"Wow! You're Super Mom!" I looked up, startled, to see a woman walking toward the table at the supermarket where my four children and I are eating hot dogs, a lunchtime reward for a successful shopping trip. My children, their mouths full, are all eating quietly and politely, and nobody is throwing any food or whining about their ketchup. It's a good day. "I just wanted to compliment you on your well behaved children," says the women. "They've been eating so nicely and quietly. You're obviously raising them well."
"Haha! Thank you!" I stammer, an awkward joke at the tip of my tongue. I'm not sure what else to say. I'm never sure what else to say when this happens. Because, believe it or not, it's happened to me more than once. The couple at the restaurant, the old lady at the zoo, the man in line in front of us at the post office, and now this lady at Costco. All of these random strangers observing my family during a calm, peaceful outing, and complimenting my parenting. This should feel amazing, shouldn't it?
While it does feel a little nice to hear I'm "raising my children well," I'll admit my initial inward response when I hear this is defensiveness mixed with laughter. Sometimes I crack an awkward joke in response like "you caught 'em on a good day!" or "Yeah, they are being really well behaved. I'm starting to get suspicious." I want to tell these well wishers about all the times my family wasn't so well received by the general public. Like that time I tried to go out to breakfast with my three children under age 3 and the meal culminated in my 1 year old standing on top of the table and pouring an entire pitcher of syrup all over herself and the table while my baby and 2 year old screamed? Yeah, we did the walk of shame out of that one. I can still see the waitress's fake smile and gritted teeth as she eyeballed the syrup and deadpanned "have a nice day" while we high tailed it out of there. Or just last week, when my five year old threw an epic toddler-style tantrum about her shoes or her bike or something. She was kicking and screaming and rolling around on the sidewalk while we were supposed to be out on a nice family walk. The elderly neighbor out gardening who raised one eyebrow over her fence and muttered "oh my..." definitely wasn't paying our parenting any compliments.
It's funny how easily one kind word or raised eyebrow from a stranger can make or break my day. It feels so great to be admired and so awful to be scorned, that I find myself giving the desire for admiration undue attention. I will catch myself worrying over others' approval, even in instances where it doesn't matter! Will they like what I'm wearing? Ugh, this hair cut! I should have worn different shoes. Am I too underdressed for the occasion? Did the way I said that sound ok to them? What do they think of my kids? Am I doing ok? Maybe I should be stricter? Is that normal behavior for a four year old?
In truth, the only person I have to answer to and seek a yes or no from is my Lord. I spend so much time wondering and worrying over what other people think of me, whether I'm making the right decisions by worldly standards, when I can just take my concerns to the Lord in prayer instead! I can pray for guidance and help in my parenting, in my business, in my life as a homeschooling mother, in my marriage, in my friendships. I can look to Him for the model of how I should be acting and behaving on a daily basis.
"Seek the LORD and his strength, seek his face continually." 1 Chronicles 16:11
And I can confess those times I fall short, ask for grace, and rest assured that I'm forgiven.
"Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Hebrews 4:16
Lord, am I doing this right? Are my kids alright? Did I respond to that situation with the right mix of love and discipline, Lord? Help my kids, Lord. Help me be the best mother I can be. Forgive me for the times I've been short tempered, angry, unresponsive, or lazy with them and others. Thank you for the times you've given me glimmers of a hopeful future with them. Keep them always safe in your care, and help them to have a strong and healthy relationship with you as they grow. Amen.