’s funny how much it can feel like I’m the one who is in trouble when things like this happen.
Suddenly, I’m back in middle school getting reprimanded by the director of teen volunteers for pulling a minor prank. (One of the only times I can remember ever getting in trouble with an authority figure growing up.)
I had no idea anyone would be upset about what I did, and I stood there listening to her berate me, mortified.
In fact, as someone who’s made a lifetime habit of weighing my worth by measurable metrics of success, my kids’ behavior can feel much like a report card — with A being the only acceptable letter displayed there.
I mean, I’m the one, right?
The one who’s been with them all day, every day for most of their lives.
The primary caregiver.
And if their entire existence isn’t perfect, it must be my fault.
And as much as I’m telling myself I’m so neurotic for following this thought death spiral, I know that I’m not alone.
When your child is the only one who clings to you and won’t take their turn at gymnastics class.
» Or they get an autism diagnosis.
» Or they fall behind grade level in reading.
» Or they get a behavior slip sent home.
» Or throw a tantrum in the cereal aisle.
» Or they declare the correct anatomical names for their body parts in a crowded church bathroom (or all of the above), shame and self-blame erupt inside of us.
It’s so automatic to define our worth by our child’s behavior or performance whenever it comes up short.
To blame myself for being such a failure as a mother, my one most important job, that my kid is getting in trouble at school.
Indeed, how many times did I play a script in my head, defending myself to the tune of, “we’ve tried everything,” while listing all the parenting classes we’ve taken, all the discussions we’ve had about our expectations for their behavior, all the things we tried?
While nodding and agreeing, “yes, we understand this is unacceptable behavior. We’re really not terrible people who allow our kids to act this way!”
At the same time, I jumped into panic mode and tried to puzzle through what we needed to DO to change the shameful trajectory of our child’s behavior.
How can we get this kid to grow in compassion, empathy, and kindness?!
To see beyond themself to the purpose God has for them in this world?
Should we spend our weekends serving rather than trying to please the kids and give them opportunities for fun?
To be honest, that’s how I’ve felt pretty much every time there’s been a situation like this in the past.
I had a full week to dread the coming of this meeting.
But in the meantime, we happened to be studying this verse the kids were memorizing for Sunday School.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.” Romans 15:13
Joy and peace come through trusting God.
And we don’t have to trust when things are easy.
Why would we?
Instead, it’s in the hard times we have to rely on God to get us through. It seems to be when I have no other choice but to trust in Him that I finally do.
To be sure, my face was burning and I was squirming in my seat about 20 minutes into listening to the near-eternal list of issues the teachers were having with my kid.
At the same time, with a full week to practice trusting God with my child, I was sincerely celebrating this moment as an opportunity for them to learn lessons that I am only beginning to learn myself:
» That it’s ok to have big feelings; it’s learning to express them in a healthy way that counts.
» That there will always be people that are difficult to get along with. (And you have to do it anyway.)
» That relationships are more important than having everything your way.
» That we all struggle and make mistakes sometimes.
And that this messy moment doesn’t define my child — or me as a mom.
We’ll look back on this time as an inflection point, maybe.
Or as one more milepost in a long journey of events that led to one maturing, beautiful, whole, imperfect, amazing human.
Because these kids of mine are entrusted to me in this life, but they belong to God.
I could assume all the weight and anxiety of raising them, and often I do. But that would be short-sighted when instead I can lean on their heavenly Father to be working out everything for their good.
The truth is, I don’t know what their futures will look like.
They might struggle.
They might be like their mom and have to walk through some really hard things on the way to growth and a semblance of maturity.
While I would love more than anything to shelter them from that, I also recognize that the only way I’ve learned some lessons in life is by going through the pain of doing it wrong first.
And sometimes it’s taken a LONG time to learn those lessons.
So, for now, I’m able to step back and support them, and also rejoice in the fact that they’re having the opportunity to learn some tough lessons while the stakes are low.
I love watching my kids learn, even as they make mistakes.
At least, that’s what I keep telling myself!
Here’s how that verse in Romans wraps up,
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
So every time I get a call home after school alerting me to yet another issue, I get to rely a little more on the Holy Spirit to cultivate fruit in my kids.
Part of that peace comes from knowing, yes, I am doing my part. I’m discipling, teaching, and training them.
But ultimately all good gifts come from above (not from me forcing my kids into good behavior, as if that were possible.)
And I choose to trust, and then panic, and then choose again for the 587th time to trust that God will cultivate the love, compassion, and empathy that I long to see in my children in His good time.
When have you fallen into the trap of grading your mothering by your children's behavior? How do you endeavor to lean more on God when they aren't "getting all A's" in every aspect of life? Share your tips and inspiration in the comments.
GrowingSlower with Shannon Clark is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts, support your commitment to your own growth, and keep this an ad-free space — consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.