I am standing at the kitchen window, elbows deep in a sink full of frothy bubbles, when our giant extension ladder stumbles by. It jerks and halts and tips haphazardly to one side as it makes its way across my view.
I grab a tea towel and run outside. The wind digs little bits of sand into my cheeks and grit bites at the corners of my eyes until they water.
It’s been blowing like this for three days. The sky is sickly orange—not like a sunset, but murky and miserable like a moldy bowl of last week’s macaroni.
Right around the corner, three of my children are wrestling with the extension ladder. It writhes like a captured alligator, but they are determined.
“What are you doing?” I yell over the squall.
They grin at me. “Dad said we could throw things off the roof!” Micah waves some long wooden spears in the air and Paul holds up a box of paper airplanes.
“Yeah, Mom—watch this! You might wanna back up.”
All at once, the sky is peppered with paper airplanes. I jump to one side as the wind hurls them about like rockets.
“Cool!” the kids cheer and jump up and down on the low, flat porch roof, just inches away from an ER visit.
“That was awesome! Hey, Mom, hand me my spear!”
“You are not going to throw spears off the roof!”
They are quiet for a minute. “Why not?” Jonathan asks. It is pathetic how woeful he can sound when he wants to.
“Yeah,” my husband joins in. “Why not?”
Because…I begin to compile a list in my head. Because broken legs and broken necks and neighbors calling CPS and full-body casts and poking your eye out and …
He grins like a school boy, shrugs his shoulders, and interrupts my thoughts. “It’s fun!”
“Yeah, Dad!” they cheer louder.
I stand in the middle of my swirling yard with my offspring on the roof, feeling very much alone. Worse than alone; I am outnumbered six to one. Mom is no fun at all.
It’s a sore spot, an old wound from where our parenting differences have rubbed me raw.
I am the cautious one, the parent who thinks of things like sunscreen and bike helmets and keeping mayonnaise properly refrigerated.
My husband, on the other hand, believes there are worse things than scraped knees and stitches. He tells the kids that if they don’t get hurt once in awhile, they’re doing it wrong. They’re playing it safe; they’re holding back from the adventure.
“Yes, yes,” I say, until my babies are on the roof throwing spears into a windstorm. And then I forget that my husband has never been irresponsible with the children. While he is far more adventurous than I, he is not dangerous. But all I want in that moment is for my husband to parent like me. I want him to be more careful, not take any unnecessary risks, and pay attention to that one story of that one time one kid did something like this and ended up in traction.
I want him to parent with a little bit more fear. I would feel safer if he was appropriately worried about tetanus shots and the very real danger of choking on grapes because anything else feels like scary parenting.
I remember how incredibly irritating it was to find him feeding our toddler uncut grapes when he knew better. “You’re feeding him whole grapes?!” I squealed while vowing to never leave the house at lunch time again. “Don’t you know kids can choke on those?”
He didn’t roll his eyes, but he wanted to. I could feel an eye roll churning in his soul when he patiently replied, “Don’t you think it’s a better idea to just teach our kids to bite the grapes?”
No. No, I very much did not think that was a better idea, actually, and suddenly, I found myself trying to mother my husband and control his actions, as if a man with two master’s degrees and part of a PhD is incapable of properly feeding fruit to a two-year-old.
My children have watched this whole game play out over grapes and potentially scary DVDs and a million other things as they have grown up, and they have formed the following impression of their parents: Mom is a kill-joy, and Dad isn’t to be trusted. Mom makes the rules, and Dad breaks them. Mom is smothering; Dad is reckless.
Once, when my husband decided to show the kids a new movie, my daughter leaned in to him and said, “Did you ask Mom first?”
I overheard her and said, “Daddy doesn’t need my permission to show you a movie, Baby.”
But he did, and she knew it. I had taught her that.
Rather than growing up feeling safe and secure in the diversity of our parenting styles, she had learned that Dad’s ways were suspect.
It is okay for my children to realize that their dad is not like me. It’s okay for them to know that he does not always parent in the same way as I do. But it is not okay for them to learn that he should, or that he is wrong or reckless or disobedient when he does not act like me.
My husband is not like me, thank the Lord. He is brave. Eager. Undaunted. He weighs risks—he doesn’t run from them. These are qualities we honor in adults, and they are the exact qualities he is infusing into our children.
I might have the corner on the market when it comes to child safety, but he brings to the table what I lack. I cannot give them what he does, and that’s exactly the point: we need each other to do this parenting thing well. Together, we create a balance in our home that our children desperately need: the wild and the tame, the seeds and the roots, the home in the wilderness.
That’s the reason God put a man and a woman together and said, “Now, go make a home out there.” Because God is one, and yet the members of the Trinity are both maternal and paternal, nurturing and creative, protective and fearless, completely trustworthy and never reckless. They uphold the same standards and rules and objectives while living in the complete freedom and diversity of their personhood.
When we work together as a husband and a wife to raise our children in unity and uniqueness, each one of us completely trusting and valuing the other to do the job well, we live out the image of God for our children to see.
The biggest danger we face as parents does not involve safety or smothering—it is failing to show our children the face of God. When I do not trust my husband to care for our children, I am teaching them that the attributes of God that my husband exhibits are scary and untrustworthy, or that the attributes of God that I display are confining and ridged.
That is much worse than a skinned knee.
But when I wrestle with my irrational fears and give up my need to control, my children get to see something of God that they don’t get to see when I try to make my way the only way. From the top of a flat roof with a box of paper airplanes by their side, they get to see a more complete view of God.
That is far from scary parenting. That is glorious.
“Why can’t we throw spears, Mom? We’ll be really careful.”
Because…well, why not indeed?