My four year old needed my forgiveness big time recently. She had an epic meltdown in Hobby Lobby last week over a candy/toy contraption in the impulse-buy section at checkout. I have heard plenty of horror stories about such tantrums, but hadn’t ever had the pleasure of experiencing one myself until Monday. The story here is not the cringe-worthy behavioral performance of my middle child, so I’m not going to go over all the gory details. However, the incident included an older gentleman audibly sucking in air through his teeth with eyebrows raised, so when I say the meltdown was epic, I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who thought so.
In the car after the hissy fit, I let my daughter know calmly but in no uncertain terms that her behavior was unacceptable, embarrassing, shocking and incredibly hurtful to me. She was already in tears – angry tears – but when I talked about my hurt, her anger melted into sadness. You see, this child of mine is an emotional roller coaster. She is never indifferent. It’s either the best thing or the worst thing and she feels with incredible intensity, both the happy and the sad. She CANNOT handle knowing that she is out of favor with me. I don’t usually exploit this fact; manipulation is a tactic I try to avoid in motherhood. But as I sat there in the car, still blushing and upset from what happened in the store, I was having this conversation in my head:
You know what? She NEEDS to feel low right now. It’s good for her to wallow in guilt for a minute. This is an appropriate punishment for how she just treated me. She is not allowed to act like that and if I need to hold her at arm’s length for a little bit so she knows how bad her behavior was, SO BE IT.
Now, I’ve long thought that parenting is one giant exercise in character refinement. I’m not referring to the instruction I give my children. It’s me who needs to grow. I couldn’t learn these lessons – I couldn’t identify the depths of my own weakness – without all these children to expose me. So there we were in the parking lot, me deciding to let her sit in her guilt for a minute while she was weeping. Then she tells me, “I am SO sorry, Mama! I was the rudest, meanest girl. I don’t know why I did that! I’m so sorry. I’m REAL sorry. I feel REAL sorry in my heart. Not fake sorry – I promise! I will never do that again!” So much pain and so many tears. I was wondering if my strategy was maybe working when she said something that made me call it off immediately. Through passionate tears, “Mama, and I will tell God that I’m sorry one million times! Do you think He’ll forgive me then?”
I parked the car, turned around, and held her little face in my hands. “Of COURSE He does, Baby! And it only takes one time, Love! He forgives SO easily!”
I’m not trying to get too preachy, but talk about a refining moment for me. What was I teaching her about love, about God, about me and forgiving? Here I was purposely holding her at arm’s length – withholding my forgiveness – primarily because I was angry and hurt and embarrassed. In reality, it had less to do with her and more to do with me. When she made me reflect on forgiveness with her question about God, I realized that I want and need to forgive easily. Guilt is a natural consequence of bad choices, but it is never my duty as a mother to pile it on my kids. I want them to live free and light – forgiven. Certainly not struggling under the weight of guilt and shame.
We’ve recovered from the whole debacle and everyone is fine again. Despite her best efforts, sooner or later my sweet second child will once more need my forgiveness in a big way, but I don’t doubt the earnestness with which she made her promise in the car to never hurt me again. Next time, and every time after that, I pray my forgiveness is free, forthcoming, abundant, and lavish. The bigger the hurt, the farther the forgiveness needs to extend. I hope to be up to the task.