I Don’t Enjoy Every Moment with My Kids (and That’s OK)
It was Christmas of 1984, and my mother crammed my three older siblings and me into a compact car and took us to Arkansas to celebrate the holiday. I vaguely remember it – my mother, on the other hand, remembers it quite clearly. Apparently, it was pretty rough.
No doubt, putting one adult, two teenagers, and two small boys into a small car for six hours was a recipe for disaster. One of us – I shall not say who – was behaving horribly; and apparently, there were multiple times throughout the trip that Mom’s emotional health was seriously compromised.
Nonetheless, anytime I’ve heard Mom talk about that trip in the years since then, there’s a tinge of regret – but it’s not regret over taking the trip. It’s regret over not enjoying it. As it turns out, that was the last time Mom would ever go on a road trip with all four of her kids again. She now wishes she had appreciated it more.
She had no reason to suspect our time together as a family had an expiration date. My sister wasn’t going to graduate from high school for another year and a half; my older brother was only 13; and Caleb and I were little kids. But before long, life happened; my two oldest siblings quickly grew up and moved out; and that was it. There weren’t any more family road trips.
Don’t Look Back
I have this theory that if Mom could go back in time and do that six-hour road trip all over again, she would be just as miserable as she was the first time. Sure, at first she would get in the car and say, Okay, Paula – remember: this is your last road trip with all four of your kids, so treasure it. Take a deep breath. Be present to the moment. Yes. Here we go. Thank You, Jesus.
She would ride along for about 45 minutes, soaking up the reality and feel so grateful – but then Lee would pinch me in the back seat. I would start crying; Mom would tell Lee to stop; Lee would scowl at Mom; Caleb would pass gas; the tiny car would start to stink; Lee would pinch me again; I would start crying again; Mom would raise her voice at Lee; Lee would yell that he didn’t do anything; Lawrie would tell us to shut up; and Mom would tell Lawrie not to talk like that.
So it would go for six hours until we were about two miles away from Paragould, Arkansas, at which point Mom would realize that she failed to appreciate that last, wonderful trip again.
In the Moment
When God allows us to live in a particular moment, He gives us the privilege of experiencing it for what it is. So no matter how many times older parents tell us younger parents to enjoy every moment with our children, we can’t help it: changing diapers is stinky and messy; playing Candyland gets old; watching another t-ball game is boring; and combing tangles is difficult and delicate work.
That’s why I think it’s okay to go on a long road trip with the kids and feel frustrated. Scripture doesn’t tell us to be thankful for all circumstances – it tells us to “be thankful in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18, emphasis added). We’re to give thanks – not necessarily to feel thankful. And the beauty of giving thanks during those times is that it directs me away from the disappointing people around me and turns my attention to the Holy Spirit, the one whose love makes our suffering bearable.