Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Woman Walks into a Crowded Room and...

If I were to walk into my local mall at lunchtime on a Saturday and shout at the top of my lungs: "FIRE!" until everyone was properly worked up into a frenzy, I would surely be arrested.  And rightly so.  Making people doubt their safety, forcing hearts to beat fast and legs to scatter for no real reason, is criminal in our country.

I have often thought about this when I listen to "experts" speak on motherhood.

See, you take a room full of moms--even worse, new or particularly young moms--and tell them what they should be doing (and throw in the fact that if they aren't doing it this way they could irreparably damage their children), all they're going to think is: I am not doing that.  This will play on a repeat loop throughout the talk.  Oh no, I am not doing that.  Uh oh, I have said that so many times to my kids, and you just said that if I say that, my child is in for it.  Their hearts will beat, their legs will itch.  Anxiety will creep.

Don't get me wrong.  These speakers, I believe, have nothing but the best intentions.  They want to educate, to assist, to prevent! They would say, "I am not walking into the crowded room yelling 'fire!'  I am walking into the crowded room yelling, 'WARNING!  DANGER AHEAD!'"

But so often, the speakers shout "Fire!" when there is no fire and "Danger!" at the wrong things.  This is what irks me.  No, this is what angers me.  You see, we are being trained to react to fire when there is none, but when there really is a fire, we couldn't sense it if it were burning up our pant legs.

On this particular day, the speaker wants us to get our pens.  To listen carefully as she gives us the exact phrases we should use to address our children:  Say "like", not "love" when your child does something that pleases you.  Say "good", and not "proud". There are also some hefty examples thrown in of clients she's had that have been damaged because the parents made these exact mistakes with their words.   I understand what she is saying--we should encourage our children and be precise with our praise: "We like the good things you're doing", not, "We love you because of the good things you're doing".  She is saying that words are important.  I agree with that.  Words are powerful.

But the power of words comes from the fact that our words reflect our hearts.   While some of us have better heart-to-mouth filters than others, for the most part, we say what we feel and what we really think.  However, manufacturing words--being trained to say certain phrases over others--scares me.  It scares me because it detaches us from what our hearts are actually saying.  If I am taught to tell my children one thing, and I say it faithfully because I know it's the right thing to say, I may lose my ability to discover that my heart is not in the right place.  I am believing that the "fire" is in my words and that by changing my words, I am preventing the fire.  In reality, it is my heart that needs the change, and if I don't work on my heart, I am apt to be standing in the middle of a blazing furnace before long.

What if, that day, the speaker had gotten up in front of us moms and said essentially the same information, but gone to the real crux of the matter?  What if instead of just telling us what to say and not say, she had asked, "Ladies, when you tell your children that you love them because of what they've done, is that what you think in your heart of hearts?"  I imagine that for some people, that is what they feel--and that is a problem!  They can rearrange their words all they want, but unless they do the hard work of figuring out how to change that dangerous heart attitude, it will all be for nothing.  And isn't the heart-repair work something we need help with much more than the word-repair work?  After all, children are perceptive.  Even if you avoid telling them that your love is contingent on their actions, they can tell so easily when your heart toward them isn't all right.

Just like....if I love my child unconditionally but, after she does something particularly amazing, I happen to react with, "I love you so much because you did this so well!" is not a capital offense.  Everything will be okay.  You know why?  Because my heart and my actions all tell the child on a daily basis: I LOVE YOU NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO.   My words are not as precise and exact as they should be.  But my heart?  It shouts much more loudly.

As mothers, we have got to stop allowing people to come in and scare us with their fiery warnings.  The truth is that we're not going to do this motherhood thing perfectly.  We are going to mess up.  A lot.  Our kids are not going to be spared, either.  They are going to be hurt by us, they are going to be damaged by us, and they will inevitably grow up and wish we had done some things differently.  But that is okay.  That is being human.  We have an obligation to do the absolute best job we can, to love our children, to think about how we're doing things, to constantly try to do better, and to take all of our shortcomings to God.

And that is all we can do.

1 comment:

Karen said...

I love this. LOVE LOVE LOVE this. So true. It is a terrific reminder for me in a culture of "shoulds" that my heart is the most important area to address. Everything else does flow from there. The guilt that comes from these "shoulds" can be immense and overwhelming. Thanks for the reminder!