Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Dying to Self like a Mother

I had a middling, weary day of parenting this past Sunday, which would be nothing noteworthy except that it was Mother's Day. I don't pay tons of attention to these kind of big days, but at the end of a long and undistinguished Sunday I would have liked my slice of cheesecake that had been sitting temptingly in the fridge all day. I was not the only one tempted; some child snuck enough of the cake that there was not enough for everyone. 

It was particularly disheartening because the culprit has been struggling with being truthful, and whenever I think it's finally behind us some little lie crops up and smacks me in the face. I hate lying and dishonesty with a passion, more than any other vice. It makes me feel so very low to see someone lying reflexively about something that's patently obvious. But I also know that yelling and endless lectures do little good, and much harm. So in the end it was decreed that no one would have dessert, because there was not enough anymore for everyone. Tomorrow, if it was still untouched, we'd parcel it out somehow.

As I nursed a headache after shepherding disappointed, ranty children through the bedtime routine, another child turned up to tell us, with emotion, that we had been too harsh in our punishment of the culprit and exposed that child to ridicule and it wasn't good discipline. This child, of course, had neither been on hand for the initial incident, nor knew anything of the lying problems we had, because it isn't that child's business. And so, Mother's Day featured another unglamorous aspect of mothering: people think you should be merciful when you need to be strict, and strict when you need to be merciful.

If parenting has any power to make a person into a saint, it's because it is a constant immersion in reality. You must pivot or perish. Your idea of your child -- and I don't mean your idea of a child, but your image of your particular child -- must constantly be tested and measured against the real complex human in front of you, and your idea must give way. Your methods must be tested against truth and reality, and both truth and reality must triumph over your preconceived notions (no matter how recently the notions were conceived). Your parenting philosophy means nothing if it cannot withstand the heat of your actual child and the light of what God asks of you. And God asks you to die to self, every day, every minute, every millisecond, to let the shell of your ideals and dreams and petty fantasies crack open so that something better and more divine can take root. You cannot grow without dying to self, and you cannot nurture your child without letting your illusions decay into fertilizer, which is mainly what they're good for.

We are approaching the end of our school year, thank God, but really we ended a few weeks ago, when it became clear that we had to face some of our illusions about our homeschooling process, and let them fall to the ground and die. Darwin and I had been trying to push our kids through an intensive reading program that would have been ideal for the bookish and driven kids that we were. Our kids are not us. Elementary, right, and yet it's taken us years to come to grips with this. For the past few weeks, we've dropped everything but daily readalouds and intensive Khan Academy for math, because it's external and I can easily check that the work is actually getting done. 

Failure? No. Failure in homeschooling or in parenting is continuing on rigidly with the same program regardless of the evidence that it's not working. Failure is an inability to pivot. Failure is refusing to die to self and let something new take root. Failure is pushing your children into a mold and punishing them for not conforming to it. 

And thank God, it's almost June, and like the billions of cicadas about to descend on middle America, we are ready to cast off the shell of our old self and spend all summer outside, screaming.


mandamum said...

I just judged an NCFCA speech yesterday where the teen explored success, to come up with a good definition for true success. After pointing out how worldly success has many problems, and can be unreachable in certain instances, she said success on God's terms is persevering through whatever He gives you to do, and making it to the other side. I really liked her suggestion. Of course, St. Paul said it first, but it is good to hear it fleshed out again.

On my kitchen cupboard door I have taped up a little bit our pastor shared about St. Junipero Serra, our parish's patron. St Serra apparently told a companion that they must lay in a good store of patience, charity and good temper, "for we may find ourselves rich in tribulations...." Me too.

I sympathize with you about the lying and sneaking. I have some here too, and just as it seems to be finally giving way to both greater maturity and (maybe) greater virtue, it comes back in some spectacular way and grinds us all down again. Recently the behavior has been *shared* as an adventure with the next sibling down, possibly training up the next Dread Pirate Roberts.... NOOO!! (My mother finally gave up and put a padlock on one of her kitchen cabinets to keep various sweet things belonging to others safe from an unknown culprit when I was growing up, and it was only recently that my adult sibling 'fessed up. At least it made a nice little storage spot for our wedding rings before the big day!)

Unknown said...

This post speaks to me. we are with our last child at home, a teen, and he is ever so much one to delay work and sigh big sighs when we give consequences for tasks not done. Parenting is *hard*. I love reading your blog. Please keep posting them.

Agnes said...

Oh, I'm repeatedly there, too! When one child (teen) speaks up against my current idea of dealing with another child's misdeeds. And also, that our children are not us - how challenging it is to find ways to give them what I received, but in new ways adapted to their personality and situation. Thanks for the call to... pivot an persevere at the same time, I think. And to remember about the dying necessary to bring forth the fruit.