Right before I had my first baby, someone took me out to lunch to gently but firmly introduce me to the book/the “way” entitled, “Growing Kids God’s Way.” She was sweet, gently made-up, and dressed in cute capris. In a sing-song voice she told me/threatened me that the material in the book was essential for raising kids that obeyed God and me and didn’t I want that.
“I can see that you are a compassionate. You’re going to have to lose that to be a good parent. You are going to need to have a lot more self-control and will-power to parent well. I’m just concerned for you – that if I don’t tell you this now you won’t do what is necessary and your kids will pay for that.”
I swallowed my sweet tea hard. Something inside me flinched and felt the dishonesty – the covering up of failures and wounds and fears with legalism and rules – but I was young and about to have my first baby. Vulnerable and in earnest, I took the book home.
During the first months of Haven’s life I wore that book on my hip. I read it like the Bible – daily ingesting a dose of “should” “must” “never.” The terrible theology went over my desperate new mommy head. So, God did not take Jesus off the cross so I should not pick up my baby when she cries. That makes sense.
I remember taking Haven out of her crib once while she slept so I could hold her during a scary storm. I felt so bad – sure I was messing up her sleep schedule for all eternity.
Thankfully, I eventually met some other moms – some who used THE book and some who didn’t – but all who believed love and grace belonged in parenting, who encouraged honesty about the hardships, failures, and craziness that is parenting and who didn’t make me feel like a terrible mother when I stopped swatting Haven’s little hand when she touched the coffee table.
When Haven was still little I noticed a new mom at church. She had her new little baby girl in her arms. She looked so good, so put together, and her baby had a pretty pink headband on. I almost didn’t go up to her, but I did. I was on a personal crusade to make sure no one felt the kind of pressure I had felt.
“Hi. I’m Jess.You know, it’s OK if you don’t like this and if it’s hard.”
A little awkward silence. Then some quick tears streamed down her cheeks.
She said, “I don’t like this. I don’t like her. I think this was a mistake.”
We got together weekly after that to let our babies wiggle next to each other on a blanket. We talked endlessly about sleep schedules and nursing and balancing babies and the rest of life. Without the pressure of “the way” we got our little ones on a schedule that worked for us and allowed us time to shower and eat. We were instantly connected by honesty and need.
And guess what? We both loved our girls and loved parenting and didn’t think any of it was mistake.
Why do I write this? It’s mostly just a personal purge as I work at forgiveness. The woman who took me out to lunch didn’t mean to hurt me. She came from a very broken home and found security in methods and rules. She probably didn’t trust that she could know what good parenting was with all the bad parenting she’d experienced. She probably thought she was doing me a very great favor. She didn’t know that my people/God pleaser self would commit myself blindly to her book/way and despite all my misgivings follow it to the letter.
I hope this exercise helps me let go of the anger I’ve felt towards her and the guilt I’ve felt over those early months of disconnect and anxiety. It bubbles up sometimes when Haven and I have a bad day and I wonder if I did permanent damage during those early days – did I put space between us then that I can never regain? I don’t know.
She will never read this, but I want to say to her – I’ve stopped hoping your kids turn out crazy just so I can be “right.” I hope they are wonderful and kind and love Jesus and you. You were right about my weaknesses and I’m working on them and I forgive you.