When I was a young mother, I thought I had it all together. I was probably a little overconfident and obnoxious, but I felt like I was doing a decent job as a firm but loving parent.
My oldest is now entering the teen years, and I suddenly have never felt more out of my element.
He is stretching and testing and pestering and exerting his power over his brothers by using his sudden strength and size. Not to mention challenging everything he’s told, the sudden self-awareness and subsequent insecurities, and needing freedom to spread his wings outside of my watchful care.
I had never read a parenting book in my life, but after stumbling across a really great insta-story by @simplyonpurpose about sibling rivalry (which is intense here at times) and she suggested reading some books about it for more information, I practically ran to the library. OK, I drove because if I had run, my legs wouldn’t have been able to keep me upright once I got there.
A nice librarian showed me the parenting section, pointed me to the right Dewey Decimal numbers, and left me to my own devices.
I checked out a couple of books on sibling rivalries, and The Five Love Languages of Teenagers caught my eye. I grabbed that one, too.
(Since I had read The Five Love Languages when I was first married and really liked it, I decided to start with that. I have to admit I renewed it the two times I was able before I just bought it so I could finish it. But it really has helped open my eyes to what my learning and growing and maturing son needs.)
I also had never attended a parenting class before, but right about the same time, I saw an ad for a class put on by a local agency, and signed up the same day.
I was reeling in my inadequacy. I was reaching for any help I could possibly get. I was in tears many times after asking my son a (what I thought was) casual question or requesting he do a job for me, which turned into major confrontation.
I was lost.
And then I was reminded (again and again and again) that Heavenly Father is absolutely aware of my insignificant life. Not only did those two experiences fall into my lap just when I needed them, He brought it all together for me.
We had a great speaker in church talking about grace, a topic which I truly didn’t understand until now.
In Mormon culture, there is a story called The Parable of the Bicycle. I can’t really really summarize it here quickly, so click the link and watch the quick video about it. It’s worth it. Basically, if we put all our efforts into something and come up short, the grace of Jesus makes up the rest.
This same speaker then talked about another Mormon parable I’d never heard, which he called the Parable of the Piano Lesson.
Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher. Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something. What is it? Practice! Does the child’s practice pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child’s practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift. It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level. Mom’s joy is found not in getting repaid but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice.
God isn’t asking for perfection, He asking for continual improvement.
But what about when we rise to the bait our children set? What about when he reacts irrationally, and I in turn react irrationally to his irrational reaction and it all blows up? What about when he comes to me wanting to talk about something important to him and I give the wrong answer?
What about when I totally and absolutely fail?
When a young pianist hits a wrong note, we don’t say he is not worthy to keep practicing. We don’t expect him to be flawless. We just expect him to keep trying.
That is the sentence that rang true for me that Sunday more than anything else.
And because I am trying, putting more effort into understanding this stage in his life than I’ve ever put in before, even when I do mess up, the grace of my Savior is making up the difference. I’m putting in the practice, and He is making my efforts go so much farther than they could ever hope to go.
The child must practice the piano, but this practice has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change.
He is changing me, everyday.
As a parent, yes. That’s where I think I need it most right now.
But in every other possible way as I’m continually practicing at life.