Last week Crystal left a provocative comment on my “Mama’s Smile” post about smiling at one’s children every time they approached you. “I would love if there was an update on this (will you be trying this?) just to see how doable it is and how it affects our environment, relationships, mood, etc.” At her prompting, I decided to undertake the endeavor and commit to spending a week intentionally doing this. Here’s what I learned: I stink at it.
It wasn’t that I forgot that I was supposed to be smiling at my kids when they approached me and then realized at the end of the day that I hadn’t. No, I remembered alright… I just didn’t smile all that much anyway. When I was having a good day or feeling pleasant, I did it just fine. But when I wasn’t, I found that it was really hard to force myself to smile at them. It just felt so fake. At times I didn’t feel like it and found I couldn’t muster up the effort to actually follow through on the thought.
That’s when my hypocrisy hit me square in the face. See, I’ve been working with my son, age 3 1/2, to improve his attitude – seeking to train him that his emotions and moods actually are under his control and that he can adjust them. Example: a sullen attitude and pouty face aren’t acceptable, even if he is obeying. This because I agree with Elizabeth Krueger when she writes (referring to Col 3:8) : “Yes, you can change your emotions [with the help of God]. You are not a helpless victim of hurt feelings, irritability, and anger. We can and must learn to alter our tempers and deny our feelings, when necessary, and teach our children to do likewise.”
But here I am, finding myself unable or unwilling to smile at my children at times, just because it feels fake and I frankly don’t feel like it. Working with my son to remove the speck in his eye while I totally disregard the plank in my own… Pretty convicting to come face to face with that. Likewise the Christianity Today post I wrote about whining about my son’s whining. How easy it is for me to see and correct my children about an issue while failing to even notice the same issue in my own life.
My friend Katie brought up this topic months ago – the pull between training our children in selflessness while sometimes being self-focused in that very process – and I actually didn’t know what she meant at the time. (I know, obviously this is one that God really needs to work on me about!). She clarified, saying, “I struggle to know when I’m responding to my kids out of my own sin (often selfishness) or out of a right desire to correct their sin/selfishness. Or what to do when it’s both—and whether I can do address both problems at the same time… I often find myself searching my own heart about whether I’m truly seeking to lovingly parent them or just fulfill my own agenda.”
How profound. She’s basically saying that she sees her own hypocrisy at play in her parenting and is striving to work against it. Her basic example: kid wants a drink and asks mom to bring it; mom says “if you’d like a drink, please come in here to get it;” kid does so. On one hand mom is training kid to be respectful of mom and her time and act independently. On the other, mom was busy and didn’t want to be interrupted to meet kid’s request. This type of scene plays out 50 times in 50 ways daily. A quick example of my own that leaps to mind? Activities that kids want to do with me – play x when I want to get y accomplished so I direct the activity toward y instead. My selfishness trumps theirs because I’m the mom.
I’m certainly not saying that we should start second guessing ourselves about our every little interaction with our kids. Of course there’s a balance. But all this causes me to ponder… and to pray. I need to be rooting out the sin in my own life as I parent. This means being aware of it and, more profoundly, being humble. God give us all grace to see and remove our own planks as mother!
As for me, I’ll start by praying about the smiling thing and see where God and I go from there…!