The doctor checked my son’s vitals: Blood pressure, heartbeat, eyesight, ears.
Rafael sat patiently while the doctor completed her examination, occasionally asking her what she was doing, or to explain the instruments she was using.
She asked him about school. About home. About his sleep. About his food habits.
“I don’t eat junk food anymore,” he declared, his face solemn.
The doctor laughed, deep from her belly. “Well, if there is one place you are going to say you’ve given up junk, it’s here!”
I laughed too. “I’ll remind him of that declaration when he wants chocolate chip muffins for dinner.”
The doctor pronounced my four-year-old healthy for his age and progressing nicely in development. We left the doctor’s office and went to Starbuck’s for a cake pop for him and a latte for me.
So much for Rafael’s resolution.
And so much for winning at parenting.
Maybe Rafael was just trying to assure the doctor, in his own little way, that he was fine, that I am fine, and we are okay because we love each other? Maybe he was trying to make me feel better about my parenting abilities? Maybe he was trying to sneak by the doctor’s usual orders of “Eat your greens!”?
Maybe I’m giving my four-year-old too much credit for having the self-awareness to know what an “underlying motive” is?
Ever since I entered the dizzying world of parenting, I have been overwhelmed by the amount of books, articles, websites, columns, products, podcasts, and random conversations there are about how to be a parent. I’ve never been a rebel. I’m a rule-follower. But, good grief, there are so many rules to being a parent.
It all starts whenever you become pregnant.
Rule 1: “Don’t gain extra weight while pregnant.”
Rules 2-4: “Let your baby self-soothe. Breastfeed for at least 6 months. Sleep when the baby sleeps.”
Hm, mm. Sure, I’m listening.
More Rules: “Plan play dates. Make sure you buy organic foods, or better yet, always make your own baby food. Put them on their tummy for 5 minutes, rotate them for 3 minutes, and then back to the tummy for another 3.5 minutes. Repeat 47 times daily.”
Additional Rule: “Research schools now — you don’t want to miss out on a good one! Start a college savings account now — get him off in life on the right foot! Don’t let your kid eat chocolate for breakfast. Don’t let him watch more than 24 seconds of TV each day. Do practice the alphabet at every waking moment so that he is ready for kindergarten. You don’t want him to fall behind the other kids!”
My head hurts now.
I’m not saying any of the experts’ advice is good or bad. I’m saying it’s exhausting.
There is this passage in the book of Luke, right after the birth of Jesus, where Mary and Joseph take a trip to Jerusalem to perform their purification rites according to Jewish law. A man named Simeon approaches them in the Temple, takes Jesus from them, and prays a long blessing and prophecy over the Child and his parents.
I can see Mary in my mind’s eye. Her eyes are bright yet worn around their edges from lack of sleep and miles of travel. She has weathered cold nights, slept on dirty straw, and fed her newborn while smelling fresh cow manure. She has seen bright angels and leather-skinned shepherds. She has followed her new husband from a small town to a big city, just to perform an old ritual with birds who pooped on her robe at least twice since they’d purchased them.
Frankly, she is just plain tired.
Now, this old man, a stranger to her, has taken her baby and is holding him up to the light streaming through the Temple Courts.
Does she yell at him to give the baby back? Is she thankful for the break to her tired arms? Does she zone out while the old man prays?
Then, Simeon looks right at Mary and says, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel.”
Because God knows what a tired mother needs, Luke further writes, that after Simeon’s words, a lady named Anna also approaches Mary and gives her words of blessing about her son.
Two blessings back to back.
There it is.
Hope for her days. A promise of a bright future. Knowledge that all will be well.
Peace rushes through Mary. The love she feels, fiercely and protectively, over this child steadies her feet. The words of encouragement buoy her through the long years ahead of her.
I am surely not the only one who is wrung out from being pulled into the next “top 5 things your toddler requires to grow” or “how to plan the most amazing, life-altering playdate with your 4 year olds pals” article on the internet. Most days, I just want to curl up on the couch and let my son fling his Lego’s across the living room while Paw Patrol episodes play in the background for the 4 millionth time. Then I want to eat noodles and butter with him, find the Hidden Pictures in the latest printing of Highlights for Children, and then chase each other until we can’t breathe.
This is how I want to raise my son. To be strong and to be kind. To be healthy and to laugh. To pray and to love. To eat vegetables sometimes, and to always brush his teeth before bed. To love soccer and to be accepting of football. To skate on ice, and maybe to play T-ball.
But you might raise your son or your daughter differently. With other patterns. With special traditions. With varied interests.
We aren’t experts. We know that.
The truth is, we are all just trying our best. We are people, flawed and mistake-riddled. We are cast down at times, but not destroyed. We are perplexed, but not in despair. We know that we are in fragile vessels, and we need God’s power in us. (See Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 4)
So, instead of another article to scroll through on how to raise an amazing child, what we actually need is more Simeons and Annas. People who are going to hold our children close in love, pray over them with passion, and then look us in the face with words of blessing. People who, if advice is offered, are giving it in love. People who have knowledge of you and your children and aren’t hankering to pronounce judgment on your every action.
I want to be a Simeon or an Anna in someone’s life. For me, this means holding my tongue instead of offering unsolicited advice, listening quietly to another parent expressing their struggles, or offering to hold a baby for an exhausted new mom. It means words of encouragement are integral to my vocabulary. It means prayers are held with hope in my heart for all our little ones. It means I see beyond the stress and the unknown and the uncertainty to see the future God has for our children: one of joy and promise and peace.
A few weeks ago, Rafael cupped his hands around me face, and said to me,
“Mama, you fill my life.”
Let’s cup our hands around each other and say, “You fill your child’s life with love and grace and peace. God’s got you and them.”
Let’s keep our tanks fueled with love, and grace, and acceptance.
Let’s pour over each other with prayer.
Let’s speak blessing after blessing over every exhausted parent in our lives, because they need that more than advice.
Let’s believe our children, by God’s grace, are going to be just fine.
And, maybe, just maybe, let’s enjoy a teeny tiny bit of junk food.
Rafael and I won’t tell anyone.