I laughed to myself recently when a woman asked me a question that could be classified as “parenting advice.” I was standing in a crowd, chatting with a random stranger from New York City who had a five-month-old baby girl strapped to her, discussing pacifiers, thumb sucking, and sleep patterns. I, who am the Queen of Makeshift Parenting, was doling out parenting tips. Like you should be telling anyone anything, I laughed to myself. I, who forget to change diapers and drag my children to Starbucks with iPads and cake pops while writing academic papers, will most likely not be writing Parenting magazine’s next advice column.
It was an ironically humorous moment that I had with myself. But, on the other hand, I am constantly amazed that being a mother to my children is the one thing that I have never questioned myself on my ability to do. And, by no means do I credit myself with this instinctual epiphany. Only God could give instincts and intuition that I found myself possessed with upon suddenly meeting my oldest daughter. Despite second guessing most of the steps I’ve taken in my life, I have never felt more myself than being these two little people’s mom. I may forget to buy enough ingredients to assemble a fruit and vegetable pirate ship for lunch, but I can read their minds. I may change diapers in the most inordinate places, but I can anticipate their emotions, their imaginings, and their small joys.
Obviously, I make mistakes, like giving my 16-month-old a bite of an M&M, transforming her into an M&M fiend who shrieks and hyperventilates when she sees an M&M bag. I know I will make many mistakes. I know there will be errors in judgment, things I would not do over again, words that I wish I could swallow down into my throat. I know there will be days when I am completely confounded by their actions, words, and attitudes. But when I scan through parenting articles and the scads of comments arguments that follow them, I find it odd how much of what we consider “parenting” does not really matter.
Even though there will be mistakes, my confidence is high and my stress is low, because I know ultimately, it is God who must place His hand on their life. I will do my best to steward this responsibility that He has, for reasons only He knows, believed best to drop into my life. I will model moral living in front of them. I will teach them good habits of life and what having strong character means. I will teach them to work hard. I will teach them to be virtuous, to be kind. I will teach them everything I can and model for them, as much as God gives me grace to do so.
I believe these are things that responsible parents do. However, whether I am a good or bad parent to let them suck their thumbs or eat M&Ms, or whether I live well or stumble and fall in front of them matters not. While I will be the best parent I can be because I want to be responsible, what really matters is that they learn that God loves them, that He is a trustworthy and good Father. What matters is that they learn to trust His word, to know what His will is (from His word). I will teach them to read so that they will be able to read and understand the Bible. I will show them the beauty and truth woven into the world- so they will see Christ around them, even within the darkest examples of need. I will teach them that the Cross is the only thing to which they can cling in a fallen world. I will encourage them to have large souls and love learning, so they understand that God, the author and sustainer of all, is not limited by time or space or geography and that His love and grace are boundless. But ultimately, no matter how hard I work to teach these things, it is only the call of God that will capture their hearts and turn their eyes to see His glory. As St. Augustine, speaking of his mother, writes, “Not of her gifts do I speak but of Your gifts in her.” I will fail miserably as a parent by many standards. I am without ability to mold or change my children. Rather, it is the gift of God when He calls them to Himself.
Someday, it will not matter if my children had a thumb or a pacifier. It will not matter if they had a blanket or co-slept with me, ate adequate servings of organic vegetables, or any other preferences that I might force on them. They may wear braces, they may not learn Mandarin, and they may have to look up a word in order to spell it correctly. While some of these issues are important to quality of earthly life, what I hope most is that they hear and understand the voice of God. Our goodness, baseline moral code, amazing standards of cleanliness, organizational and social skills, and access to a world-class education are not our strengths. Like Samuel in the Old Testament, I pray that they hear the voice of God calling them, that His hand is on their lives, and that His grace is their strength.