I was sitting in the library surrounded by moms and toddlers listening to the lady at the front of the room read stories and sing songs in her oddly confident, semi-annoying baby voice. As always, I sat in awe of her — it’s as if she doesn’t realize adults are even in the room. But as it should be, each mom had eyes only for her child, ogling over how adorable he/she was, each wondering why all the other moms weren’t watching her child, convinced they were all missing out. Except for one mom.
I have seen her on a few other occasions and know this isn’t abnormal behavior; it wasn’t just an off day, an I-need-a-freaking-break-before-I-break-your-face kind of day. On many a Wednesday, I’ve noticed her scrolling through her phone while her daughter danced and sang a few feet away, occasionally glancing back to see if she was watching her. She wasn’t.
Last week we stayed in the kids area to puzzle for a bit before lunch. As there are only a few tables, we ended up sharing one with that particular mom and daughter. Charlee and the other little girl began working on some puzzles while the girl’s mother sat and read a book next to her. No big deal. But after a few minutes, I began to feel extremely uncomfortable. Over and over again, this scene played out before me: the little girl would toddle over to get a puzzle, bring it back, work on it for a second, get stuck on a piece, ask her mom politely for help, get ignored, ask her mom politely for help again, get ignored, ask her mom politely for help again. Then, her mom, with a frustrated grumble, would take the piece out of her hand, place it assertively in the puzzle, and say something to like, “Ya know, it really defeats the purpose of you doing the puzzles by yourself if I have to do the whole thing for you.” Then, as if she could hear my blood boiling, she’d add a monotone “good job” before getting back to the pressing climax in her novel. The little girl would finish the puzzle, wiggle off her chair, waddle over to the puzzle rack, and climb up the step stool so she could reach to exchange her puzzle.
In my passive aggressiveness, I awkwardly paced around the table and tried not to make eye contact. And now, in my passive aggressiveness, I am hiding behind my computer in hopes that maybe while scrolling through her phone today, she’ll come across this post. I know. I’m so bold.
I shouldn’t jump to conclusions. You’re right, I don’t know her personally. I’ve never gone to her house. And I must admit, I’m not innocent on the distracted mom home front. I have tried and tried to prioritize and re-prioritize in attempts to be ‘present’ for these delicate years. I will be the first to say it’s not easy. And what’s more, the second I think I’ve figured out how to be a good mother, I realize I’ve completely lost touch with myself, not to mention my marriage. It’s a nearly impossible balance.
I should mention that I am a firm believer in cultivating independence in our children. I agree that we live in a culture of hoverers, hand-holders, and “you are soooo special”ers. While hugs and kisses and kind words are good, so good, a slap on the butt and a “suck it up” is even better on occasion.
In this particular situation, though, I just wanted to slam her book down and scream, “MAYBE SHE DOESN’T NEED YOUR HELP! MAYBE SHE CAN DO IT BY HERSELF. MAYBE SHE JUST WANTS YOUR HELP. She wants to spend time with you and have fun with you. Right now, she’s little. There’s plenty of time for growing up and being big and independent. But the more you love her and hug her and show her attention now, the less she’s going to crave it later. And, ironically, the more independent she will be. See her. Really SEE her. Or she will try to be seen by someone else.”
Our kids may not need us to rub their backs at night or rock them a little before nap time or help them with their puzzles; maybe they just want these things. And sometimes, if a want is neglected long enough and quietly burrows deeper down into one’s soul, it turns into a need.
Every child wants to feel like their parents are captivated by them. They want to turn around and see us watching, our eyes glued to them. We are the providers of self-esteem and self-worth in these early years. Our words will either build up or tear down. Our words will be the words that prepare them for the inevitable middle school meltdowns, the pressures of high school, the charisma of hunky suitors (may they RIP). When others’ words are flying from every direction, ours will be the loudest because they’ve heard ours over and over and over again.
So may they be words of love and encouragement, confidence and foundation, hope and grace. May our words fill up every crevice of their bodies, every toe and every wrinkle until they collide into a beautiful love story between them and their maker. May our words be so abundant they’re overflowing, that those same powerful expressions of love escape their lips and pour into others. Because that’s what we’re here for, right? God is using us to raise up his vessels. Let’s give them the right words.