I found Jesus as child. I craved the peace that comes from Christ and I was pleasantly naive enough to believe everything beautiful told to me about my Lord. I am thankful that I was childishly naive and followed Him with unwavering faith.
But for a long, long time, even as a Christian who studied the Word daily, I was full of anxiety. I questioned myself, hated myself and spent much of my time being emotionally exhausted, from all this over-thinking. (Over-functioning anxiety is the turmoil that causes people to over-do, overcompensate and be overly bossy and critical of themselves and others. Under-functioning is the other type of anxiety, which cripples people, keeping them from starting tasks and keeps them in a shame spiral of feeling incompetent.)
From the outside, no one knew this was going on because I was "doing" all the things and I, personally, really didn't know how bad it was because I was in the trenches of it. This was my everyday life for years and years. Sometimes you don't know that weight of something you're carrying until you feel the weight of its release...
However, I have always been a mindful person with a strong sense of working towards being better than I was.
A better Christian.
A better steward of my gifts and finances, etc.
That same pattern was in my every move as a mother, but it showed up in a sour, negative way that I didn't see through my perfectionistic lens. My own driven nature was slowly choking the joy of my kids without me even seeing it. Part of it was religious because I did not have a humble perspective of teaching holiness. I was being self-righteous as I expected my children to adhere to my perfectionistic view of spirituality, too. (That's actually a different blog post of mine. It's called "Perfectionism & Spiritual Choking".)
Honestly, I have only told this next part of this story to a few people because it is embarrassing and a bit shameful. In hindsight, I am incredibly thankful for this experience but it still shakes me to tell it. I feel led to tell it because of the pivot it caused in my life. It was heavy and dark but it also marks the beautiful turning point for our home.
For the sake of context, I must give some details. Avery is my daughter who is now almost 10 years old. When she entered kindergarten, I was the art teacher at her school and my classroom was directly across the hall from her lovely kindergarten room, a place of delightful learning. She had a dedicated homeroom teacher who I knew would be great for Avery.
Having been an art teacher for several years, I had taught hundreds of kids. I had studied those kids and their home lives. I felt like I had figured out how to give my own kids the best home possible, along with a million other reasons that I can't list here. Education is incredibly valuable to me. Stability and security are right up there with trust and feeling worthy. I put in the time and effort in my home, teaching what I thought was most important for an excellent education: listening abilities, clear speaking skills, high expectations, perfect manners and holiness. However, I had no clue how off-base I was. More on this later.
Every day, I saw my child through the glass in her kindergarten door. I could see she listened intently, made good eye contact and had an incredible attention span. I would straighten up a little when I saw her because she made me so proud.
I would often check in with her teacher, assuring her that I expected consistent correction when Avery was out of line and that I wanted to be aware of any ill-mannered moments so that I could take care of it. I wanted her teacher to know that I did not want any special treatment for her just because I worked there. There's a long story to my reasons for being so firm but I really meant it. I had very good reasons as to why I felt so strongly about raising competent kids. I did not want to be too easy for fear of raisng kids who couldn't handle life, like many young people who have been protected from responsibility. I wanted my kids to be resilient, like I have been.
The teacher always had great things to say about Avery and I came to expect compliments. One day, something was clearly wrong. This teacher was bothered by something and her smile turned downward as she looked at the ground. I was immediately stressed and worried about what Avery had done wrong.
She hesitated. She fumbled through her words. I don't recall exactly what was said to me that day but it went something like this. "Avery doesn't smile..... Avery doesn't interact playfully.... Avery doesn't really know how to have fun. Is she ok? What's going on? Does she act happy at home?"
I stood there, frozen.
All at once, it hit me. I felt an invisible flood of vulnerability and deep guilt. This was my doing. I had made my child a robot. I had made my child a mini soldier, a hard-worker who didn't smile.
A beautiful little soldier in perfectly-matching clothes with perfect manners and perfect listening. I had taught her to behave like a responsible adult, rather than a happy kindergarten child. I had provided a stable, secure home that STILL lacked enough love and emotional nourishment for a thriving childhood.
I had passed on the straight-jacket of perfectionism that I hated living in, myself.
I had taught creativity and effort and education without the other half of the story: love. How in the world had I messed up like this? Was my view of fulfillment and a "happy" home that demented? Yes. It was.
After many days of reflecting on that hallway conversation, I realized I needed guidance. Thankfully, I was open to learning. For separate reasons that related to marriage, I found a book that helped me. I felt like the only idiot who had to be taught about love, even though I loved my husband and kids dearly. (I truly learned HOW to love when I read the 5 Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. You can find a link to the exact book on my resource page).
It took me some time to really comprehend the whole thing. I had been a pharisee, a religious person concerned about everything on the outside looking great rather than a heart that is pure and loving and abundant. I seriously was missing the whole point of the scriptures on love. I was not loving. And worse, I was oblivious on how to fix it until the "Love Language" lesson.
Looking back, most of my problem was anxiety because I truly was at war with myself every day. I was so worried about being a failure as a mom that I went overboard on these things. Obviously, these values are incredibly important. Kids do need to be able to all those things. But think of it like this. You can build a fancy car with all the bells and whistles. You can equip it with all the best parts and functions. You can paint it a beautiful color and shine it up nice. But until you put gas in that tank, that car isn't going anywhere. It will just be a beautiful object that can do nothing.
Humans have love tanks.
They work in the same way. We must fill the tanks first. You don't have to give up on teaching hard work and responsibility. You really NEED to help your child to develop these skills in this modern day. As a teacher, my best advice is to slowly give your child more opportunities to handle responsibility, like money management and self-management coupled with a willingness to learn new things. BUT DON'T NEGLECT THE GAS TANKS! You must fill the tanks with love. You must be sure beyond a doubt that your child feels that unconditional love and has a full tank! We are human beings who were built for love by our Creator. If you are like me, you need help. I had no idea that there was so much depth to love. Likely, anyone who comes from a slightly disturbed background is just as mixed up as I was. It is ok to admit that.
Now that I have been on the other side of this and Avery is the happiest child you'll ever meet, I knew that I needed to share this testimony. That's how we can overcome- the blood of the Lamb and the WORD of our testimony. This experience, which is still a work in progress, has lead me to a place, as a pastor's wife, that I didn't expect.
I feel so strongly about others needing these same lessons about relationships, especially related to the 5 Love Languages, that I am working to share more of my testimony for those who want to be better: anyone who truly wants a happier home but who needs practical guidance, scripture backing, an understanding of the misconceptions of love and why it matters so much to our testimony!
Beware. If you go around telling the world about Jesus but your own family has empty love tanks, you will be written off. Those who see you will think of you as self-righteous. Your testimony will be null and void. Jesus himself said that the world will know that you are my disciples IF YOU LOVE ONE ANOTHER. I pivoted. So can you.