Home » parenting » Toddlers and teenagers, through a mirror darkly

Toddlers and teenagers, through a mirror darkly

A well-meaning friend has brought to my attention that my children do not reflect the glory of God. Their behavior, the way they speak to us and the way they treat each other, does not befit that of a family who professes to love Jesus. (The wisdom of such a bold confrontation is another topic for another day.) Another friend, whose children (like mine) see through a mirror darkly, noted that the I say this because I love you should be reserved for “You have something in your teeth,” and “girl, get a lip wax, pronto.” My kids and my parenting are off-limits. We’ll leave it at that.

But apparently my kids, unaware of the confrontation, formed a coup and decided to show me just how darkly they see through that blasted mirror.

Good grief. I won’t even go into details of their so-not-reflective behavior. But I began to wonder if my well-meaning friend was right. I mean, I knew she was right—I am acutely aware of the ugly in my kids more than anyone. But do they really have to prove it—and in such magnitude and frequency?

iPods were confiscated, chores doled out, privileges revoked. And yet. What in the world ever convinced me I was qualified for motherhood?

One offender was dropped off at dance class, but not before rolling her eyes and slamming the car door. Another offender wrote a two page essay on using words which are encouraging instead of profane—complete with assigned Scripture references, thankyouverymuch. The third offender stayed planted in his room, supposedly folding his laundry. (Should’ve checked on him.)

When the essay was finished and the clothes were (supposedly) put away, I suggested a trip to the library because a) we needed a change of scenery, and b) I really needed to check out some books on exotic locations for Michael and me to visit. Alone. I am frightfully ignorant about the Mediterranean.

Turns out, the local library doesn’t open until noon. Yes, my friends, it was only 11:00 am. We are a family of overachievers: we pack in as much drama and dysfunction as we can before we even eat lunch. There oughta be a medal.

Thankfully, our library sits next to a fantastic park, and it was a beautiful spring morning, so we walked over. Nathan immediately noticed a brightly colored bounce house set up next to the playground.

NO. Sorry buddy. That’s for a birthday party. Did you hear me? You can’t go over there. I’m sorry. Do you understand? It’s not for you. It’s for the party. Got it?”

Just making sure. I certainly didn’t need any additional drama from misunderstood and unmet expectations.

No worries. My two boys spent forty-five minutes chasing each other, playing hide & seek and tag, while I sat on a sunny bench and looked at my phone.

Yes, I am THAT mom. The one ignoring her glee-filled children running and skipping and laughing so she can play Solitaire for a few blessed minutes without anyone talking to her. (I’m not the only one.)

I looked up from my game and saw a passel of three year olds running, jumping, swinging, squealing. Crying, whining, kicking, pouting. I miss those days. And I don’t. My own cherubs were precious little monsters. Satan with pigtails. Beelzebub in seersucker sunsuits.

They used to need me a lot. Once upon a time, they could do next-to-nothing for themselves. And, good Lord, it was exhausting. Park dates involved sippy cups and Cheerios, following them around, picking mulch out of their shoes as they howled.

Today, they run off and play, occasionally checking in. They pick mulch out of their own shoes. They find their friends, who run and play with them. And I sit and enjoy not being needed so much.

Meghan texted me to let me know dance class had finished and I needed to come pick her up. (They still need me a little bit.) I herded my rooster chicks and we left. No kicking and flailing. No I don’t waaaaanna goooooo! No running away. They both opened their car doors, climbed in by themselves, and buckled their own seatbelts. After picking up Meghan, we went home, where they made their own lunches and fed themselves.

No, I don’t miss the toddler years.

But then.

I remember his sweet toddler voice squealing “Look at me, Mommy!” as he attempted a somersault across the family room floor. And how she would crawl into my lap with a book, one I had memorized from reading over and over and over. Then we would finish, and she would jump up, bounce to the shelf, and grab another book. “Wead?”

And I remember the deep toddler belly laughs when I’d blow raspberries on his tummy, how he would laugh and laugh and laugh, and when I stopped, he would shout, “Again! Again!”

I look at my kids now: much taller, leaner, more aware. No chubby cheeks or pigtails, no grosgrain ribbons or sunsuits. She has traded her Mary Janes for pointe shoes. His favorite blanket—the one he dragged behind him everywhere, the one often transformed into a superhero cape—he shoved into a basket in his room, forgotten.

