By Heather Walker Peterson

God, Tether My Love for My Kids This Summer

Sometimes a glance at my kids, age seven and eight, becomes a stare. “Mom, why are you looking at me?” one of them will ask. My daughters are in what I’ve been told is the golden age between four and ten. They’re more independent, but hormones haven’t hit. The sweet curves of toddler chubbiness have melted away into longer limbs. Their eyes are still large, but they rest over the white rectangles of adult front teeth. Their enthusiasm, curiosity, and joy surge quickly, breaking the surface of their faces that may have been choppy waters a moment ago. I’m arrested by the beauty of their embrace of life.

I’ve longed for our summer together, when my time and their time is more flexible. After a tussle with an online gradebook at 10:30 p.m., I submitted my grades, and my summer break officially began. My girls’ school ended two days later. I couldn’t wait.

But tether this love, God, because…

I could wait. Right before their break began, one daughter made a bad choice and destroyed her own toy and then wailed about it for 45 minutes when we were supposed to be cleaning. An hour later, my husband and I spent ten minutes in the midst of dinner preparation attempting to talk to the second daughter. We had received an email from her school briefing us on an altercation with a classmate.

I go from being tempted to fall down and worship them to wishing I could curse something out.

My love needs to be tethered. This crazy-making work of parenting, it needs an anchor I’m incapable of purchasing and casting over myself. It needs someone bigger and greater than I to hold onto our bobbing boat.

Sometimes, I believe that my job outside of the home gives me balance. It helps me not to bend into an entitled sense of what is best for them — only organic foods or a specific ideology of education or fraught control of their screen time.

But tether this love, God, because…

Then, I see how with a full-time job, guilt makes me question myself. Can I work out, or will my time be too limited with my kids? How many weekends can I be away on a work trip before I’ll affect their emotional security? I realize I honestly don’t know.

In summer, the fresh opportunities they have for their flourishing are also more opportunities for my control. I signed one of my daughters up for a sport she requested, but with potential issues with spatial perception, will she succeed, or will she fail?

But tether this love, God, because…

Maybe my fears of her failing are that I don’t want to deal with the pain of her failure. Or I don’t want to say I made a mistake and shouldn’t have put her in. Likely, she’ll perform in between, and I’ll tend to her frustration that she’s not the star despite her inborn confidence.

Will I trust my kids to go play three-quarters of a block away at a house around the corner, or will I keep them in my own yard because I’m scared of something happening to them? Something happened to me once when I was my elder daughter’s age.

But tether this love, God, because…

Half the issue is actually that I’m scared of blaming myself forever if something did.

I heard someone advocating that instead of focusing on sinning less, we should focus on loving others more. It sounds good, but how do I know what love looks like? I’m not sure with my kids. Pretty much... Every. Single. Day.

When my child damaged her toy, I let her cry for a while, and then I made her keep cleaning. I gave her a hug, but I made her join me in picking up our sunporch. My other inclination was to promise her another toy because I remember regretting bad choices as a kid. That was an overly empathetic impulse.

But tether this love, God, because…

Should I have given her more time to grieve? I don’t know. Was my motive more about getting the porch cleaned or making sure she persevered because she tends to avoid physical labor? I don’t know.

My human love is mixed. My motives rarely feel pure. I hope that if I love God — the greatest commandment — then the second commandment of loving one another will be a fruit of the first. In parenting, that first love does not look like what it once did — regular, dedicated time alone reading Scripture and praying.

A friend opened her journal, and I saw her colorful handwriting on the Psalms — red for one repeated word, green for a repeated theme, blue for others. I used to have time for that in a season before children. Now she has time for it in a season of empty nesting.

My devotion to God while a mother of these “golden age” kids is less focused but just as rich. Our family Scripture reading after supper, the repetition of bedtime prayer at night with them, and prayers with my husband for them before our own sleep. And all the desperate, brief prayers in between. Help me, I don’t know what I’m doing.

And thank you. You’ve got this, you’ve got me. You’ve got them.

About the Author

Heather Walker Peterson is a writer, mother, and assistant professor and chair of the Department of English and Literature at the University of Northwestern-Saint Paul.

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