Going anywhere with three boys aged between two and five years old is rarely simple or quick. In fact, some days if I’m not in the frame of mind to handle the challenge we simply stay home.
This morning, with no advanced warning, I ask the boys to get their shoes on. They eagerly obliged, which is normally their reaction. I had some errands to run, so not feeling up to the task was not an option.
At Walmart – as I routinely stroll with two carts through the store, pushing one and pulling the other behind – several people made comments. One remarked, “You won’t see men doing that!” Though I’m sure there have been plenty of fathers who have trudged through a store with an engine-caboose-cart-train hauling three boys. Another sought me out to comment that he just “had no words.” “I have so much respect for you.” Another woman commented, as I turned the corner with ease, “You are super-mom.” And she quickly added, “They are so well-behaved.” “Why do you think they are in the cart?” I replied with a sly smile.
It would seem easy to take these comments conceitedly, but I know the truth lurking behind our facade as we seem to perfectly and smoothly stroll through Walmart. No, they were taken as encouragement for this struggling mom. Most days I struggle. I struggle in the home; I struggle taking the boys out. This is not a plea for pity and it’s not because there aren’t any good moments or that I regret having them so closely aged (though God had more to do with that than us). But it is a continual struggle to keep a good attitude and patiently guide them, whether we’re in the boundaries of our home or out amongst the public eye.
I just pulled all three boys out of the carts right inside the exit and ask them to wait as I put the carts back. I turned around to grab the two hands which were beside me as my two-year-old took off out the door, running across the pedestrian walk. I yelled “Stop!” A horn honked. I immediately was upset. He did not have to slam his brakes; he had plenty of time to stop. I called out, “Why are you honking? You are supposed to stop for people crossing.” “Your kid ran out in front of me!” was his irritated reply. Words were exchanged, ones I would later upon reflection consider a little rude. A lady walking in chimed, “You should’ve had his hand!” Thank you for pounding my head further into the sand, Ms. Passerby! And while you shout out your disapproval allow me to whip out my third hand so all three of my boys aren’t running ahead of me into a crosswalk in front of law-required stopped vehicles.
I constantly struggle to bite my tongue. Thank the Lord He shut my mouth before I commented anything back to her!
And I cannot expect a two-year-old to fully grasp the importance of not running out in front of a car, yielding or not. They see a goal and they run after it. We’re constantly working on it – to stop first and look for dangers, every time we go out and even around our own house which is located in town. As much as I’d like them to have it all together and never mess up, they are three little independent souls, who strive to exercise their freedom to make their own decisions. And much to my dismay they are not always the most thoughtful, respectful or obedient decisions.
It hurts my pride as my parenting is questioned. I responded defensively as if I was being falsely accused of breaking a million-dollar relic. Sadly, mine was not the most Christian reaction. It’s so natural to activate the battle alarm and retaliate by shooting blame darts at our enemies, or really anyone who threatens or questions our identity, our reasons or our dignity.
Sure, they can condemn me for not having his hand, but I have three boys and only two hands. Sure, I can continue pushing them in the carts all the way out to the parking lot – have you tried to straddle a cart full of boys, or two carts if you have merchandise in the other, between two vehicles without losing one of the carts as it rolls away or hopefully not into the vehicle next to you?—because I have! They do normally wait to walk out with me. But not this day. No, this day God needed to teach me a lesson. My prideful, wounded heart cried, I guess I got too much encouragement because my parenting was slammed into the ground by two others. But that’s not searching for the lesson; that’s just a selfish rebuttal.
Maybe the lesson is… Just as my two-year-old is to wait for me to cross the walk, so should I be waiting to respond. The driver and I immediately reacted negatively. We need to be careful that we don’t assume we know them or their situation!
“At least you don’t have twins or triplets!” I’ve heard several respond to my juggling three busy boys. “I had seven boys!” another retorts. While one family has one child and another has twelve and many of us fall somewhere in between, each has their own set of challenges. None of us have walked in another’s shoes.
The man in the car saw a little child running seemingly without a parent by his side and he jumped on the horn in a false conclusion. He assumed he knew me – appearing as a neglectful parent – and knew the situation. But he didn’t know I had two other boys by my side and that, in fact, I was right behind at the exit door actively pursuing and calling to the impulsive child. He didn’t know the rough morning I had leading up to this incident nor my daily scrutiny as I muddle through raising my tiny little men.
And I assumed he was just in a hurry like the rest of the world, impatiently honking as he saw an easy opportunity to vent his frustration, but perhaps he was simply having an equally rough morning. I assumed he didn’t have kids, or if so he must’ve forgotten everything about raising them. I expected that he would be understanding and forgiving of a little child who has a free will and clearly the ability to disregard authority.
But instead painfully my parenting got pounded into the ground.
Are we so critical and preachy that we can’t offer mercy and kindness to a child screwing up? This was not in a highway full of racing traffic; this was a crosswalk, where pedestrians have the right away and drivers are required by law to be yielding for any person, whether six-foot-tall or a darting toddler. Have we set the bar too high for our children that we only expect perfection? This is absolutely not to say we should be negligent on training them, but to accept that they will mess up – we as adults certainly do! – and to be there instructing and supporting them when they do. There are plenty of situations in which a parent needs to be confronted on their lack of discipline or involvement in the situation, but there’s certainly a more beneficial and encouraging method than blurting out condemnations. And if I was terribly in the wrong, kindness and understanding could’ve been shown.
Either way, we both jumped to conclusions and judged without knowing the other’s point of view.
So, where do I go from here?
I think the best thing to consider – because I am diligently working on the obedience of my children – is to better react to conflict, which takes a tremendous amount of effort as I consistently keep my mind steadfast on Christ, and to better assess the conflict afterward.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in my – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Think on these things. Filter all things through the lenses of these verses.
Pray. Consider the source. Evaluate their comments. Sort out the truth from the lies. Take to heart the constructive criticism and disregard the useless. Make changes if necessary.
Remember those first three encouraging comments I received? Yeah…they have faded far behind the negative event of my running child. Oh, and let that be a lesson for us too. Compliments are way too infrequently spoken. If you have something nice to say, please say it! If you have something negative to say, consider first if it’s helpful and necessary.
Life is full of setbacks, but continue on the path which leads to Christ. Every test, pass or fail, is an opportunity to learn and grow. So let us take it as such.