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Hope for Spicy Families

7 years ago written by
Photo courtesy of HGTV

Photo courtesy of HGTV

A certain scenario sets off a guaranteed, automatic reaction in me every time.

I categorize most families as either “sweet” or “spicy.” There are obvious pros and cons to both dynamics, with tons of crossover on the Venn diagram, but in general, a family trends toward one or the other.

The Hatmakers are a spicy people. We love obnoxious humor and sarcasm. We are very loud. We suffer from big feelings about all things, which makes us a passionate, emotional bunch.

Any time I am around a sweet family for a while, I have a crisis. It burns slowly until a comment from one of their children to another — “Sister? Would you like the last brownie? I want you to have it since you did all my chores for me as a surprise for my half-birthday…” — launches me into a flashpoint moment. My husband, Brandon, has weathered the re-entry numerous times:

Me: What is wrong with us? We need a new system to get people to talk nicer in this house. We are raising feral children. Why don’t any of our kids knit? We need to quit raising our voices for the rest of our lives or all hope is lost. Our kids are probably going to kill people one day. I think they are on a dark path to incarceration or street violence.

Brandon: Street violence here in the suburbs?

Me: There could be violence in these streets. We’re near the end times! We need to figure out how to be more precious. I don’t even think our kids know any hymns! How are we supposed to break out in spontaneous family worship? WWAVD (what would Ann Voskamp do)? Remy told me Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey “because He was so rich.” We are raising dullards. Let’s just throw in the towel.

Nothing makes me diagnose my family as catastrophic quicker than witnessing another family behave. It is a terrible comparison game that isn’t even fair because I’m not privy to their atmosphere longer than that one hour. For all I know that darling girl who deferred the brownie gave her sister a roundhouse kick to the temple the next day for calling her Sasquatch. It’s easy to reduce another family to a condensed, crystallized version of their real selves and to compare our own undomesticated family to the prototype.

Photo courtesy of HGTV

Photo courtesy of HGTV

Parent Worry

I don’t know if there is any worry like parent worry. We are responsible for whole human lives here. This is their one childhood that will carry them into adulthood.

Every parent I know worries that she isn’t doing this right, that she is failing in countless ways. Our family faults seem so egregious; the omissions and breakdowns and missteps feel monumental.

I recently heard someone say, “If you are worried about being a bad parent, you are probably a good one.”

I took this in and wanted to believe it so badly and asked God to help me tamp down the vicious self-talk. Then something happened. I started jumping outside of my mind where all the crazy lives and watched myself talk to my kids. I was so nice sometimes! I said very sweet and precious things. There were so many I love you’s and you are very smart and attentive mmhmm’s and sounds awesome and great job on that.

I watched myself do the work of sweet parents. It occurred to me I am my own worst critic. Sometimes I’m even a liar, convincing myself that nothing good is ever happening in this family.

Why do we latch on to our failures and ignore our successes? I would never overvalue and recount someone else’s low moments to the neglect of their triumphs; why do I do that to myself? Why do we observe other parents’ strengths with 20/20 vision while ours are all blurred? It is as easy for me to declare your goodness as it is to affirm my wretchedness; they are inversely proportional. I am conditioned to minimize your humanity and overemphasize mine.

Finding the Good

Whether you are a sweet mama imagining that the spicy mamas have all the fun (not true — we’re mostly breaking up fights) or a spicy mama assuming the sweet mamas have all the tenderness (they don’t; they are mostly, um, I’m not actually sure because I’ve never been in a sweet family), if you are worried about being a bad parent, you are probably a good one.

Some of the good is obvious: the loving words, the endless attention, the eye contact, the praise. We are reading to our kids and tucking them in with kisses and using parenting language and attending all the games/recitals/tournaments/programs. We braid hair and tie ribbons, apply Band-Aids and act like our kids’ art is pretty. We are doing all that, and it is good, and it counts.

Jen Hatmaker resides in Texas with her husband, Brandon, lead pastor of Austin New Church, and their five children. The Hatmakers will be featured in their own HGTV series, “My Big Family Renovation,” airing on Thursdays, Aug. 7–28.

Jen Hatmaker resides in Texas with her husband, Brandon, lead pastor of Austin New Church, and their five children. The Hatmakers will be featured in their own HGTV series, “My Big Family Renovation,” airing on Thursdays, Aug. 7–28.

Some of the good is less obvious: the apologies, the conflict resolution, the tough love, the boundaries, the making up, the hard lessons. We are molding failure into character. Every parent blows it. Every kid comes unhinged. Every family goes off the rails. That doesn’t mean we are ruined; it means we are ordinary. Course correcting is part of the deal.

This is my point no matter which temperament you lean toward: you are doing a better job than you think. The criticism in your brain can sometimes move you toward best practices, but it can also lie to you. You may need to step outside your mind and watch yourself for a few days — not just tuning in to the sharp moments but to the soft, tender ones.

One of my favorite truths from Scripture is that condemnation is a trick of the enemy, not the language of the heavens. Shame is not the rhetoric of redemption, so if we are a slave to it, we have moved outside the protective covering of mercy. It is harsh out there, debilitating actually. If your inner monologue is constantly critical, endlessly degrading, it may be time to move a few feet back under the umbrella of grace. For there the yoke is easy and the burden is light. Then we can breathe and assess our own parenting with the same kindness we extend to others

You are doing a wonderful job. Parenting is mind-numbingly hard. None of us will be perfect at it. Somehow, against all odds, it will still be enough.

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[Feature] · Culture · Departments · God · LLM July 2014 · Magazine