the best parenting advice I ever received

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Texas sunshine warmed the kitchen table where we sat with our egg salad sandwiches. I was barely an adult, newly married with only dreams of someday-family; she had salt and pepper hair with a house full of teenagers. She told me of her middle son, the one with the strained relationship, whom they prayed and cried over, how he always came into their room when he was little, wanting to snuggle up in their bed. How he was often scared, and she would soothe bad dreams, but always sent him on his way. She told me it was one of her biggest regrets in parenting. Why wouldn’t they let him curl up in bed with them for awhile? What was more important than providing security and safety to their little boy when he needed it most?

This story impacted my parenting more than other other encouragement or advice I’ve ever received. I didn’t decide right then how I was going to parent; I didn’t even know when we would have children. All I know is every detail from that story, that lunch burned into my heart so I couldn’t forget it.

I didn’t forget it with my first sweet baby, I remember it still every time we parent new life, and we spend hours rocking, cradling, bouncing, singing until they fall asleep. I didn’t forget that story when my eldest did not sleep all the way through the night for eight years. I remember it now when my daughter wakes with nightmares and wants to crawl into bed for awhile until she feels safe again.

I am reminded more so than ever when my youngest son doesn’t ever come to us when he needs us in the night. He lies and deals with fears, hunger, sadness all on his own. Never crying out for us, never asking us to help reassure him and make him secure. His inability to reach for us in the middle of the night reminds me of my responsibility to my children, even as young babies. The responsibility I have to teach them that when they cry, I will come. When they hurt, I will help heal. When they’re hungry, I will feed them. When they’re scared, I am the one that provides them with safety and security.

I have to remind myself with frequency: this is a season. They will be children for too brief a time, and then it will be too late to build attachment and security in them. I get bogged down in my own desires and perceived needs, but let’s be honest, what does it hurt me to provide that for them, even in the middle of the night? I don’t need uninterrupted sleep more than my children need their mama to make them feel safe. What harm is it causing me to allow them to snuggle up in our bed occasionally? I’ve never once met or heard of a teenager sleeping in bed with their parents; this is just a stage. One during which I can provide something important and secure. I don’t need a ‘sacred marriage bed’ more than my children need us to give them security and love at a critical time in their lives when they need it most. (Side note: have you met people who practice a family bed? They often have several children. I’m thinking they’re doing okay when it comes to that sacred part of marriage.)

That day’s conversation, the one that that beautiful woman probably doesn’t even remember, taught me the most valuable parenting lesson I’ve ever received: I will never regret giving myself to my children in love. I will never regret sacrificing so that they can be loved, safe, healthy, secure. I am not going to be regretful of the time I spent holding them while they crying, snuggling with them when they were scared, sharing my bed with them sometimes when they needed it most.

What I will regret? I will regret every time I said no for my own convenience. I will regret every time that I did not lay down my own pride and my own selfishness for the sake of the little ones that God has entrusted to my care. I will regret every minute that I deemed myself more important than others, especially if those others are my children.

So, tonight, if my babies cry, I won’t just go to them; I will bring them to me. I will snuggle them. I will pray with them. I will lift them into our warm, cozy bed, holding them tight in my arms until they feel safe and secure. I will be the tangible presence of Jesus to my children. And I will breathe thankful blessings towards that mama who shared her story with me all those years ago.

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