love you good or bad
The post below is from my wife Amy. Since this blog is dedicated to encountering God in the everyday reality of life and we frequently talk about what God is teaching us through parenting, she will be a regular guest writer on my blog.
A good friend of mine told me about a grocery shopping trip with her little girl, Janie. It was truly a revolutionary story for me, one that changed my whole parenting tone and communication strategy with my kids. Sweet Janie is one of my favorite kids – she was born over a year before our oldest, so she was one of the first babies with whom I had ‘hands on’ time. She also has a very strong and determined personality – so one day when she was in Trader Joe’s with her mama and didn’t get her way, started to throw an EPIC fit. And kept throwing the fit, while my friend (who had her other two kids with them as well) walked up to the front to pay for her groceries firmly holding Janie’s hand. Janie kept trying to throw herself on the ground, wailing and screaming for the entire store to hear. If you are a parent, you’ve probably had those moments before too. If you are not a parent, you’ve probably judged parents having those moments – at least, I know I did before it was my turn.
At the front of the store, my friend got more looks and glares from fellow shoppers and felt herself very, very near the end of the rope. Seriously, what we do in these small moments as parents is so defining! And it’s not always pretty, but what my friend did is one of the reasons I will always look up to her as a mom full of grace. She picked Janie up, hugged her as close as she could, and began to whisper to her, ‘Mama loves you when you’re good and Mama loves you when you’re bad. Mama loves you when you’re good and Mama loves you when you’re bad.’ Over and over, just like that. Janie went limp in her mama’s arms for a minute or two while they paid, silent, contemplating. When they got outside she was back to herself – she cheerfully apologized to her mom and they went home without any more drama.
It’s been months since my friend told me this story and it comes into my head at least once a day. I’ve started saying these words to Brighton when I am feeling frustrated with his behavior – Mama loves you when you’re good and Mama loves you when you’re bad. Some of his behavior is simply not what I would choose (asking me to buy him something over and over after I’ve said ‘no’ ) and some is truly bad (knocking his baby brother’s head into the wall). But either way I repeat these words to him, hoping that he’ll know this unconditional love before he knows my frustration.
And then there are the moments when I have my own temper tantrums – usually over something small, but always something that made me feel small and insignificant. In those moments I have begun to hear God whispering to me that he loves me when I’m good and loves me when I’m bad. I’ve had some of my lowest lows since becoming a parent. The struggle with post partum depression and balancing the needs of small people with my own needs has found me wanting over and over – and at times things have been very out of balance. And in spite of myself, actually even because of myself, God reminds me of his love.
So the story comes full circle. This morning my younger son, Everett, was overly hungry for breakfast and was throwing all of his brother’s toys around, and generally making himself a nuisance. Brighton’s response? He looked his brother in the eye and said, ‘Everett I love you when you’re good and I love you when you’re bad. Let’s get you some breakfast.’ Amen.