Welcome to our fifth story in our series beYOUtiful Mom!
Featured Writer: Alia Hagenbach
Some of the first advice I received years ago as a first time mom was “pick your battles.“ Being a first time mom, I was determined to do an amazing job. I read the parenting books. I got this, I thought. I watched the temper tantrums that occurred in grocery check-outs over skittles and lollipops and vowed that my child would be well-disciplined, respectful, and obedient.
I couldn’t even fathom what the battles would be at that point. I wish I could go back and tell my 21-year-old self what I know now. Relax.
Fast forward two years and we are in Safeway, waiting for our prescription to be filled. Judah had developed another ear infection that wouldn’t go away. We had completely skipped his afternoon nap to take him to the doctor. We are finally checking out and he sees the M&M’s by the register. He begins to howl for them. HOWL. Like a tormented creature from the underworld. A screeching, thunderous assault on everyone’s eardrums. He is turning a purplish red with rage. Tears and snot are flowing down those cheeks. I want to grab a bag and just shut him up but I can see everyone’s eyes on me.
The gauntlet has been thrown. Will ghetto mom with the three-day old greasy ponytail and sweats give in to her screaming brat and reward him with candy?
I want to explain. He’s not usually like this. He has an ear infection and is in pain. He’s overtired from skipping his nap. He’s hungry from being in the store so long after coming from the doctors. I begin to babble some sort of explanation and grab the bag of candy. The old lady in line behind me raises her eyebrows and purses her lips in disapproval of my pitiful mothering skills. I am shamed and embarrassed by my child’s behavior. I’m embarrassed by the fact that I’m embarrassed. I rush to the car and buckle him in. By the time I have emptied my cart and start the car, he is sound asleep with dried tears and snot covering his cheeks. He is doing the snuffle cry breathing from all the screaming. He hasn’t touched the M&M’s.
Everything about mothering was a battle for me. I was so focused on being a good mother that I completely shut out the intuitive nature of being a mommy.
I cared that he would be spoiled. I cared that he was too noisy in restaurants even if he wasn’t misbehaving. The very child-likeness of him offended and embarrassed me when I was around others. Unless their children seemed to behave worse than mine, then I felt a sense of pride that at least my child wasn’t like that.
He was loud and busy. A mass of running, curious energy, assaulting me with all his questions and driving me to be ever shushing him. The child that was quirky and silly, with a quick wit and hilarious one liners , and whom I enjoyed when we were alone, became too much for me in the company of others. I was stressed and didn’t differentiate between childishness and disobedience.
A constant flow of correction would come from me that had nothing to do with actual bad behavior or sin on his part.
I equated being a good mother with superficial things like outward immediate obedience. Good mothers had children who came when they were called, never interrupted or asked for anything twice when already told “no,” and never ran around like wild animals.
When Judah was in the kindergarten class at our church, I volunteered to teach in the Sunday school. There was one particular boy who was homeschooled. His parents obviously spent a lot of time teaching him. He was like a pint-sized theologian who had some sort of talent for knowing every Bible story in-depth. He always had the memory verse to recite. He raised his hand at every question. He followed orders and lined up when I told him to. He said, “Yes, Mrs. Hagenbach,” when he was asked to do something. He called people sir and ma’am. He always said, “Please and thank you.” He irked me. Granted he was five and surely his parents were somewhat to blame for his impeccable manners but still.
You might think it strange that I was bothered by such a display of obedience but the truth is, he was self-righteous, even at five. Outwardly, I could find no obvious fault. But he smirked when someone else got the answer wrong or stumbled over a verse only to shoot up his hand to remedy the error. He elaborated on the Bible stories with fact after fact but didn’t get along with the other kids. He admonished the other kids in class if they spoke of a tv show they had seen or video games they had played. He told everyone that his parents didn’t believe in tv, or sugar, or public school. Constantly implying that you were somehow less righteous if you did watch cartoons, eat ice cream or were not home schooled. His parents were raising a pharisee.
I often think of that boy when I decide which battles to fight. When I am worn out from disciplining my kids and things come out of my mouth like, ” don’t wipe your booger on your brother, that’s not funny,” or, “stop peeing in the yard!” I have to ask myself have I been picking too many battles. Is it a heart issue? Is it dangerous to them? Are they sinning? Am I simply disciplining because I am annoyed by them?
Is this the cleaning of the inside or the outside of the cup? If I only concentrate on cleaning the outside, then my children will be fabulously behaved for now. They will give me pride and not embarrass me in public but their hearts will probably be full of hypocrisy.
If I clean the inside, I will have fewer battles. I’ll save my energy for the bigger heart issues and sins, and yes, my children will sometimes embarrass me. But not because they’re unloving, judgmental, or cruel. They often embarrass me because they have been known to run around like wild animals, or interrupt occasionally, or to copy my sense of humor, which should not be repeated in public, lest someone think our whole family a bit off.
I stop to ask myself, why is this worth dealing with? If it’s pride [what will this look like to someone] I try to extend grace.
I find I enjoy them so much more when I am allowing them the grace to be themselves in all of their own glorious awkward individuality and picking my battles only over the things that fit in the cup.
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Alia is a grace saved, much forgiven, wife to Josh, and home school momma to 3 beautiful children. She would consider herself a coffee dependent, writer of random musings at Narrow Paths to Higher Places, and attempter of all things crafty. She has a heart to see God glorified in the seemingly mundane and to allow the trials of her life to point to His infinite grace.