For months, Amelia would not nap longer than 45 minutes. I did my part: I watched the clock, studied her tired eyes and her number of yawns, darkened the room, established the routine, turned on the white noise. Still, most naps were short. I’m embarrassed by how much this irked me. I begged for the advice of other moms and perused social media to shed light on what was so clearly lacking in me and the patterns I had surely created in my daughter. I had some moments of reasonable thinking, but the predominant narrative was that, as the “manager” of her day, it was up to me to troubleshoot the perceived problem and fix it.
On Mother’s Day a few weeks ago, I found myself thinking loads about the difference between parental influence and parental control.
How I can set a boundary, but she still might cross it. How I can designate a nap time, but she still might refuse it. How I can set her plate in front of her, but she still might immediately say, “Done.”
Written down, these examples seem a bit petty and obvious. But as a new parent, they remind me that my control is minuscule.
On the contrary, though, my influence is significant. And while it seems that much of that influence in the early years revolves around the physical functions of keeping a little human alive, I’m beginning to see the implications for her mental, emotional, and even spiritual formation.
One day last summer, Amelia played in a makeshift pool while I watched from the deck a few yards away. She slipped ever so slightly, her trunk still wobbly and unsteady. She gripped the sides of the plastic bin while the water splashed from her sudden movement. And then, she looked directly at me. In that moment, her eyes asked, “Am I okay? What should I be feeling right now?” She needed my help to interpret the slip and the splash.
I can’t control whether she biffs it while running down the driveway. But I can scoop her up, name the hurt, and initiate the healing with a kiss. I can’t control whether she chooses to disobey and hide from me. But I can pull the curtain away from her face, affirm that I love her, and help her clean up the mess.
Author Sally Clarkson recently released a podcast episode that speaks to the influence parents have as they seek to point their children to Jesus. She mentions the difference between grasping after control in order to protect our kids versus training them up in order to prepare them for life beyond the walls of home.
When the stakes get higher than short naps and falls down deck stairs, I want to remember: I do not have control, but I do have influence. And the God who invites me to “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).