Learning to be still and trust God has been the most beautiful blessing. Although there are so many aspects of this change that inspire gratitude, I am most thankful for the way I’ve changed as a mother. Since Sienna is older, I’m seeing the changes play out in the way I respond to her most clearly.
Sienna is passionate. She cares deeply and articulates herself very well. When something upsets her, she expresses it.
When I was disconnected from the moment and trying to control my world, it bothered me a lot when she didn’t behave the way I expected. I’m not talking about misbehaving, more like not living up to my expectations. For example, if I announced we were going to do something fun and she didn’t get excited. Or, we went to an event and she pouted about something bothering her – her socks were rubbing funny, for example.
When my world was idyllic, (and entirely in my head), I needed her to act a certain way to make the picture fit. I wasn’t comfortable unless I was “happy” and needed my family to help me perpetuate the illusion of perfect contentedness.
Fortunately, I don’t think too much permanent damage was done. My awakening corresponded perfectly (divinely?) with Sienna’s growth from preschooler to “big kid” and all the emotional and mental changes that involves.
Now that I’m (mostly) living in the moment and embracing my own constantly changing emotions, I’m much more capable of riding out the ups and downs of my kids emotions.
This weekend, Sienna was frustrated and sulking when we started our (admittedly miserably hot) outing to the Safari Park. I calmly told her, “We’re here to have fun. If you choose not to have fun, that’s your choice, but you’re not going to ruin it for the rest of us.” Then I let it go. I didn’t try to cheer her up or overly engage her. Dennis, Teo, and I cheerfully entered the park, looked at the animals, and enjoyed ourselves. Within a few minutes she was excited about seeing a couple of little foxes in their den. When she started explaining to me what she thought they were doing, I enthusiastically joined in her story. Nothing was said about her attitude changing. I didn’t comment on her earlier behavior at all.
We’ve been having some tough mornings on the way to church recently. Part of the issue is our summer bedtimes (or lack thereof) as we’ve been staying up and doing fun activities on Saturday evenings, leaving the kids tired on Sunday morning. A couple weeks ago, Sienna was very upset with me on the drive to church. I can’t remember why, probably a clothing choice I’d vetoed or her brother got something she wanted. She didn’t come around when I made a couple reconciliatory gestures on the drive and when we slid into our pew, she purposefully sat next to Dennis and gave me a little glare. Instead of getting upset, I just waited a bit. When we stood to sing the opening hymn, I put my hand on her shoulder. When we knelt for Holy Absolution, I shared my hymnal with her. When we sat for the scripture readings, I put my arm around her and she cuddled in. We spent nearly the entire service cuddled together. We stood for the Gospel reading with my arms wrapped around her shoulders. During the sermon I ran my hands through her hair as she reclined in my lap.
Toward the end of the divine service, Sienna told me, “I love cuddling with you in church.”
“Me too,” I replied with a smile and a hug.
Nothing was said about her attitude that morning. Instead, I thanked God for the much overlooked power of touch. There’s such an emphasis on words and connecting with others through verbal expression in our culture, I marveled at the intimacy and power in simply embracing my daughter. We didn’t need to formally reconcile through words. Sienna knew that everything was fine when I put my arm around her and pulled her in.
Emotions are constantly changing, if we feel them. It brings me such peace to teach my children that their “negative” feelings are safe. They can be sad, angry, or frustrated. They can feel those emotions and express them and it never changes the way their parents feel about them. They don’t have to earn our love and affection by behaving a certain way.
This unconditional love is from Christ. It is how he loved us when he died on the cross and the way he continues to patiently love, nurture, and guide us. It’s pure grace. Giving our children the grace to make mistakes, express their feelings, and learn lessons the hard way is one way we can model God’s love for them.