Had anyone stopped by my house yesterday, they would have been greeted by complete chaos. The kids and I were taking down the Christmas tree, so ornaments, boxes, storage bins, and strings of lights were strewn about the living room. Branches of the artificial tree were tossed around haphazardly. My two-year-old’s blocks and wooden train track pieces were mixed in with the Christmas stuff. One could hardly walk through the room, it was so cluttered. It was a total disaster. But that was okay. It was, after all, only temporary. It was a work in progress.
My experience is hardly unique. Transitions are supposed to be somewhat messy. Whether you’re taking down Christmas decorations, switching out clothes from one season to another, painting a room, packing for a trip, moving, or adjusting to a new baby in the house, transitions are just chaotic. Had someone dropped by unexpectedly yesterday, I would have explained what I was doing, and they would have understood and thought nothing of the mess surrounding them. We give ourselves and others that grace when there is a work in progress going on, with one notable exception. Raising children.
Why is it that we as parents often set unrealistic expectations for ourselves and our children? We feel like we must keep a clean house, make nutritious meals and snacks, have well-behaved children, and be perfect parents as well. We seem to think that anything less indicates failure. But fellow parents, relax. A messy house does not a bad parent make. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Ideally I’d love a clean house all the time. My family knows all too well the “crazy mama” that emerges when I’m past my limit for sticky floors and smelly bathrooms. And yes, I clean before guests come. But I’ll never forget the time a church member stopped by unannounced and my house looked like a tornado had just come through. I was mortified and tried to apologize to this older gentleman, but he just smiled and said, “Don’t ever apologize for having kids in the house.” His comment made me stop in my tracks. Is that what I was doing? In a roundabout way, I guess it really was. Or as a friend once put it, “I like having children, but I kinda want my house to look like I don’t have any.” I’m with ya, sister. But we have to keep in mind that raising children is a long-term work in progress. Yes, a clean house is nice, but there are days when your kids will build their wooden train tracks down the length of your kitchen so you can watch them play as you’re getting supper ready. And that’s okay.
This work in progress idea is not confined to the state of one’s house. Your children themselves are a work in progress. Children will not be well-behaved all the time. They’ll throw tantrums in public or sass back at you in front of their friends or swear within earshot of their grandparents. They won’t share with their siblings, they’ll fight, they’ll push their limits, they’ll break things… The list goes on, but you get the picture. Kids are… well, kids. They’re a work in progress from child to adult, and you’d better believe it’s going to be messy at times. Not that that’s an excuse for them to misbehave, but keep in mind that misbehavior on their part does not mean you’re a terrible parent. We know this because God, our Heavenly Father, is a perfect parent, and we, His children, still misbehave. After all, you are a work in progress too.
Does that idea bother you–that you’re a work in progress? It shouldn’t! It’s a relief to know that God isn’t finished with me. I know all too well my failings and weaknesses. But God is still working on me, strengthening me with His Word and Sacraments, shaping me more and more into His likeness. The apostle John says in 1 John 3:2, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see Him as He is.” What a beautiful promise! We might be preparing our children for adulthood and life beyond our homes, but God is preparing His children for life beyond this world; for heaven. Sure, it might get messy along the way. But that’s okay.
It is, after all, a work in progress.