A couple weeks ago my four year old daughter went to the dentist and we were told that she had a cavity and possibly two. She is our third child and the first one to have a cavity. I got in the car and immediately my eyes filled with tears. I realize that you may think I am crazy, but I am going to continue to put myself out there and share this story. You might very well be asking yourself why I would cry over something like this. My husband didn’t even really understand my tears, but ultimately I felt like I failed her. I knew the reality of her being our third child; things have been much more relaxed. She got juice and treats at a much younger age. In addition, when we started homeschooling a few years ago, our nighttime routine got a bit relaxed. I wanted relaxed, don’t get me wrong, but it was almost to a fault. My husband’s schedule for the past few years has been very demanding. He gets home late and travels often. Homeschooling allows for a more flexible lifestyle and one of the things we have cherished is that the kids can have this time with Dad whenever he gets in for the night. This means that many nights there have been late bedtimes, in exchange for time with Daddy. With the late bedtimes, came a lack of routine; which at times included baths that were missed and teeth that were not brushed. After spending the entire day blaming myself for the cavities, I decided that there had to be a happy medium between a strict night time schedule and no routine. We immediately began implementing a routine at night again that was flexible but consistent. The story doesn’t end here.
As recommended, last week we followed up with the pediatric dentist. I was in complete shock to find out that her x-rays showed that she not only has multiple cavities, she needs to get a crown put on one of her teeth. Feelings of failure and inadequacy overcame me. I questioned all my abilities as a mother. I became upset and frustrated all over again. It was truly a spiral of emotions. I was so sad that my four year old would have to go through the hours of sedation and work to get her teeth repaired. And I was sad thinking of her with a silver cap on her baby tooth for the next 8 plus years. And sadly, I thought to myself, what will other people think.
I left the office and called my mother in tears. All I could think about was what I must have done wrong as a mother. It was later brought to my attention that her having been born prematurely could have attributed to her having all these dental problems. The reality is, it may not have been a factor, but this really got me thinking. My frustration and disappointment turned into joy and thanksgiving. She was born prematurely yet she has had zero health problems since birth. She spent less than two weeks in the NICU and she is so full of life and love. This was one of the first things we have faced since leaving the NICU over four years ago and I should be counting my blessings.
I started to really find perspective. Then I began to think of grace and perceptions. This is when I felt God’s whisper in my ear. This is when I knew I had so much to learn from all of this. I needed this reminder of how frail we each are.
Admittedly, I worried about what people would think of me as a parent when they saw my daughter’s silver tooth and I became defensive immediately. I didn’t let her drink soda or sweet tea or eat junk all day long. I had not been good about insisting her teeth were brushed twice daily, but I didn't completely neglect them either. I kept battling these feelings back and forth in my head. As I sat there worrying about what people would think, I became very convicted of my own tendencies to question parents.
I began to think about how we never really know the story of mothers, children, or anyone we see from afar. I am certain there are even people we think we know, but we truly don’t. Perhaps you have heard the mom that is yelling across the parking lot at her children and think you’d never do that. Or you see the obese child at the store and think shame on the parents for feeding him/her the wrong foods. Maybe, you’ve seen the child in the store yelling or hitting their mother. Or perhaps you know the child that gets in trouble all the time at school or church. I could go on and on with examples; but you think that would never be you. You think, that would never be my child. Or perhaps, it has been you or your child. Perhaps, you have felt this unfair judgment that hurts deep inside because people do not know your whole story.
Each of us do the best we can as parents to our children, but no matter what our best is, we have to realize we are going to fall short. Most often I am doing so much on my own, as many other mothers are and I am worn out and tired by the end of the day. We need to give ourselves and each other grace. I know for sure our home is a place filled with love and togetherness. Isn’t that the most important thing? I have to let go of this idea of perfect. I have to let go of worrying about messing up and accept the fact that I will mess up. Yes, it is okay to strive to do better or make changes, but not giving ourselves grace is a problem. I don’t think I am the only person who struggles with this. The more children we have, the more aware of this I have become.
I don’t want to be a mother that ever judges or challenges other mothers; even if it is only in my thoughts. I see so much of the so-called “mommy wars” too often, especially with the prevalence of social media. I read and see these battles everywhere. I hear the bold messages loud and clear and I can hear the implied messages just as loud. Motherhood is hard enough as it is; we don’t need to judge others or ourselves. I may make choices you would never make and vice versa, but we should affirm one another; or at the very least not judge someone for being different.
Sadly, I have been the person who was judgmental in my thinking. I had this idea of how life should look or I thought I did. I thought I would always have it together as a mother, but the more children I have the more I realize how messy life will get some times. God has shown me time and time again, how much I need His grace. I have learned how beautiful messy can be. And as the dentist explained to me, I will tell my daughter how beautiful her “silver tiara” is. I don’t ever want her to think she is anything less than enough. I don't ever want her to think that she is flawed. She is perfect just the way God designed her. I want her to know this now and always. I know this is only one small baby step in demonstrating grace to my children and myself. There will be so many things we experience together, far more serious than a silver crown, and now is the time to lay down the foundation.
I pray that I will continue to grow on this journey of motherhood and that God will continue to mold me into the person He has planned. And I pray that along this road I can encourage others to do this as well. I pray that we can all begin to accept our own shortcomings and the shortcomings of those around us. Most of all, I pray that we can share the love of Christ with all those we are around.
So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. -1 Thessalonians 5:11
As I look at this picture I am reminded of what a blessing these children are. I will certainly fail them at some point, but I will continue to do my best to let them know they are always loved.