I remember the years between then and now, years of hurt feelings and trying to fit in, trying to figure out who they are. Months and months of confusing changes, the veil between innocence and revelation slowly lifted. Sweet mercy, we’re still in the thick of that. No, they don’t need me like they used to. I can sit in blissful silence, alone—but the exhaustion of navigating these waters throws me to the ground. I’m just beginning to realize that their angry outbursts, their rolling eyes, their arguing with each other and with us—all those things come from a place of deep fear. Help me, they cry. I’m terrified. Everything is changing, I am changing, my friends are changing, and I need to know you still love me. I need to know you’re not going to change. And, by the way, can you take me to Target?

And the emotional energy required of me to discern that fear and not to push back, not to lose my head, not to scream or run away…it almost makes me miss sippy cups and car seats and mulch in their shoes. It definitely makes me miss raspberries and blue blankies.

I have wondered lately if I’m going to survive these next years. If they are going to survive. There’s a strong likelihood that somebody is going down.

No matter what season you are in, toddlers or teenagers, we’re all peering through a mirror darkly, not able to see who we are not yet. We’re getting there, slowly. Inching along, we do the best we can. Some days it is enough. Some days it’s not. But that’s all we can do.

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5 thoughts on “Toddlers and teenagers, through a mirror darkly

  1. I’m right there with you girl! Glad I was there with you when we had to spot them on the playground equipment and when we would make a full loaf of pb&js after. I’m glad we had those days in the playroom with babies climbing all over us and asking us to read Dr. Seuss. I’m glad we were there together when we were figuring out how to get them to sleep through the night and stay in their beds at naptime.

    I’m glad we are together now too! This stage is just as exhausting…only in a bigger, very different, Lord please let them grow up to be productive and kind kind of way. All we can really do is keep loving them even on the Terrible No Good Very Bad Days! We can just have faith and trust that in another 20 years that they will all look at us and say “Thank you for loving me.” Because this may be the time that they are embarking on their own journeys with their own little cherubs….

    Love ya, sister!

  2. I am so thankful for the mercy and grace that is bestowed on us every minute of every day. I know that I–as a believing adult–do not FULLY reflect the glory of God and am desperately in need of Jesus’ mercy and grace. I am also thankful for your wisdom and honesty as you and Michael rear your children to know and love God. I am blessed by your willingness to serve, to be radical at times, and to be open to God’s leading. And, I am sure one day your children will say something similar about you.

    We (parents) cannot take too much of the glory or the blame for our children’s talents, gifts, or actions. Our job is to be faithful to God and to his commands, stay on our knees, and to push through our fears and inadequacies. Our job is to say, “thank you” to God when we see fruits of our labor, and to cry out “help” when there seems to be no fruit. Our job is to lavish mercy, grace, and discipline on our children. So, I agree with your friend. I do not know any children (or adults for that matter) who FULLY reflect the glory of God.

    I have not been around you in years Jennifer, but I feel certain (from knowing your character and from reading your blog posts) that you are doing a fine job with your kids. And, I belive you will see the fruits of your labor–sometimes in fleeting glimpses and sometimes in heart-swelling, ‘big-letters written across the sky’ kind of moments. And, I pray the same is true in my home.

    • Well said, Liza. I did some editing to clarify. “Fully” was a poor word choice – my bad! No, we don’t fully reflect anything, good or bad. We’re just trying to reflect more good than bad, and teach our kids to do the same, I guess.

      Thanks for your input and your encouragement!

  3. Thanks for this Jennifer! I believe that God has a purpose and a plan for my children that is far above my imagination, and I believe that I am not powerful enough in my insufficiencies to mess up his plan, and I believe the same for you and your brilliant children. A million times a day, I ask myself, “am I doing this right?”, and a million times a day I am afraid the answer is no. But you, looking in from the outside, would surly tell me something different. And I tell you now, from the outside, that you are an amazing mom, and yes you’re doing it right (with maybe a few mistakes here and there) and you inspire me to be a better mom and a better wife and a better daughter of God. Your kids are awesome and they will grow up to be awesome and their lives will glorify God. But not fully. Like all of us… that’s why we have Jesus. Love you! 🙂

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