Then I parented. (Better late than never, right? Just keepin' it real.)
These are the inclinations I willfully pushed down:
1. Continuing to act inconvenienced. That is just about me, not about her. Love lays its life down for another. The world won't end if the plans change because we had to spend an extra thirty minutes looking for the lost purse.
2. Making rash judgements, such as, "I'm not allowing you to carry a purse when we go out anymore. You're obviously not old enough to be responsible with it." This was tempting. (In the right timing and in a much more loving manner, this kind of decision may have been appropriate, but for my nine year old, I knew it wasn't.)
*Let me just say, I want to sometimes say these things. We're never coming to the park again if you don't follow me right now....If you throw that train, I'm taking them all away...From now on, you'll have to hold my hand in a store because you ran away from me. Waaaaait...that one sounded maybe okay, didn't it? Well, the "wrong" part, in my mind, is the "From now on," because you don't mean FOREVER. It's too extreme. It's better to say, "Next time we're in a store, you'll have to hold my hand because you ran away from me." That sounds reasonable and fair.
Be wary of any extreme promises or decisions that include a "never" or "from now on." What if you want to go back to that park next week, but your child "lost" that? Then what? I heard a mother say to her child the other day, "If you don't start behaving, we're never coming to this restaurant again." My rule of thumb is that I make sure the consequences I set into motion are not punishments for myself too. I LIKE going to restaurants. I WANT the convenience of allowing food and drinks in the car. If I'm really excited about going to a movie as a family, then I no longer make the rule, "Clean your room or you can't come to the movie." Because once, someone didn't clean their room, and guess who had to follow through with the consequence? It was such a bummer!! Same thing with taking away reading time at night. I LOVE reading to them at night. Why ruin the things I really value? I guess that's one good thing about having an Xbox. I never have trouble taking that away! Ha.
3. Getting angry at a peripheral issue. Part of me wanted to make it about money, as if she doesn't know the value of things enough to take care of them well. Truth is, she doesn't understand the value of things because she's a child, and it would be a waste of energy to try to make her. That speech is not what she needed, and that peripheral issue tried to distract me from the matters of the heart.
4. Acting above making that kind of mistake. In short, I found my humility. Um, I've lost things before. End of story.
These are the skills I willfully pulled out:
1. Starting with affection. I put my arm around her shoulders and squeezed as we walked back empty handed. I almost always try to start here, because it softens my heart too, and I don't have to use words. When I can't yet find the loving words, I start with loving affection. (That reminds me of this post - remember, on using affection to offer grace?)
2. Inviting her feelings and giving them names. I asked how she felt, and then I helped her out a little. I do this a lot. There's no evaluation of her emotions, just labeling and validating. When she replied, "Sad," and continued to cry, I said, "Gosh, you're really disappointed about losing your new purse. I remember how hard you worked to buy it with your own money. That must feel so frustrating."
3. Empathizing. We went over the list of things inside the purse. At each item, I empathized, put myself in her shoes, and tried to imagine how I'd feel if I were nine, and lost my new wallet, my allowance money plus $5 from great-grandma for Valentine's Day, and a bracelet that I had made for her. "Oh no! What a bummer! And you just got that money from grandma! I'm so sorry about that."
4. Relating. This one was harder because it required not only bringing some serious humility, but also reliving an incident where I felt really sad and disappointed. It was painful, but I forced the words out:
"Remember when I went to Italy with daddy a couple years ago? Well, it was our favorite trip together ever. And do you remember seeing any pictures from that trip? Nope, you didn't. Because on the last day of the trip, I lost the camera. I think it got taken out of my purse when we were in a big crowd. I was so disappointed that I went back to the hotel room and cried for four hours. I could buy another camera, but I couldn't ever get back the memories in all the pictures I'd taken. I was so heartbroken."
She listened quietly. And I knew nothing else needed to be said. I had seen her and related to her as a fellow human being, flawed, and frustrated. Her mistake was unintentional, it was not disobedient, or defiant, and what she needed was comfort.
What comforted her was knowing her feelings mattered, and that she wasn't alone. You know, it does me a world of good to know the verse that says Jesus is able to sympathize with us in all our weaknesses because He lived on this earth too. He gets me. That concept means everything to me, on certain days. God knew that I needed empathy so badly that He sent Jesus to live here. Think about it. He could have redeemed mankind in some other way without ever having to step foot on our soil. But He showed up to be Immanuel, literally God with us. Talk about challenging, humbling, and painful.
And I'm just trying to follow His example, in my human, flawed, way.
Next, I'll talk about when the mistake my child makes is not so innocent.