Capacity for Parents

Every week, I meet with two other mothers (K&K) to pray. Between us, we have a gaggle of small children and our constant prayer is “Lord, increase my capacity to deal with my children”.

Just what does that mean? I am currently in the crawling baby/active 3-year-old stage, which is particularly trying. The baby has started snatching from the pre-schooler, the pre-schooler is snatching back. They often want to be in the same space but the baby isn’t old enough to understand the rules of space-sharing. The 3-year-old is at the tail-end of a long and arduous potty-training journey. They both need attention, but in different ways. Even now, as I write this, the baby is crawling around the floor trying to eat bits of plastic and the boy is trying to eat a slice of “boy bread” with socks on his hands. They’re his paws, apparently…just like a polar bear. Now the bread is a camera, there are crumbs all over my leg and the baby is eyeing up the fridge magnets.

It’s 9:07am. On a Monday.

Lord, increase my capacity!

God, as we know, has no limit to his patience, love and goodness. “But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86: 15). I have a very limited amount of patience and being a parent has decreased rather than increased my levels of patience. I don’t feel like I abound in anything!

Potty training has really tested the limits of my patience, and as I prayed each night about the boy’s progress (or lack of), I felt that God was trying to teach me something. That he could provide a miraculous solution, but here was an opportunity for Him to gently increase the outer limits of my patience. When I was pregnant, my womb didn’t magically grow big enough to accommodate a 7lb baby overnight. It gradually increased day by day until there was enough space in there. In the same way, God slowly pushes our hearts outwards until we are capable of more love than we could have imagined.

So, what does this look like in our day-to-day life? There was a mealtime a few months back when the boy was pushing boundaries as only a 3-year-old can. He didn’t want to sit at the table, he didn’t want his dinner, his dinner was “too yucky for me”. I could feel my temper rising. I’d been praying with K&K a few days before and now it was time to put it into practice. I took a deep breath, said in my head “Lord increase my capacity to deal with my son” and I felt calmer. I was able to talk him back to the table and we carried on eating in peace.

I try and pray every night about my relationship with my children and the bits where my human strength ends. I thank God that my children are beautiful, health, perfectly made and intelligent…then I pray about the baby’s sleep, the boy’s potty training, the chance of the baby ever detaching herself from me long enough for me to have a coffee…nothing is too small to bring to God. I can see where we’ve made progress and where we haven’t, and it’s sometimes hard to trust that God has this all in hand. But then I remember the jobs that have been miraculously provided, the house we live in and the gifts of money that have magically appeared at times of need. God is faithful and he has his hand on my situation, however unimportant it may be in the grand scheme of things.

Of course, you have to be careful what you ask for. If you pray to bond with your son, you may find yourself getting up with him at 6 am, leaving husband and baby sleeping peacefully in bed. If you pray for your son to learn to talk, he may never stop talking. If you pray for patience, you may find that same patience being stretched on a daily basis. But this is spiritual exercise. Doing 100 abdominal crunches every few months isn’t going to give you pre-pregnancy stomach muscles. But a few every day will slowly get you there. In the same way, a prayer every day to increase your capacity will slowly move you towards the goal of being more like Him when it comes to interacting with your children – slow to anger, rich in love. After all, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23). Imagine being renewed each morning!

One final word of advice – if you ask God for a few quiet minutes in which to write an article, you might find that the 3-year-old has emptied the contents of both his clothes drawer and his sister’s onto the hallway floor and is rolling around, pretending it’s a mud bath.

Lord, increase my capacity!