“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
“As it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Left to their own, my thoughts dart around, raising my blood pressure and making me reach for another cup of coffee. Pinballing from child to child, to overdue items on my To Do list, to unmet needs and forgotten homework, to sports and tutors and appointments and ideas I heard and meant to incorporate, to conversations I meant to have, and friends I want to see — my mind swirls with passions and dreams wriggled up with the needs of the day and the weariness of my bones.
The honest way I navigate these blessed and beautiful and broken days – the way I grow and straighten out a bit of my twisted up places – it happens drowned in grace and one day and a time and almost never linearly. I experience breakthrough and setback, I remember truth and then I forget. I’m soaring with passion and then crushed with discouragement. And as I stumble through, I am ever in need of our unchanging, faithful God.
I wonder where you sit as you read these words, sweet mama. I’m imagining all the ways that you laid your life down in service to your family today, and what might be swirling in your mind and heart. I wonder if you are relishing in giggles or if you sit with a heaviness about your failures or disappointments.
If you hid in the bathroom for a moment of respite during the dinner hour, or if you had to check to see if the windows were open for that moment when everyone yelled things they didn’t mean…Sister, I am so with you.
I wonder if you are desperate to love this motherhood thing, but you haven’t slept in months, or you long for a nice dinner conversation, or defiance has you worn to the depths, or your child’s hardships have you tied in knots. I wonder if you have a tangled mix of excitement and dread for the summer ahead.
Maybe your mama’s heart beats deep today for a child grappling through school, a newly discovered learning disability, a troubling change in behavior, or a diagnosis that feels like a shattered dream. Maybe you haven’t felt connected, you don’t understand what makes them tick.
I wonder if you’ve had expectations, like I have — about ease in sleep or growth or health or school or friendships, that your children might love the things you love, or naturally connect with you the way you connect with others, that they would claim faith as their own at a young age, or behave in the way you’ve taught.
I wonder if you’ve found yourself- like I have – sometimes needing a bit too much from them, expecting to have a bit more control than reality allows.
In my last post, I shared about how my wrong expectations of myself and motherhood have sometimes chained up my joy. You can read more about how I’m finding that as I begin to release my expectations, and trust in God’s sovereignty, I discover a road of beautiful adventure and freedom with God.
But even more…the thing that makes my eyes blur and my soul quake… the thing that really makes me want to fight for truth is the way my unrealistic expectations can chain up my children, hurt our relationship and keep them from living in the joy and freedom they were made for.
Several years ago, it hit me like a ton of bricks that there was a fabric being woven by a million tiny interactions that I didn’t mean to have, weaving together a pattern and life and relationship designed by unfair expectations and too little grace. I was overwhelmed by my life and the house that needed cleaning and the baby that needed feeding and all the things I felt like I should be doing, and so I’m plopped my needs right down on the tiny shoulders of my children.
I found creeping into the corners of my heart this silent need for my children to fit in the metaphorical box I had made for them, taking up the exact amount of space that I had to give, which was sometimes infinitesimal…
The evidence was in my subtle disapproval over clothing choices because I didn’t want them to be teased the way I was, my quiet repulsion over table manners that I didn’t have the fortitude to endure with grace, forgetting to offer tenderness and back scratches when I felt like I was running on empty, too many words of correction and instruction and too few words of encouragement and blessing, unintentionally guiding my children to the activities with which I was comfortable, talking too much and listening too little, expecting my elder children to mature in accordance with my need.
As my capacity shrunk with each child we added to the mix, or each time daddy’s work schedule ramped up, I was shrinking the space for needs and moods and unpredictability that my children were allowed to have in our home.
I tried to fit my children’s needs into my life in predictable and methodical ways. I wanted their growth to be linear. I wanted their behavior to be ever-improving, their independence to be ever-increasing, their knowledge and understanding to be visibly multiplying. I wanted to know how much of me mothering was going to take today. I wanted the chores to be done because I had a plan, and I implemented it, and I needed it to work.
