When I was a new mom, I read that children go through periods of equilibrium and disequilibrium that last about six months each.
I kept hoping my daughter was nearing the end of a period of disequilibrium. After all, my sweet girl had been pushing all my buttons for months with expert grace, and she was about to have her birthday.
The only problem with that theory is that instead of things getting better after we celebrated, they got worse.
Imagine her writhing on the floor the other day while I held her ankles so she didn’t kick or hit me, hurt her sister, or break something. Also imagine me saying calmly, ridiculously, “It looks like you’re feeling angry right now.”
One does not feel successful as a parent while uttering calm banalities as a child tries her best to hurt you.
Of course, the same day, at bedtime, I moved my hand off her back while I lay next to her in bed, so I wouldn’t keep her from falling asleep.
“Mama,” she said, “Would you put your hand back? I like it.”
Oh dear girl, yes. Forever and ever, yes.
There in bed, struck by her sweetness, I considered also our struggle. I realized I had been looking at our period of disequilibrium as something to endure. As a time that—if I waited long enough—would go away. As such, I was offended when it lasted longer than I’d bargained for.
I realized that endurance was not working.
Or, at least, my definition of endurance was not working.
I realized I had come to the point where I wasn’t enjoying my child. Endurance, in my case, had come to mean a kind of cold tolerance.
Honestly, kids are like little emotional wi-fi receivers. I would not be surprised if my frustration only solidified her button-pushing. After all, if I felt only tolerated by the people who love me best, I’d probably be writhing on the floor, too.
But cold tolerance is not endurance. When we think of a work of art that endures, a rock formation that endures, we are talking about a thing of beauty that keeps taking people’s breath away. That speaks into successive generations with lasting power. That transcends a particular moment in time because of its wholeness.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need my parenting to be a work of art in every moment. I’m not going to be transcendent on cue. But I do think that focusing on beauty is a better approach than getting through this next phase.
When I am inspired by how I want them to remember my parenting, what life-long lessons I’m hoping to teach, I always get a little closer to them and try to see their beauty and vulnerability, writhing, or sweet.
The day my daughter both frustrated and enchanted me, I remembered again my call as a parent: to choose to come nearer to her. To examine whether I’d been getting down on her level, and enjoying her. To think intentionally about how to do so each day. To stop taking her growing pains personally and grow up a little myself.
I think of Paul, exhorting the church to put on the whole armor of God so we might be able to stand firm. Not coldly endure until Jesus comes back, but draw nearer in love to hurting people, be intentional about showing love to everyone around us.
The whole of creation is in a long, long period of disequilibrium. We are invited to draw nearer to that suffering—not simply wait, indifferent, for the struggle to be over.
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