“Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them…” Psalm 127: 4-5 (NIV)
I’ve wanted to be a parent for as long as I can remember. In fact, I was blessed by a special woman, Linda, who saw my “mommy heart” at the age of almost 11, and allowed me into her heart and home to help her with her three girls – a three-year-old and infant twins. I was privileged to help raise her children for three-and-a-half years before my dad’s job called us out of state, too many miles away. I had bonded so closely with her girls that when we would be out and about shopping or having fun, I was sometimes mistaken as the mother of whichever girl I was holding at the time.
Most of the jobs I’ve held have had to do with caring for children in one form or another. At the ripe old age of 20 or 21, I was a “mother substitute” to two boys in a residential home. It was my responsibility to buy their clothes twice a year and take them out for a fun activity once a week, to help them acclimate to social situations.
As with any form of motherhood, each interaction isn’t always pleasant. I remember one particular shift at the residential home when my co-worker and I had taken all seven of our young charges out for a morning of fun. We had promised them an ice cream cone from McDonald’s before heading back to the home if they behaved. All was going well until we actually got to McDonald’s. I don’t remember the inciting incident, but we ended up at a table with six children happily licking ice cream cones while one child was in timeout hurling words that sailors would be embarrassed to use. We were seated in the back but also happened to be next to a table of two elderly couples. I felt badly for interrupting their meal, but we were choosing to ignore the behavior of the child, as trained, while maintaining his safety. The couple, quite loudly, chose to teach us how to parent that day. “If you would just give him an ice cream cone too, he would be fine. No wonder he’s carrying on like that, being denied a treat like his brothers.” However, my coworker and I knew that giving him an ice cream cone would just teach him there are no consequences to breaking the rules. We cared more about his recovery and teaching lifelong coping skills than we did about the slight discomfort he experienced being denied one ice cream cone.
I’ve carried those same principles over into parenting my biological children. I love them so much I would rather deny them a small pleasure immediately while teaching a lifelong principle than give them a comfortable life in childhood but not prepare them for adulthood.
If you ask my kids the following question, this is the answer they will give you. “Is your mom your friend?” “No, she’s our mom.” It’s no secret to my kids, but I didn’t become a parent to be their friend or to feel loved. That isn’t their responsibility and friend isn’t my role. I’m the one that chose to be a parent and God is the One who blessed me with these particular children. My children’s mission is to learn to obey, respect, and grow into responsible adults. My goals include getting my needs for friendship, love, and security elsewhere.
My kids know that someday, when they are grown and on their own, I’d love for them to call me “friend.” For now, though, while it’s my job to train and guide them, friendship isn’t part of the equation. Mutual respect, listening, and compromising – yes. But as a parent, there will be times when a hard decision will have to be made and it will be up to me and my husband to make it. We will have to say “no” to things they would rather we didn’t, and “yes” to other things they would rather avoid. It’s easier to say no as a parent to a child than as a friend to another friend.
There is still plenty of laughter and fun and memory making going on in our house. It’s just not as friends getting together mutually enjoying each other. My kids are encouraged to make friends and learn the ins and outs of friendship with people their own age. My husband and I also have plenty of friendships with people our age…and our kids get to see us model what friendship looks like with our parents, their grandparents.
Someday I look forward to being able to share that type of relationship with our kids. I can’t wait for mother-daughter shopping trips where we stop for coffee (or milkshakes) and share mutually what’s on our hearts, or mother-son dates where we go see a movie or share a bike ride, adult to adult. We still do those things now, together as a family of five or individually with one or more child. However, it’s done within the guidelines of parent and child…moving toward the goal of eventual friendship. Until then, though, we’ve been given a job to do and we take that job very seriously, while sprinkling in some laughter and maybe an ice cream cone or two.
© Cheri Swalwell 2014