You and I both know, it doesn’t go that way.
We get them sleeping and then they stop. We get that behavior worked out, and then there’s a new one. They get over their separation anxiety and then it springs up tenfold. Friendships are working for them, and then they suddenly aren’t. We had big plans for the day and then a fever. They usually bounce out the door for school, but today they don’t want to go. You dreamed of football and he wants to dance. You imagined dresses and hair bows and she wants sneakers and t-shirts. Today he’s not sure about all this God stuff. Yesterday that joke was funny, but today it hurt. Family time feels impossible because someone is always punching someone. Reading just hasn’t clicked. It’s hard for him to make friends. Or maybe you’re a mama who just longs for the “normal” struggles because you can’t take a single day or milestone for granted with your child’s health or special needs.
Our children and their circumstances and their days are beautifully tragically humanly predictably unpredictable.
But with painful clarity, I began to see that my wrong perspective left no space for my children’s development to be messy and erratic and rarely linear, like mine.
High standards for our children can be a blessing that calls them into the fullness of their potential. But needing them to meet those standards for our sense of well-being is a dangerous game.
As I began to look beneath my constant barrage of corrections and frustration, what I saw in myself was fear: lack of trust that my children’s stories were the Lord’s, fear that there would not be enough of me to go around, fear that their behavior and performance reflected my failure, fear that they were not going to live up to their full potential, and it would be my fault. I think the struggle to extend grace seems to coincide with the place where our fear and shame rests — where we can’t let go.
I’m finding that at the core of most of the “needs” I have of my children, there is a lack of faith.
Though many parents share it, the need to control our children isn’t just a quirky part of motherhood to expect – at the heart, it’s a sickness of unbelief. Our earthly expectations become our comfort. When we try to stand on them, we aren’t believing God can walk our children through their own hardship and unknowns.
Our assumptions are not solid ground on which to stand, but there is a kind of expectation that is secure…
We can surely expect that God will never leave or forsake us (or our children).
We should expect that God gives us (and our children) ultimate victory.
We should hope with absolutely certainty that God is making all things new, in our lives and the lives of our children.
We should expect that any momentary affliction is preparing for us (and for our children) an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.
We can expect that God has good plans for us, and for our children — that he works all things for our good.
Though everything else is uncertain, our expectations and our hope rest securely in Christ. His promises are for our children, too. God sees them directly— not just through our eyes, but through His own Adoring Father’s eyes.
In this light, we are free to guide them warmly through change and failure. We are free to trust God’s handiwork on them, and believe He can handle their trials. We are free to shed our expectations, and begin to explore and discover them. We can stop striving, and we can look up into God’s heart, the One who knit them together and knows every hair on their heads, and apprehend His delight in them. We can step into the beautiful adventure of mothering one or a few of God’s people.
I have a renewed sense, the way I did when each of my children were newborn strangers that I long to study them, see God’s creative originality on them. I want to be introduced to the parts of them that scare me, to break them out of the comfortable box I put them in, and trek into the uncharted territory of their unique spirits and characters.
I’m still at the very beginning of this parenting journey — bigger failures, tougher decisions, higher stakes are ahead. But as I stand today, I am trying to loosen my grip on my plan, and let the far more creative and ravishing story God is writing for my children begin to unfold.
Trust in God’s covering is fortifying me, allowing me to be a more stable mom —to become a rock for my children to bounce off of through all of their volatile stages. I can be less emotional about the failures and surprises, and simply take the hand of my child and one step at a time, as God’s Word and Spirit lights our path.
If you need some ideas for breaking free from unfair expectations of your children, here are a few. These are some habits that are helping me loosen my grip on control, helping me walk in freedom to allow my children to be the mysterious and unique and beautiful unknown miracles they were made to be.
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Revelation 21: 5, 1 Corinthians 15:54-58, Philippians 1:20-21, Jeremiah 29:11, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18