My daughter was about 3 or 4 when she decided she didn’t like food. She didn’t exactly discriminate against all food, just most of the things I served up at meal times. I still remember the day she walked into the kitchen around dinnertime and innocently asked, “Mom, what are you making?”
“Dinner”, I replied nondescriptly.
“But I don’t like dinner”, was her honest and immediate reply.
And she was right. She didn’t like dinner. And she reminded us of that fact quit frequently.
In the heat of our early food battles I complained to my own mother about how hard parenting can be. But the problem with complaining to your own mom is that she will begin to clearly remember her own struggles with a picky eater. And that picky eater just may have been…you.
Oh yes, that. How had I forgotten?
There were many times when I didn’t like dinner either. I didn’t like peas or potatoes, especially the scalloped variety, and one evening they both appeared on the table at once. My mom laid down the law quickly, “You must eat two bites of each or you cannot leave the table.”
I weighed my options carefully and made a decision; I simply didn’t need to leave the table. Ever.
I watched my family eat cherry pie for dessert and I knew better than to complain. Peas and potatoes weren’t worth it. Exercising my 7 year old resolve, I spent the entire evening on our hard wooden dining chairs. And at bedtime I retired to my bedroom.
But around midnight my stomach woke me. I was hungry. Really hungry.
Quietly, sheepishly, I tip-toed to my parents’ room and told my mom my stomach was growling. This was unchartered territory for me – midnight hunger, waking up mama – I had no idea how this would play out.
Without of a word, my mom got out of bed and I scampered along behind her to the kitchen. I took my seat at the dining room table, no clue what I was in for. And with a sleepy smile my mom set in front of me the most delicious slice of cherry pie I had ever seen in my entire life.
My mom and I laughed as we remembered that story together recently. She confessed that was probably the worst parenting job ever. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. But when I look back on that story I see something different.
I see a mom who knew how to pick her battles, a mom who stuck to her guns when it mattered and a mother who hemmed the whole entire thing in with grace. I’m not sure we read about that often enough.
As a new parent, I wanted so badly to get the discipline thing right. I wanted to raise children who understood the word “no”, understood respect and obedience – good qualities, no doubt.
But now, even more, I want to ensure these kids of mine know that this whole entire outlook, every square inch of instruction and correction, the very framework of my parenting, rests on grace.
When I read through the Old Testament, I’m continually frustrated with the Israelites. Here is God, performing miracles, signs and wonders, promising good for their lives and they are continually forgetful and unfaithful. God is providing daily, serving up dinner and the Israelites aren’t much better than a continually complaining 7 year old. And yet when they are beyond themselves, when they cry out to Him, every single time He shows them mercy.
Correction is real. Discipline is real. But His grace is always relentless.
I understand now how hard this parenting job is – how I’m making so much of it up as I go, trying to make decision on the fly, raise responsible humans who understand a balance of discipline and grace from a mom who is tired and still learning and so very imperfect. I understand the tension of justice and mercy of consequences and forgiveness and quick responses.
But I also understand this. Sometimes our grace and mercy, can teach lessons that will reach farther, sink deeper, last longer, than our discipline ever will.
What a gift to have a mother who understood that, a mom who planted those kind of seeds in my childhood.
While I’ve long outgrown my days of being a picky eater, I still don’t eat peas. I still think they taste gross and smell weird. But somehow, as a mother, they serve as a sweet reminder. A reminder to pick my battles, to choose wisely and always leave space for a little cherry pie in my parenting.