Let's be real here, we all have expectations for our children to live up to before we've even seen their tiny, little (or 100th percentile, if you're in my family) noggins. For instance, I just KNEW that my first child would be the freaking smartest baby einstein this world has ever seen. Oh, you mean you don't expect your child to know the alphabet, count to 100, do a backflip, run for president, walk on water, and find the cure to cancer before age 1? Well, I do... or did. Then God slapped me in the face and said "Woman, love your children."
I don't know if it was just my competitive personality or the shame I sometimes feel from deciding to be a stay-at-home parent rather than a workforce mother, but I wanted my kid to be the best from the start. I wanted people to notice how hard I worked with my baby. I decided I would teach her baby sign language, read to her every day, help her memorize her prayers, and go through flashcards daily. Now, there's nothing wrong with doing these things with your kids or having the desire to educate them, but I've realized that I needed to be doing these things out of love rather than to gain pride for myself. It's impossible not to be proud of your kids' accomplishments, but to want the attention and praise that these accomplishments can bring is the opposite of the humility that our Lord needs from us.
Ever since my second daughter was born and I grew lazy with those initial "genius lessons" I had in mind, I started feeling guilty for not working as hard, for not putting so much effort into creating child prodigies. At the end of the day I'd think, what did I do with my girls all day? I was so unproductive, I often thought, and I would get really down on myself, feeling like such a failure. I'd let myself get overwhelmed and stressed, telling myself I was a terrible mother. In my heart though, I knew I was letting the devil get to me. I wasn't listening to what God was trying to tell me. Love your children.
Some nights I'd share these feelings with my husband and being the wonderful man that he is, he'd do his best to lift me up. He'd pray with me. He'd think of solutions. He'd remind me of how much our daughters adore me. That would always make me feel worse. I'd tell myself that I don't deserve their love, I'm selfish and lazy and not good enough. They deserve better. How can they love a loser like me and look up to me like I'm some kind of hero? That just made me feel all the more pressure. These girls are learning by MY example, and here I am showing them what it is to be a no good, lazy, crappy mommy. Deep down I'd hear God asking me, are you loving your children?
It took me some time, but I've come to realize what God wants most for my kids. Does He want them to become an inventor, a world-renown doctor, an olympian, a prophet, a famous Saint? I've got no clue. He's got all that covered. What He wants me to do is love... really, truly, love... my children.
He wants me to pray with them and for them. He wants me to hug and kiss on them several times a day. He wants me to read them books and thank Him for those precious moments that they are small enough to sit on my lap. He wants me to smile and laugh with them and teach them to share. He wants me to show them pictures of Him and tell them how much He loves them. He wants me to chase after them in the backyard and point out the silly-shaped clouds in the sky. He wants me to teach them forgiveness by apologizing when I've done wrong and offering solutions to make up for it. He wants me to show them what holy matrimony means by choosing to love their father day in and day out, allowing them to see how excited I get when he comes home from work.
He wants them to see me working hard in our home, accomplishing daily tasks without complaining, offering them up as acts of love. He wants me to teach them to rejoice in their own accomplishments, but more importantly to rejoice in those of others. He wants me to be an example of generosity by praying for the man begging on the side of the road and letting them drop money in the offering at church. He wants me to get up from the chair and dance along to my daughters' favorite princess songs. He wants me to care for them when they catch whatever sickness is going around. He wants me to accept their hugs and concern for me when I am sad and assure them that though some days are hard, others will be better. He wants me to take them to visit their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. He wants me to ask them for help and encourage them to do tasks they don't think they can handle. He wants me to believe in them but not allow pride to swallow me whole. He wants me to love and nourish my own body and tell them how beautiful they are each day so they won't believe the world's lies. He wants me to take them to Mass and Adoration throughout the week and bring them along when we go to Confession, teaching them that I am a sinner and that God has mercy on me.
Love your children, He says, love your children as I have loved you.
And so, that is what I must spend these days doing. Though in moments of weakness, I may give in to those sinful ways of thinking, I will remind myself of what's most important to Christ himself. My kids could grow up and not be the valedictorians of their classes, and that will be okay, so long as they have been taught how to love.