O Heavenly Father, make me a better parent. Teach me to understand my children, to listen patiently to what they have to say, and to answer all of their questions kindly. Keep me from interrupting them or contradicting them. Make me as courteous to them as I would have them be to me. Forbid that I should ever laugh at their mistakes, or resort to shame or ridicule when they displease me. May I never punish them for my own selfish satisfaction or to show my power. Let me not tempt my child to lie or steal. And guide me hour by hour that I may demonstrate by all I say and do that honestly produces happiness. Reduce I pray, the meanness in me. And when I am out of sorts, help me O Lord, to hold my tongue. May I even be mindful that my children are children and I should not expect of them the judgement of adults. Let me not rob them of the opportunity to wait on themselves and to make decisions. Grant me with the bigness to grant them all their reasonable requests and the courage to deny them privileges I know will do them harm. Make me fair and just and kind. And fit me, O Lord, to be loved and respected and imitated by my children. Amen.
This prayer hangs in a tattered old beautiful frame. It is featured alongside quiet pictures of praying children in the back of a church sanctuary. It is found in a tiny little special room, enclosed in glass. You can tiptoe in any Sunday morning and be enveloped in the soft scent of baby powder. It hangs sweetly in the “mother’s room”, the place where mother’s take their adorable bundles during a church service.
As a mother who has experienced many such a room in many churches across the country for the last 15 years of child-rearing, this is one of the most peaceful. I have paced in the narthex, I have baby-bounced in the back, I have watched TV church while in the distant nursery, I have chased the toddler through the hallway, I have spent time-outs in the office, and I have waited out meltdowns in the bathrooms. A space for parents to be a part of church with a little one is truly a blessing. And so, I love this little room, except when I actually have to use it on a Sunday morning.
I would leave our comfy pew during a worship service not because it was time to relax in the mother’s room. No, it would be because a little selfish sinner baby was screaming her head off. Of course I would struggle for a few minutes at our seat, shoving cheerios in her cheeks, shaking toys over her head, shhh, shhh… But ultimately, we would go to the “mother’s room” when the situation became too distracting. I call it the “cry room” because this more accurately describes what you will actually find inside.
Needless to say, by the time I get to the point where I must retire to the cry room, I am exhausted. I’m not just frustrated with the curious little one who can’t sit still for more than 10 minutes (most of us can’t). I have had a long week of this. Chasing, teaching, up at night… all I need is a little rest. All I need to hear is a little sweet word of relief. I even know where to find it; I can see the intense contemplation on the faces of my brother and sisters who are just on the other side of that glass wall. They hear it, they taste it, and they are renewed.
But then, as if to mock my tired and weary heart, that Parents Prayer stares harshly down from the cold white wall. Teach me to listen patiently… help me O Lord, to hold my tongue… Make me fair and just and kind. And fit me, O Lord, to be loved and respected and imitated by my children. Check, check, check, fail.
I cried for three months at that prayer. It told me again and again things of which I was painfully aware. I get it, I know the words want to make me a better mommy. But as much as I prayed them, I only saw more of the things I did wrong throughout the day. It didn’t make me better. It actually made me see how bad I have always been.
That prayer still hangs in a cry room, but it also hangs around every caring mother’s heart. Unfortunately as I found out, those words will not heal your selfish, mean, and unjust relationship with your children. It focuses us squarely on the problem, ourselves. When we are really honest, we can’t keep these terrible habits from creeping into any of our relationships. When we slack on even just one, we are guilty of breaking them all.
I long for that word of comfort; it is a word outside of my own dark, evil heart. It’s not a prayer that focuses me on my evil deeds or on my abilities to overcome evil. This word comes from one who killed evil; He smashed evil’s head, so it could not have power over me. This word comes from one who was drowned with all of my bad parenting decisions only to inhale life into my motherly love.
If we want to pray this prayer, we must conclude it with the answer we so desperately need:
…Make me fair and just and kind. And fit me, O Lord, to be loved and respected and imitated by my children.
But when I fail at being your gracious reflection, please forgive me. Remind me that I am your precious little child, adopted because of the brutal sacrifice of your true son, Jesus. Also grant my children this comforting trust in you, so that they may be bold enough to forgive my mistakes. Our family will endure together in your Truth until your glorious return! Amen!