by Heather L.L. Fitzgerald
“Mamma, can I have that?” As you select a half dozen pairs of jeans and head for the dressing room, Toddler asks this innocent question, pointing to a stuffed tiger discarded in a bin of scarves like a stray cat.
“Not today, honey.” You steer Toddler forward and smile at the fitting room attendant.
“But I want the tiger!” Toddler stops walking and gives you her best mistreated face.
Newborn stirs in car seat.
You level your mom-gaze on Toddler and will your voice to be firm but positive. “You have a lion at home. Right now, Mommy really needs to try these on.”
Toddler stomps herself into the dressing room. You close the door, lock it too hard causing Newborn to jump reflexively. With deft movements, you tap the pacifier back into her mouth, set the car seat down, hang up the jeans, and proceed to peel off your stretchy yoga pants.
“It’s not fair.” Toddler has face planted against the mirror.
You sit on the corner seat, pants around your ankles. “Get your mouth off the mirror.” You pull Toddler free from her germ-inhaling suction.
“But lion told me he wants a tigerrrrr!” Toddler throws herself on filthy floor and flails arms against Newborn’s car seat, jolting Newborn awake for good.
“Stop. Now!” You snap your fingers for emphasis, rock the car seat with your foot—though it’s difficult with yoga pants stretched between your feet like fetters—and pull Toddler off the floor with both hands, planting her feet on the ground. Newborn’s startled cry increases in volume.
Toddler is limp which means she wilts in your grasp, pulling you forward. Attempting to catch yourself you step your non-rocking foot forward—a maneuver which fails thanks to said pants around ankles. With the grace of an off-kilter mannequin, you plunge headlong, sending car seat into the door and narrowly missing Toddler as you face plant. She wails loudly into the linoleum-encased room.
And then, with two children wailing on either side of you in stereo, you cry too.
Been there, done that?
With the best of intentions, I was there more often than I care to admit. Regardless of reading and putting into practice many a childrearing book, keeping the boundaries clear, and pledging not to discipline in anger, things often fell apart around me.
Especially with a special-needs child who didn’t give a tiger’s whisker about books and boundaries. He had his own ideas about being content as a little boy with autism and most often it did not include going with the flow in public.
I clearly recall being at a Ross store when he was about three and having the embarrassing shame of one of his meltdowns happen for all to hear—and (I was certain) to judge. Trying to comfort and calm him was useless. Spanking in such a state was counterproductive. All I could do was gather my son and my shredded dignity and make a beeline for the car.
Somewhere in that muddled mess, I felt the Lord speak to me. My distraught state was not over the good of my son, but over how my son made me look. When he behaved like that, it was a reflection on me, I believed. Though at the time, I didn’t know what was wrong with my little guy, I did believe something wasn’t right. We would later learn of his autism, but at the time I was doing everything I knew to do and still experiencing failure with his behavior.
If I didn’t get a handle on it, what would people think?
Until that moment, I hadn’t realized the source of my misery was myself. Wanting to prove my capability as a mother meant my children would be cheerful and obedient and, by extension, make me look good.
Um…no. This was such a lie. Recognizing it as such was very freeing! I repented for my selfish parenting and prayed that I would be able to give my children the grace that I also needed. Not that I would excuse their behavior or stop endeavoring to “train up a child in the way he should go,” but that I would stop “training up a child so that he makes me look successful.”
Although such a performance-minded habit took some time to work through, I slowly got past caring what other people thought and became more concerned with being obedient to what God asked me to do. The outcome would be in His capable hands if I could correct what motivated my parenting.
Did my children turn into well-behaved angelic poster children? Definitely not. But learning that we cannot control others, only our own actions and motivations, is a freeing way to parent and I’m glad for “the kindness of God that leads me to repentance.” The Lord did not shame me, He loved me enough to expose the lie I believed.
There have been many difficult days as a mom, with my son in particular. Days that had me picking my son up from school because of his behavior. Days that involved talking to the police or taking my son to a mental hospital. Ugly, painful, dark days.
But that early lesson stayed with me. When I found myself falling into that performance mindset, I would be reminded of Who was really responsible for my son—even his autism—and would be able to smile apologetically to others who may have been looking on, and then love my son—and myself—as we worked through yet another challenge.
Heather L.L. FitzGerald writes from her home in Texas while dreaming of being back in the Pacific Northwest where she grew up. She’s been married for 28 years and has four grown children and one grand baby (so far!). Her YA fantasy trilogy includes The Tethered World (OCW Cascade Award finalist), and The Flaming Sword (OCW Cascade Award winner), and The Genesis Tree. Connect with Heather on her blog and any of the social media sites.
Follow Shame on Shanty and be entered to win one of the books in Shanty’s October pile which includes Heather Fitzgerald’s Tethered World trilogy and Varina Denman’s Looking Glass Lies. Winners will be drawn from blog subscribers and announced on November 2nd. US and Canada only.