God tests us in a myriad of ways, and one of his biggest tests is parenthood. Children are inherently innocent, and their minds are sponges, absorbing everything around them. As they grow and develop, they become what we model. It amazes me sometimes — no, all of the time — how my 16 month old son picks up on words my husband and I say, the actions we make, and the behavior we show him. It’s delightful really. But it can also be stressful.
One of these stresses is the knowledge that everything you do has consequences in his life. Will he take that playful bop on the head I did with that stuffed toy while saying, “Boink!” as an OK to hit someone hard with a toy later? I was just trying to make him giggle! If I show him that I’m frustrated after he throws everything I just put back on the bookshelf onto the ground again, is he going to get angry easily later as an adult? If I take away that sharp pencil he found on the floor by the desk away, is he going to think he can take things away from people too? Does he think I’m being mean?
When I taught fifth grade, one way I always described my relationship with my students to others was that it was symbiotic. Just as my students and I were dependent on each other to learn and grow as students and educator, my son and I are mutually dependent on each other as well. He actually teaches me how to be a better human being while I try to teach him the good habits my husband and I wish to instill in him.
As that innocent child in front of me, I see through him traits God wishes us to manifest. My son can be patient. He watches what I am doing intently. He is inquisitive. He takes new objects and examines them until he is satisfied with how they are put together. He is generous. He shares his blueberries and grapes — one in his mouth, one in mine. He is loving. He puts his arm around me when we are together. He is thankful. He smiles with his four cute teeth showing when something pleases him. He is happy with the little things in life. He gets excited with his favorite toothbrush, shoes, or jacket.
The tests come through the stresses of daily parenting. Taking care of a child takes over one’s life. I have to consciously make an effort to NOT get frustrated at things being dropped, messes being made while I am cleaning up, the sleepless nights, the incessant scratching due to his dry skin, and the inevitable unbearable “teething” screams.
I keep coming back to the thought that this is hard. How did our parents survive this? Why is it that I cannot, for the life of me, take care of my house and my child like all other moms, including my own? Perhaps I forget that it takes years of practice to do so. My expectations of myself are possibly too high. I need to fix something at the core.
This little human being knows no better, he just wants to explore, and keep himself busy. When he is hurting, he needs comforting, and is expressing his frustrations the only way he knows how. He’s not a monster or out to make my life miserable. His smiles make me melt and his laughs brighten up my mood. But how can I handle trying to keep my life in order with this one year old? The one who is glued to my leg, slowing me down, as I’m trying to frantically pack for our trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains?
I need to be even more patient than I already think I am. Just like waiting in line to be helped at the store or DMV or spending eight hours stuck in an airport in another country after the airline cancels your seat, each spill or mess or attachment to my leg while I am trying to do something pressing is a test – and I need to learn how to rise above getting upset or stressed internally more than anything. I need to be patient at a higher level.
During lunch today, my son dropped his glass of water twice. I could see someone getting angry at their child over something like this after a long day. I could envision a child being screamed at. While I wouldn’t go that far, I could have said his name. But he did not do anything on purpose. I had two towels nearby. I did not internally get upset. I did not say anything to him – I just cleaned it up without fanfare.
It is not always very easy in the moment, but I have to remind myself that these types of situations are God’s tests. The mere identification of them as tests reframes my reaction to them, and makes me want to pass them. Just as I am preparing him for his future, perhaps these tests are preparing me for mine.
Shazia Ansari is part of the altM staff.
(Photo Credit: Sean Dreilinger)