I sit on my deep red couch with my journal open on my lap. The chatter of childhood surrounds me as my six kids alternately play and argue their way through the morning, fighting over random toys or who gets to be in charge of the pretend play scenario they have cooked up. I make a list of things I shouldn’t forget to do, and jot down notes of quiet thoughts I simply don’t want to lose track of in the momentum of family life. I write down: What does it mean to be a generous mother?
About then, my seven year old plops on the couch next to me and leans into my personal space. One part of me wants to send him back to play with the others and preserve the gloriousness of not having someone touching me at every moment, but before I give that command, my eyes fall across my journal page—a Holy Spirit invitation to recognize that this is a moment I can choose to be generous with my son.
Even though I really want my space and a little room to think my own thoughts, I close my journal and put my arm around him for the awkward cuddle of a long-legged, tender-hearted boy who feels the need for midday mama-snuggles. I know these days won’t last, and just this once, I feel satisfied that I am aware of his need and prepared to sacrifice my space for a few minutes of filling his heart with my attention. In this moment, I am a generous mother.
I don’t always make the gracious choice. In my heart, I want to, but tiredness, busyness, and spread-thinness impedes my ability to give my children my best at all times. Most often, I am stumbling through parenthood, powered by love, but not always able to get the tenderness I feel for my kids to show through gentle actions and encouraging words.
Nothing else has illuminated my humanity and the daily struggle to circumvent selfishness in order to humbly serve my family quite like parenthood. I find that sometimes even small gestures of kindness require a significant effort (especially when I am short on sleep, and consequently short on patience). Sometimes it is easier to stay focused on my to-do lists, and on the never-ending tasks of ordinary life, without pausing to attend to the little ones who simply want my attention for a few moments.
Like any other mom, I want to give my children the best of everything, whenever possible. I entertain hope that they might be spared suffering, ridicule, poverty, and challenges throughout their lives. I pray for those things, but deep down, I recognize that I can neither promise nor guarantee safe distance from adversity. I often forget that what I can give them, and what they really need in these years at home, is a parent who is invested, attentive, and tuned in to their emotional needs in addition to their physical ones. I forget that generosity doesn’t always mean giving them stuff. Sometimes it means allowing the inevitable interruptions of childhood, and purposing to give my attention generously to each as they seek me out.
At Christmas, we give gifts wrapped with paper and tape that can be opened in the excitement of Christmas morning. Every other moment of the year, we have the opportunity to give gifts that are only opened with the tenure of relationship, by forged connection and trust built in the mundane moments. We must recognize that our attentive presence is invaluable for our children.
This is what it means to be a generous parent: to see and embrace our children, to hear about their dreams and worries with listening ear and words of encouragement, and to celebrate the small victories they have in every stage of development. If we can do these things in their years at home with us, they will see return on our investment throughout the rest of their lives.
*This post originally appeared as a guest post for Meredith M. Dangel.