It happened after we ate at Chick-fil-A one evening, when my husband and I drove home separately, the kids riding with me in their car seats. I’d wanted to give my husband a break and a quiet drive home before “guy time” with our boys when we arrived. Our oldest didn’t like this one bit. He was angry, but his next words were calm, measured, and precise.
“Mom, I hate to say it, but really, I just love Dad more than I love you.”
And there it was. As if I needed confirmation, he repeated the statement and followed with, “I’m serious. I really mean it. This is the truth.”
We talked after a moment about how hurtful his words were, how he might feel if someone said them to him.
I hope he never knows from experience.
I ran over the things I knew to be true: My son is four. And every son, in my opinion, could use a role model like my husband. He’s tremendous, and the investments of time and energy and talk and everything else have clearly gone the distance. This son has been known to cry when “guy time” can’t happen. And I can remember times of liking one parent more than the other myself. And my son wasn’t saying these words to be malicious. He was saying them to a) demonstrate why he was angry, and b) probably somewhat to get his way this time or next. He will also very likely, as my husband pointed out to me later, appreciate more who I am and what I’ve done for him as he grows older.
After some tears during a very compassionate conversation with my husband, my mind took me to some advice I’d heard back in college from marriage and family expert Gary Oliver: When you’re hearing criticism; even something that seems to completely misunderstand you or the situation, or otherwise seems full of untruth—take the (at least) 1% that’s true and learn from it. It’s one small way to move closer to the command to, like Christ, return a blessing for an insult, rather than evil.
[verse reference=”1 Peter 3:9″]Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.[/verse]
So here’s what I had to acknowledge in this situation: While I log hours around the clock of laboring for my children’s needs and, because I stay at home, am responsible for at least a majority of the discipline, these do not necessarily communicate love to my kids in ways that are meaningful to them.
My kids’ needs are often so great that the idea of being playful or sitting down and playing with them seems even more exhausting, or simply a distraction from the chores looming over my head. But clearly, they value me coming into their world more than they value their laundry folded. Now, their values do not equal truth, but it does mean something when I consider loving them.
My prayer the last couple of days? Lord, please make me more playful. Help me to love my kids in ways that are meaningful to them.
Maybe that 1% was more like 40% …
Janel Breitenstein graduated summa cum laude from John Brown University and began her career with NavPress, where she worked on The Message Bible. After having four children she resumed her professional career (around her momlife) by serving as a writer for FamilyLife. In January of 2012 Janel and her husband, John, packed up their family of six and moved to Uganda to serve with Engineering Ministries International (eMi), an organization that focuses on poverty relief and development, providing structural design and construction management for Christian organizations in the third world. Join us as we all learn first hand, through Janel’s posts, what it’s like to go from suburban America, to answer God’s call in Africa!