It’s not your fault

We have an interesting dynamic in our family. My daughter Sarah is just five years older than her brother’s first child, Lucy. This age difference means that the girls generally behave more like cousins than they do an aunt and her niece. On the day after her 10th birthday, however, Sarah decided to emphasize the generational difference in their roles. Her intent was to be helpful. And she was. But it was not without conflict.

She volunteered to “supervise bedtime.” She was going to help Lucy get a bath, brush her teeth, read books, and snuggle to sleep. While they headed off to the kids’ bathroom, I went to take a shower of my own.

As so often happens, I stood under the stream of warm water and mused about life. When we have a full house and my grown children are home with their small children, it’s oh-so-easy to ponder what was and what became of it all. I admit that in that shower the night after my baby’s 10th birthday, I was doing a mental reconciliation of all my parenting hopes and aspirations and what actually happened. And I was kicking myself a little.

As soon as I turned off the water, I heard the screaming. Lucy was having none of Sarah’s plan. I shrugged on a bathrobe and hustled downstairs, hair still dripping, and gathered Lucy onto my lap, where her hair dripped together with mine to make puddles on the floor.

Sarah tearfully related to me that Lucy didn’t want to read stories. She wanted to color princesses. But Sarah — older and wiser — knew that reading stories was part of the bedtime routine. And the bedtime routine was pretty much written in stone.

Sarah began to lament. “I’m so sorry. I was trying to do a good job. It was all going so well. And now she’s yelling, and it’s just not turning out right.”

I looked into the eyes of my daughter, and I talked to the woman who was just musing in the shower.

“Did you do your best? Did you cheerfully try to get Lucy to follow the good plan? Were you kind to her?”

Slow, sad nodding on the part of my littlest.

“Lucy, did Sarah have a good idea about bedtime? Did she help you to do the right thing?”

Nodding and a considerable bit of dripping hair.

“But you didn’t want to? Because coloring in the sunroom seemed like a better idea to you?”

Sniffling and dripping and nodding.

And then Sarah chimed in. “It’s all my fault. I wanted to do the best job and be the best helper. I wanted to be a grownup since I’m 10, and I wanted to get Lucy to bed all by myself. But now she’s yelling and waking the babies and I’m crying.”

Welcome to being a grownup, I said silently.

Out loud, I said, “Sarah, you did your very best. It’s not your fault that Lucy is sad. We all get to make choices. God lets us do that. Lucy didn’t want to do what you wanted her to do. If she’s unhappy, it’s not your fault. You can’t make someone be happy about the grownup choices. And you can’t make them un-sad when their choices don’t work out. All you can do is the best you can do to let her see how good your choices are.”

Also, when it is 8 p.m. the night after Halloween and you’ve spent all day playing hard, no choices look especially good.

In the end, they took the princess pictures up to bed, where Lucy colored while Sarah read to her.

And I sat there thinking about how hard some of us try to make other people happy, and how sad we are when they are unhappy.

We can be sad about it. We can even try to offer solutions for it. But we can’t own it. Because their choices and their consequences ultimately don’t belong to us.

Do the best you can, mama. Be kind and be firm. Pray hard. And rejoice that the same God who granted them free will is with them in both their happiness and their unhappiness, and He sees you, too. He knows how hard you’re trying, and all he sees is how well you love. If they’re sad, it’s not your fault.

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.

     

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018

@elizabethfoss