Tuesday, September 03, 2013

BTS Series, Lesson 2


Sometimes I feel like sending my kids back to school is the equivalent of throwing them to the wolves.

Suddenly they are out of my care, my protection. I feel this most right after summer, when I've been constantly able to monitor them. Our days have felt safe and controlled.

It's tempting to let a number of fears creep in as a new school season begins. The 'wolves' on the schoolyard never seem far enough away. Naturally I want to protect my kids from negative things like bullying, exposure to foul or inappropriate language, and the kinds of things to which my child may be introduced through another child. But I also feel a reactive instinct to shield them from other negative experiences that school may bring, things like failure, rejection, and conflict with others.

My mama HEART wants my children to be constantly happy. It wants my children to be insulated from all forms of discomfort and injury. At the same time, my mothering BRAIN knows that kind of insulation is not only impossible, but also would not allow my children to grow into healthy, capable adults.

So I have this constant battle within. I think it's obvious God wired us with this inner conflict for a reason. Many good reasons. We are to provide protection for our kids in many ways, but also we are to ensure a supportive environment for helping them learn to cope with the harder stuff of life. And in my experience, every mother has one of these sides of herself winning more often that the other, and that can be a bad thing. Letting our protection instincts consistently win means we can become overly sheltering, rescuing our kids from discomforts of life that they need in order to mature.

It's a fine line, and it's hard to know when to step in and rescue our kids. It's hard to know at what age a child should be encouraged to handle one thing or another. And sometimes we have no choice. An unexpected tragedy could expose a child to pain for which they are in no way prepared or able to manage. Even on my best mothering days, I can't keep all the variables under my control. Does that thought alone send a little shiver through your mama heart? It does mine.

My daughter had a lot of very typical little girl conflict with other little girls in her class when she was 6 and 7. She was alone a lot at recess. She couldn't quite find a loyal friend (because how many loyal 6 year olds do you know?). Those years, she wandered around, felt lonely, and withdrew. It was so hard for me to watch. I tried conspiring with other moms to help her connect. Playdates came and went. But I grew to understand that much of the situation hinged on my girl and her personality; I could try to teach her how to be a friend, but I couldn't change the way she was wired, and I couldn't insulate her from the discomfort that came from how that impacted her school relationships.

I could, however, provide comfort. To be comforted is one of the most important needs our children have. We spend so much time worrying about how to protect them that I feel we miss out on the more important matter: generously comforting them when something goes wrong. And eventually, things will go wrong. You know it to be true. When a situation really goes south for one of my kids, personally I can get overwhelmed with my own feelings of anxiety and confusion, watching my son or daughter suffer. I forget that in those times, what they need most is not a rescuer; they need a brave and tender comforter. They need empathy. They need me to tell them that hurt is normal and some lessons come hard.

"Insults have broken my heart,
and I am in despair.
I waited for sympathy,
but there was none;
for comforters, but found no one."
Psalm 69:20

We know a couple of marriage counselors from our CA church, authors and speakers in their field, who report that only 1 in 10 adults can recall a difficult time in their childhood where they were comforted by a parent. 1 in 10. That is a scary statistic, in my books. We are all at risk of being parents who focus more on rescuing from pain and less on comforting through it. Thankfully, the Bible gives us some guidance on the matter.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5

God is actually teaching us how to be comforters whenever we ourselves are comforted by Him. Jesus is the best parent ever and this is what He says to his son Simon Peter in Luke 22:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

My mama heart races with anxiety at this passage. Jesus - again, the best parent ever - is not even glancing in the direction of rescuing Peter from Satan's assault. Could you say that to your child? Because if I'm all powerful, I'm thinking I'd say, "Hey, Satan wants to throw you down, but I had my three best angels kick his ass!" Yes I just wrote that. I'd make a really bad Jesus. I mean, how do YOU feel when your kid gets pushed down at the park? I know how. You think of all the acceptable ways you could regulate on that other evil child who dares lay a hand on your precious baby.

Instead, Jesus does not rescue. He offers encouragement. Comfort. And guidance for Peter's future. Right after this scene, Peter betrays Jesus three times and endures what was likely one of the most painful failures of his life. Jesus knew that was coming! And I can guarantee it was incredibly difficult for Him to watch his son suffer so much. We'll never know how this series of events impacted Peter's ministry. But the Bible gives us a good glimpse of what a powerful witness for the gospel he became.

Though my mama heart feels panicked at the thought of stopping myself from rescuing, my mama brain understands. Kids need to grow into healthy adults. And it will take a lot more than eating vegetables to get them there.

Insulation is best left for coats. In a Montana winter, I hear the ones filled with down are best. But we simply can't insulate our kids from all pain and suffering. If you are following Jesus day by day, you'll know when to step in and take action. The Holy Spirit will give you the sense that you should do some rescuing, make a change, or hold someone accountable for his or her actions. But that decision will not and should not be driven by fear. It should be driven by Jesus. He knows how best to parent our kids, and really, we can't make wise decisions in parenting without hearing from Him first.

I'll sign off with the prayer that's in my heart right now:

Lord, help me to stop myself from being a fear-driven parent. Help me to trust you more, to make wise choices in my mothering, and to be more of a Jesus-driven parent. Help me to seek your counsel every day. And remind me to comfort my children when their hearts are broken with the comfort you've shown me. Thank you so much for being the best parent ever, a perfect model for me to imitate. And thank you for making me brave. Amen.

{footnote: I didn't learn how to truly comfort my children until I read this book. Before that, I think I was not only afraid of them having negative experiences, I was afraid of them having negative feelings too. So I marginalized their feelings, said silly things like "Everything will be fine," and didn't truly hear their broken hearts for a few years. Giving comfort is not putting a band-aid of happy words on a wound. It's looking directly at the wound, validating how much it hurts, and not asking it to heal any faster than it needs to.}



  1. wonderful post. Its hard not to rush to our kids defense and its hard to not want to be there to make everything better for them but as parents we have to raise adults and an adult you have to be equipt with the ability to be confident in caring for yourself. Its hard! You seem like you are doing an amazing job and looking to the right places for guidance.

  2. Leslie, I just wanted to let you know that I've enjoyed your Back-to-School series, and some of your other recent posts. I'm actually a radio DJ for the local Christian Station in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. And, I've shared snippets of your blog and the thoughts you've shared here, on the air with our listeners. Your perspective is so honest and real, and very relevant to moms everywhere. So thanks so much for putting this out there!
    - Shelby Lynn