Mother May I: Ought or Opportunity

My elementary school in New Jersey was in the middle of a city with no playground or green spaces to speak of. That being said, our recesses consisted of mostly group games like Red Rover, Red Light Green Light, and Mother, May I.  The sing-song words still pass through my mind from time to time, and my boys are always shocked that, back in the prehistoric days, I played the same games they play today.

Mother, May I has taken on a whole new meaning for me. With a little tweaking to Mother: May I? I am able to check in on my motivation for mothering from time to time.

If I am honest, most days I mother more out of ought than opportunity. Often the words can be switched from Mother: May I? to Mother: Must I? While may and must are only a few letters different, they are worlds apart. There is a significant difference between must and may, ought and opportunity in parenting and life.

I know all the right answers. I know that mothering is a gift, I know that children are a blessing and not a burden. I taught a class on these things at our church. And I begin most most seasons with a may attitude and perspective. But just like the oil in a car needs to be changed every 3,000 miles (or when the transmission starts to shake, in my case), I need to be serviced every now and again. The clean oil of motherhood as opportunity and gift gets polluted through everyday wear and tear and the constant grind of the engine. My may heart gets filled with the gunk of must until I nearly forget what I know to be true. Most of the time, this happens so gradually I don’t even realize I’m running on toxic fumes.

Must parenting slowly slips into viewing motherhood and its unpaid, overtime demands as a chore, as something pressed on us. Must parenting makes ourselves into victims. Ought parenting looks out upon the day and thinks, “I have been thrust into this world of a thousand needs and limited resources. I have to go to the grocery store, I have to pick up the kids, I have to fold the laundry, I have to get the kids to practice.”

The sighs increase, the patience decreases, and they joy gets sucked out of the whole house. Then something amazing usually happens. God grabs ahold of my heart and begins to whisper truth and perspective back over my tired soul. Something jars me out of must and back into may.

Yesterday, it was my little Phin falling hard on the pavement while trying to run to keep up with his brothers. I scooped him up, all pathetic and scared and scraped. I brought him inside to tend to his tiny knees. While he was crying, I nearly cried, thinking: “What a privilege to be here when they fall hard on the rough pavement of life. What a joy to be near enough to see the fear or hurt in their eyes when they are misunderstood by a friend or face a deep disappointment or failure.”

May parenting is not an annoying Pollyanna perspective, or it cannot be for long. This mothering thing is hard, mind-numbing work. But may parenting sees opportunity and blessing right in the midst of the grind.

I am so thankful that God parents me out of may and not must. When He reminds me of His joyful daily choice to parent me in light of His promises and not my performance, my hard heart melts and I soften as a parent. He loves us out of opportunity, not ought.

Oh, may we do the same.  In humble reliance upon Divine Grace, may we endeavor.

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