Last night I had the motherly privilege of stripping down my son’s bed and doing several loads of laundry after some unfortunate poop accidents. I wasn’t frustrated, didn’t yell, was able to calmly chat with him about it, and felt pretty good about how I handled it all (because let’s be honest, I was annoyed. Who wants to change sheets and do copious loads of laundry on a Sunday night?!)
The mistake I made was when I kinda half way promised that I’d try to get it all washed before bedtime. He was so distraught at the thought of not sleeping with some of his favorite blankies and stuffed animals and I honestly just wanted him to calm the eff down and mumbled some jumble about finishing it while we watched Homeward Bound (which, by the way kids of the 80s and 90s, IS ON NETFLIX NOW).
I really had no intent of fully finishing it all, and in truth I was banking on the fact that he’d get sleepy during the movie and pass out before the stuff was finished being cleaned. Lazy, dishonest, and a little mean? Probably. But I think as parents, we’ve all done some variation at one point or another. I really did start the laundry, realized it may not be done in time for bedtime, but didn’t want him even more upset so I tried to just keep him focused on something else.
This obviously backfired, as all good parenting tricks do.
He stayed awake for the entire movie and lo and behold, when bedtime arrived, he was crying for his special items that were still dirty as I was waiting for the dryer. I found some other substitutes that were good enough, but I realized at that moment what I had missed before.
The small things are big.
As I was transferring the second load from the washer to the dryer, it really hit me. In his eyes, these items are special. He felt bad enough already that he had an accident and the natural consequence of having to wait any amount of time for them was a good reminder to not do this again. At that point, when I gave him my word they’d be ready for bedtime, he had trust. Something so small to me, was extremely important to him. It was something he couldn’t do on his own and depended on my strength and follow through to help make things right. And when I didn’t, I gave him this clear message: your big things are very little to me.
Every time I promise something small (will you make popsicles tonight? Sure buddy!) and forget to follow through, I send the same message.
Now, I’m not about feigning perfection in parenting and beating myself for being human and forgetting once in a while. Life happens and kids need to learn flexibility. But I do have a problem with making it a habit – where I think waiting a day or delaying my help is okay because what they need isn’t a big deal … to me. Because a lot of times, it’s really important to them.
When I follow through without them reminding me, I can give them the opposite message: your big things are important to me and I love you.
Why is this important? Because it’s the divine model. Our God cares about the smallest hurts and triumphs in our hearts. He cares when we feel let down. He cares when we are hurt, lonely, afraid, ashamed, and confused. He loves us deeply, so deeply that He cared enough about our brokenness and shattered state that He became one of us in order to save us.
In the end, it is the little hidden things done with love that will matter most. St. Josemaria Esriva lays the smack down in a few succint quotes from The Way:
- Have you noticed how human love consists of little things? Well, divine Love also consists of little things.
- Have you ever stopped to consider the enormous sum that many ‘littles’ can come to?
- Great souls pay much attention to little things.
- Do everything for Love. Thus there will be no little things: everything will be big. Perseverance in little things for Love is heroism.
(Ahem, thanks for that spiritual smack in the face.)
I want my kids to see me take great care in the little things that mean a lot to them. I want them to not only know that I care and love them, but I also want to show them a model of God’s Fatherly love. I want them to know that God sees and cares about everything important to their hearts. How can someone teach that reality? I think one of the best ways is by modeling.
So last night? Yeah, I think it would have been better to give him a hug and express how sad I was with him that he had to go without his favorite sleepies for a while. And then I should have been faithful to that small thing I was called to do – clean things in a timely fashion to try to follow through on my word.
I’m learning, I don’t think it was a huge deal how it went down, but moving forward I do want to take time to start showing love in all the little things. I want my kids to see that those little things done in love are really important to our holiness. I don’t want them to grow up to be an adult who only cares about the big things and forgets what divine love is all about.
“You have mistaken the way if you despise the little things.” -St. Josemaria Escriva