I know the rules of parenting. Be consistent. Don’t overindulge. Let the children know who’s in charge.
Never let them play you like a harmonica.
Most days, I follow those rules as best I can. But some days, I don’t.
“Mommy, I want a snake!” My four-year-old daughter latched her fingers around a life-size plush rattlesnake hanging from a sale rack. We were on a special outing to our local bouncy gym, where after an hour of running herself sweaty and pink, my daughter paused for a drink of water—right in front of the concession souvenirs.
“Wow, what a neat snake,” I nodded. “Let’s add it to your Christmas list.”
“No!” She planted her feet. “I want it now! Can I have it, please?”
I flipped the price tag—doable. But still, my brain sped through all the reasonable arguments. The snake is unnecessary. I’d have to get her sister something, too. My husband asked me to cut back on frivolous spending. He would not approve.
“No, sweetheart. We’re not getting the snake today.”
Her lip quivered. She raised her hands to her face, covered her eyes, and started bawling.
Because that’s what kids do.
Normally, I would stand firm and wait for the fit to pass. But this was a special day. My sister-in-law and nephew were with us, two people we love dearly and don’t see often enough. I didn’t want my daughter to ruin her own fun. And quite honestly, I didn’t want her to ruin mine, either.
So I did what I know I am not supposed to do.
“Listen, I’ll let you get the snake, but only if you stop crying and go run and play.” My palms grew sticky and my heart thumped. Bad mom. Bad wife. A double whammy mess-up, and my sister-in-law witnessed it all.
“Please,” I looked her straight in the eyes, “don’t follow my example at this very moment.”
“Oh are you kidding me?!” She waved her hands, dismissing the idea. “This is a no-judgment zone. We all have our snake days.”
God bless her.
Don’t we all need a no-judgment zone? Yes, we ought to raise our children with intention and structure. Following God’s biblical convictions as our guide, we pour our hearts and souls into both the daily grind and long-term goal of raising the next generation of saints. Our job as parents is vital to the kingdom.
But those snake days will come. They’re the moments when our energy crumbles, we acquiesce against our better judgment, or we offer our kiddos crazy grace—because sometimes we just want to see them smile. So I give my girls ice cream before dinner. I cut a time-out short. I buy a ridiculous snake at the bouncy gym.
Not often. But when I do? I don’t need a lecture. I need your mercy.
As parents we can choose to judge one another or to encourage one another, recognizing our universal need for clemency. After all, if we purpose to model Jesus for our kids, we ought to begin by modeling his grace for each other.
“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:12–13, NIV).
So about that snake. My daughter named him Philip (not sure why) and she sleeps with him every night. And as for my husband, well, he took one look at our new friend Philip—and laughed.
Mercy. It’s a beautiful thing.