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Parenting Grace

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An edited version of our family’s story about international plane travel, was shared on the TODAY Show media channels over the past few days. The unedited version can be found here.

In true internet fashion, the opinions were abundant, both positive and negative. Many had been in a similar experience, but many clearly had not and felt the need to call me "selfish” for traveling with my youngest, that I obviously did not know how to parent and my favorite "I needed to set clear expectations for him." After 3 boys, I practically have a PhD in setting expectations and handing out punishments.

What they did not know was this trip had been planned for months, before the first flight. We were traveling for my children to meet my husband's family and see where their father had grown up as a child. Fortunately, I was born with thick Irish skin toughened by years of victories and failures. It still may be unable to withstand sunlight without being lathered in SPF 70, but after 15 years of being a mom, it has become a shield for parenting opinions and criticism to roll off of.

The irony is the original article had two paragraphs which discussed not passing judgment on fellow parents and maybe choosing to replace it by offering grace instead. It costs absolutely nothing to extend grace to another person and at the same time, may mean everything to the person it is being offered to. It is certainly something that we could use a lot more of in the world.

I am a mom to 3 boys. I have 3 extremely different and unique sons. In all honesty, my oldest was so easy to parent from the start, it resulted in my own arrogance for a time. It is the reason I continued to have more children. My second proved to be a little more difficult and was completely different then my first and my youngest; I imagine God either saw me floating around in all my parenting arrogance and decided it was time to serve up a slice of humble pie, or knew I was going to be in need of some serious parenting experience under my belt, before parenting him. “Yup, she’s ready. Let’s put her skills to the test and send in number 3. Better yet, take it up a notch and make him willful and stubborn."

I received more unsolicited opinions and parenting advice during his toddler years, than his older brothers combined. Most of the strategies and parenting tricks I had used previously to raise his two compliant and rule following brothers, simply did not work. The advice being offered was always connected by the same theme – I must be doing something wrong.

Parenting is like running a relay marathon. We all have the same goal to get to the end, but we may not all be running the same leg of the course to the finish line. Each of us has strengths and each parent may stumble and struggle at different times. It isn’t always an indication that we are doing anything wrong, it may just mean that some of us are stuck running the uphill portion while others are able to easily pace on the flat land of the course. Even in an individually ran marathon, the person crossing the finish line last has worked just as hard as the runner who finished first, many times even harder.

Imagine if we approached racers running a marathon the same way mothers are approached and sometimes attacked concerning their parenting abilities. If the spectators spread along the race course offered criticism, judgment and opinions to the struggling runners ready to quit. "YOU ALREADY HAVE A CRAMP!?! YOU MUST NOT BE RUNNING RIGHT!!"... "YOU NEED A WATER BREAK ALREADY!?! I NEVER NEEDED A WATER BREAK THIS EARLY!! YOU OBVIOUSLY DIDN'T SET CLEAR HYDRATING EXPECTATIONS!!"..."WHY ARE YOU RUNNING SO SLOW!?! YOUR SELFISH RUNNING IS INTERFERING WITH THE PACE OF THE OTHER RUNNERS!!... YOU CLEARLY NEED NEW SHOES! KNEES TO CHEST, MARY!"

Spectators are strategically placed along a marathon course to serve as a constant cheer-leading section for all the runners brave enough to attempt such a daunting task. They are there to give them a nudge when they feel like giving up. They are there to encourage the runner running up hill they are almost to the leg of the race that is downhill. They are there to say to the one trailing behind, we see you and we are proud of your effort, keep pushing. And sometimes, when a runner has given everything and collapses before crossing the finishing line, a fellow runner, in recognizing the effort, has even abandoned their own goal to carry them to the finish line.

What if we applied this same marathon strategy to parents? When we see a parent stuck running up hill, we replaced opinions and judgment with grace. Grace costs absolutely nothing to offer, yet may mean everything to the person it is being offered to. When we see another parent losing steam and falling behind, we chose to slow our pace and run alongside them. When they are on the verge of collapse and ready to give up, we abandon our own arrogance, offer a kind smile and a back for them to hop on should they need a little help to the finish line.

I have learned more parenting my youngest son than any of my children. At times, it is a battle of our wills and stubbornness. He has exposed my control issues and forced me to allow him the room to be his own person. The most difficult aspects of his personality to parent, are the exact traits that will lead to his greatness. He was born to lead, not to be lead. Even though he was surrounded from birth by two brothers calling me Mom, he chose to call me "Shan", until he was just about 3 years old. I have accepted that he will always live life on his own terms and will never be easily defeated. He is not easy to parent, but I take pride in the fact that we are willing to learn alongside him and will continue to nurture the person he is meant to be. He is extremely charismatic and I pray each day he will understand the power included with that characteristic and use it to change the world for the better.

The results of our parenting efforts are not always immediately visible. We catch a glimpse now and again, but often a lot of our hard work isn’t obvious until our children are much older and begin interacting with the world independently.

Unfortunately, many continue to assume that a willful child who may take a little longer to understand their emotions and boundaries is a direct result of a lack of parenting. However, in many cases those parents are working twice as hard. Believe me, I have been on each side. I am lucky enough to have had the opportunity to parent two children with fairly easy going personalities first. I am also lucky enough to be humbled by a head strong, independent little wild card, so when I see another mom struggling I will never hesitate to say "I know it's hard, I have been there. Keep pushing, you are almost done running uphill. Let me tie those laces for you. Better yet hop on, let me help you to the finish line.”

Two years later he was the mayor of the plane and was sure to fist pump the pilots as a thank you and tell them they were doing a great job.


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