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Hope for Spicy Families

Hope for Spicy Families

Although it’s reductive, I categorize most families as either “sweet” or “spicy.” There are pros and cons to both, with tons of overlap on the Venn diagram, but still. In general, a family trends toward one or the other.

One guess which way the Hatmakers lean.

We are spicy people. We love obnoxious humor and sarcasm and are very, very loud. The lot of us suffers from Enormous Feelings, which makes us a passionate, emotional bunch. Our permanent default setting is exclamation marks!! We don’t really “do gentle.” We don’t actually know what that means.

So anytime I am around a sweet family, I have a crisis. It simmers until a comment from one of their children to another — “Sister? Would you like the last brownie? You take it since you did all my chores as a surprise for my half birthday…” — launches a watershed moment. Brandon knows this about me and has weathered the reentry numerous times:

ME: What is wrong with us? We need a new system for people to talk nicer in this house. We are raising feral children! Why don’t any of our kids knit? We need to quit raising our voices FOR THE REST OF OUR LIVES or we are doomed. Our kids are probably going to kill people one day. They are on dark paths to incarceration or street violence!

BRANDON: Street violence here in the suburbs?

ME: THERE COULD BE VIOLENCE IN THESE STREETS — we’re near the endtimes! We need to figure out how to be more adorable! Our kids don’t even know any hymns! How will we break out in spontaneous family worship? WWAVD? (What would Ann Voskamp do?) Let’s just throw in the towel.

Nothing makes me diagnose my family as “catastrophic” quicker than another family behaving — a terrible comparison game that isn’t even fair, as I’m not privy to their atmosphere beyond that one hour. Maybe that darling brownie-deferring sister gave the other a roundhouse kick to the temple the next day for calling her a turd burger. We don’t know these things, and it’s easy to reduce another family to a prototype to compare against our undomesticated family. The result is despair, then certainty that our children are ruined.

Is there any worry like parent worry? We are responsible for whole human lives here. This is it. This is their one childhood leading to one adulthood. They absorb all the hours in this home, emulating what they’ve seen, GOD HELP US. Every mother I know worries she isn’t doing this right, failing in countless ways, seen and unseen. Our family faults seem so egregious, omissions and breakdowns and missteps that constitute a complete and total disaster.

I heard recently, “If you are worried about being a bad parent, you are probably a good one.”

I wanted to believe this so badly. Am I? Am I a good mom? Because I mostly feel like I’m spitting into the wind here. Then something happened. I jumped outside my mind where the crazy lives and watched myself talking to my kids. I was so nice sometimes! I said sweet and precious things here and there! There were so many I love yous and You are very smarts and attentive Mmhmmms and Sounds awesomes and Great job on thats laced through. I watched myself be a good parent and realized I am my own worst critic and sometimes even a liar, convincing myself that nothing good is happening and it’s all my fault, or maybe Brandon’s fault, and the kids are horrid and we are a disaster.

I should ignore myself more often.

Why do we exaggerate our failures and ignore our successes? I would never overvalue another mother’s lows and neglect her triumphs, so why would I do that to myself? Why do any of us? We observe other parents’ strengths with 20/20 vision while our strengths are blurred. I declare your goodness as easily as I affirm my wretchedness; they are inversely proportional. I am conditioned to minimize your humanity and overemphasize mine.

Whether you are a sweet mama imagining how the spicy mamas have all the fun (not true: we’re mostly breaking up fights), or a spicy mama assuming the sweet mamas have all the tenderness (they don’t: they are mostly, um, I’m not actually sure, I’ve never been in a sweet family): if you are worried about being a bad parent, you are probably a good one.

Some of the good is obvious, the stuff we readily notice in others — the loving words, the endless attention, the eye contact, the praise. We read to our kids and tuck them in with kisses and use affirming parenting language and attend all the games/ recitals/tournaments/programs. We braid hair and tie ribbons and apply Band-Aids and pretend our kids’ art is pretty. We do all that, and it is good, and it counts.

Some of the good is less obvious, the stuff that also happens in every home — the apologies, the conflict resolution, the tough love, the boundaries, the making up, the hard lessons. We are molding failure into character, both our kids’ and ours. Every parent blows it. Every kid comes unhinged. Every family goes off the rails. That doesn’t mean we are ruined; it means we are ordinary. Course correction is standard. These moments often feel bad because they started bad, but they are actually good, and they count too.

This is my point:

You are doing a better job than you think.

Self-criticism sometimes improves best practices, but it can also lie to you and probably has. You may need to ignore your mind and watch yourself awhile — not just detecting the sharp moments but the soft ones, for I assure you they are there. If you would tell a friend having a bad mom day, “It’s okay! Your kids know you love them. Everyone loses it sometimes. Parenting is hard. Tomorrow is a new day…,” then you should extend that same compassion to yourself.

Listen, motherhood is not Knitting While Singing Hymns all the time. If that’s our standard and every deviation produces a guilt trip, we are doomed. Not every moment is big-ticket. Not every conversation with kids is esteem-building. Sometimes they just need to get in the bathtub and stop stalling. There is no shame in that. Motherhood has many slivers. Sure, sometimes we “intentionally parent” (quotation marks in honor of my mom, who says she and her friends just raised us but people of my generation “parent”), but we also manage, discipline, intervene, boss around, implement, and even just survive sometimes. We wear many hats and they don’t all include The Precious Feels. We don’t live in an after-school special; we’re running households here.

Condemnation is a trick of the enemy, not the language of the heavens.

Shame is not God’s tool, so if we are slaves to it, we’re way off the beaten path. And it is harsh out there, debilitating actually. If your inner monologue is critical, endlessly degrading, it’s time to move back to grace. Then we can breathe and assess our own parenting with the same kindness we extend to others. Only our overly critical, overly involved generation could engineer such carefully curated childhood environments and still declare ourselves failures.

We are loving, capable mothers reading the room all wrong.

Can I tell you my goal for my kids? That their childhood is mostly good. People, I declare “mostly good” a raging success. If I am mostly patient and they are mostly obedient, great. If we are mostly nurturing and they turn out mostly well-adjusted, super. Every childhood needs a portion of lame, boring, aggravating, and tedious. Good grief, life is not a Nickelodeon set. They need something to gripe about one day.

“Mostly good” is later remembered as “loved and safe.” I now label my childhood “magical” though Mom slapped me across the face when I was in seventh grade and never bought me Guess jeans and accidentally left me at church several times. Mostly good is enough. Mostly good produces healthy kids who know they are valued and either forget the other parts or turn them into funny stories.

You are doing a wonderful job.

Parenting is mind-numbingly hard and no one is perfect at it and we’ll all jack a thousand parts, yet somehow, against all odds, it will be enough.

And if stepping outside your mind to self-observe or planting your feet on a grace highway doesn’t work, come to my house for one afternoon and be guaranteed to feel better about your family, as you may recall how I told my then fifth-grader, after sassing off, to get a shovel, go in the backyard, and dig his own grave.

Because that is WJHWD.

Watch the Video for For the Love

Excerpted from For the Love by Jen Hatmaker, copyright Thomas Nelson.

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Your Turn

Do you have a spicy family? Or a sweet family? Do you worry you’re not doing it right as a mom? Take courage today that if your kids’ childhoods are “mostly good”, you’re doing a great job, Mama! Leave your comments on our blog. We want to hear from you!