Parenting Foul Play
Two exchanges today with my nine year old son:
1) Me: Are you tired of not wearing pants?
Marshall: Actually, hon, I’ll have to think about that.
2) Me: The sun is out!
Marshall: And the clouds are all gone. It must be a blessing from God.
Marshall has been online shopping today, on Overstock.com, filling a Wishlist with things to furnish and decorate his room, which is now, unfairly, Sam’s play room. Marshall needs a private lounging space for his imagination to grow. He still goes back and forth imagining Pokémon characters with horrifically evil characteristics and those with mild ones.
I lectured him last night about being willing to do things other than be on the computer looking at pictures of Pokémon characters. I said, “It’s your childhood, your life. Do what you want.”
This is a classic manipulative ploy meant to make the kid feel guilty or unsafe having so much freedom. Marshall said, after I walked back in from the kitchen, “I do need your guidance, hon.” (He calls every one he loves “hon”). Of course, my words had their intended effect but left me feeling dirty as a mom. Parenting foul play.
I am re-reading Naomi Aldort’s Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves. Marshall has complained about my parenting lately and I agree. I feel lecture-y too often, like I don’t take time to listen well. Aldort’s thesis is that parents are afraid of loving unconditionally, afraid we will spoil our children, but that it is unconditional love that makes whole children and therefore whole adults.
The first time I read it, I wept my way through the words, and at the end felt like I’d been born again as a parent. I have since written articles on this kind of parenting. Yet, without continual reminders of my own ideals, I go right back to conditional love.
Mother God, the Source
So, the phrase, “unconditional love” reminds me of Mother God. What can I learn from Her in my quest to love without inducing fear, and without trying to control my kids? What can I learn from Jesus?
I don’t know yet. This forces a very hard issue for me: I don’t run to God to receive messages of unconditional love. When I listen for God’s voice, I expect commands and truths and direction, but not, “I love you’s” and “Sweetie Pie’s.” I don’t expect to cuddle in God’s lap.
But, when I add a “Mother” to the “God,” I kind of do.
What kinds of things does Mama God say to me? To Jesus, She said, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased,” in front of everyone (Luke 3:22). Surely She has something to say to me.
Without researching it, the closest I can come to finding some warm message is the Servant Songs in Isaiah (chs. 42-53), or the way Jesus speaks sometimes in John’s gospel (e.g. John 15: 14-16), and the things Paul says to his churches when he expresses his love and longing for them (e.g. I Thess. 2:7-12).
Why God Isn’t My BFF
But often enough, God speaks through mediums we are most involved in (well, like Facebook or O Magazine). The past couple of years I have come up with a guiding phrase for the year every New Year. This year’s was Own Best Friend. I got this idea from an article in O Magazine, by Martha Beck, Ph.D. She talks about having a special scarf or hat to put on to represent yourself as Best Friend, to yourself. And you-as-you pour out your heart, and then put on the Best Friend items of clothing to respond. The Best Friend sounds a lot like a very good therapist. She is a good listener, asks good questions, and encourages.
So, I started speaking to myself in that way, especially the encouragement part. I’d think, “What would I want a best friend to say to what I just said to myself?” and then have the BFF voice say it, even if it wasn’t entirely truthful. Something like, “Oh, you’re much too hard on yourself. I do that kind of thing all the time!”
Well, God’s voice and the BFF voice are not the same, or I’d have consulted God instead. The sweet, soothing half-truths that heal me and give me self-esteem again are what I seek though. God doesn’t mince words and God doesn’t need me to “tell Her more” because She’s got the scoop already.
I’m going to have to mull this over. It’s really a trust issue—trusting Mother God to love me, to pour love out on me, to adore me like I adore my kids, on my best days. To think I’m awesome no matter what, like a true BFF.
I go to God for truth, not for unconditional love; and so I’m missing out.
God, not a Helicopter Mom, but a Doting One
I’m going to keep calling God, “Mother God” in my prayers and mind, and think about Her as someone who dotes on me, is really always seeking not only my welfare, and that of others, but my happiness. Wow, how different is that!
Maybe Mother God has the same problem I do as a mom: trusting me, trusting that I will grow without her intervention or correction. But She seems pretty hands-off. Except for the thing where I never get to brag without immediately being humbled, She lets me do my own thing. I’m free, and that kind of sucks. “God, I really do need your guidance, Hon.” I go back to seeking that because of all the freedom I have.
But I also need God to let me know I’m okay. I’m enough; and even awesome. Maybe if I can start getting those messages, I can give them more easily and often to my sons.
Marshall is learning that Mother God wants to bless us—with the sun and blue sky after a bleak, grey, rainy, cold Oregon morning. Or, even, with a Wishlist from Overstock.com. May I learn this more deeply, that these gifts and more are the caress of an ever-loving Mother who delights in us.