You try. And you learn. And you try again.
We had an wonderful Easter at the Ericksen household. We went to church. (Wisdom says a youth pastor shouldn’t play hookie on Easter.) We all got dressed up. My Wife and I figure we have a few years of dressing our Boys this way. Soon, they will refuse to dress up as “twins” as they will inevitably assert their “individuality.”
Of course, I hope that they find their individual passions. But, more than that, I hope that they will discover that they will never really be “individuals” in our common use or the word. Rather, I hope they will discover that they are “inter-dividual.” Their identity is formed by each other. At a most basic level, they are brothers, and for them to remain brothers, they are dependent on each other.
For the most part, they are very good to each other. When one is upset, the other will try to console him. It’s cute, especially because neither can pronounce his brother’s name quite right. The youngest has trouble with “r” and pronounces it as a “w.” The elder has problems with “g” and pronounces it as a “d.” That’s adorable.
Of course, their identity is not only formed by each other, but they are also formed by their parents. Which is a scary thing, when my Wife and I stop to think about it. Parenting is tricky business. We never know if we are doing it right. (What is “right” anyway?) Are we allowing them to watch too much T.V.? Is “time-out” a bad idea? What will others think of us if we can’t control them?
That last one really gets me. I’m always worried about what others will think of my parenting abilities. I fall into the trap of thinking my children are a reflection upon me. So, on Sunday, we sat in the last pew of our church sanctuary, just in case our boys got rowdy and we needed to make a quick exit.
I’m beginning to realize that my anxiety about getting it “right” affects (or rather, infects) my children. They soak it in. My anxiety makes them anxious, and our shared anxiety needs an outlet. The first time they said something on Sunday morning I “shushed” them with great vigor. That, of course, didn’t help. So, we tried to distract them with suckers and toys. That worked better, but it was noisy. So noisy that I thought people in the front of the church would be distracted by our boisterous children. I feared that we would at least get dirty looks from the people around us, but none came. Only friendly glances with smiling faces. A cynic might think they were smiles of contempt, but they weren’t. They were smiles of joy and welcome.
That’s what the church should be. A place of joy and welcome. So much of our world wants to marginalize young families – so we infect one another with dirty looks at restaurants, on airplanes, and in supermarkets. So we parents make up rules for our children and we “shush” them. We threaten them with “time-outs” and loss of certain privileges. Unfortunately, all of that has a harmful effect. Children soak up that negativity. Indeed, we all soak up the negativity thrown our way and pass it along to others. It’s infectious. And, as a parent, I know how easy it is to emphasize the negative as opposed to the positive. That’s why we need friendly glances with smiling faces. I need to remind myself that people aren’t critiquing my parenting ability. And if they do, it’s more about them than it is about me. 99% of my anxiety is unnecessary, and the remaining 1% is probably unnecessary, too. That 1% just makes the situation worse.
Which is why I’m glad that on Easter the church reminded me of grace. It reminded me that we don’t have to do it “right.” It reminded me that what the world needs is a good kind of infection. The infection of friendly glances with smiling faces.