Sunday, July 21, 2019

When Parents Change Their Minds

“Maybe I’ll have the last bit of chicken but not the rice,” Ben said today as we finished up our Sunday dinner at the picnic table and I tried to auction off the too-little-to-save, too-much-to-dump leftovers.

He and the girls started reminiscing. “Remember when it was such a big deal that you eat carbs with your meat? Like, you couldn’t just take more chicken, you had to take more rice too?”

“One time Steven wanted to eat a hamburger by itself, without the bun, and Mom and Dad gave him this big lecture that you don’t just eat meat by itself, you have to eat it with a bun. They didn’t say it like he’d done something bad, more like this is an important life concept.”

“And then Mom started Trim Healthy Mama and she was eating meat without any carbs!”

They laughed.

I thought, I can’t wait until you have children.

I also wanted to painstakingly explain that when they were little we were poor, we had a lot of people to feed, and meat was expensive.

Also, the whole meat-and-carbs thing was ingrained into us, as true as gravity.  That was how the world worked. You didn’t reach and grab across the table. You didn’t put your finger in the butter. You passed the food to the left. And you didn’t eat lots of meat by itself.

As Ben said, the THM diet changed my habits and beliefs. That system stresses good proteins, healthy carbs, and separating fats and carbs. A typical meal has meat with lots of vegetables but no bread or noodles or potatoes.

Before THM, Steven helped to shift our thinking as well. He joined our family when he was ten years old, a small but surprisingly strong and very hungry little boy. He ate a lot, and he had an unbelievable craving for proteins. Five eggs for breakfast. Multiple drumsticks for dinner. Thankfully, we had a little more money for groceries by then, and after the hamburger episode we decided that maybe he’s making up for a deficit in his body and we should just let him eat the protein he wants.

Then there’s the matter of nylons. 

You dressed up to go worship in the house of the Lord. That was the way it was. Nylons, or pantyhose, meant that you were dressed up. Little girls wore lacy socks and pretty shoes. Big girls and women wore nylons.

The daughters grew up. Nylons dropped off the face of the earth, like they didn’t even exist. And, frankly, I got hot flashes. Pantyhose were torture.

“Mom sometimes goes to church without nylons!” a daughter said a while back, with a touch of bitterness.

It’s humbling to change your mind and your ways.

Maybe this happened to you, too.  You were so sure of yourself, back then. This was how the world worked. This was the right course for this family, the best way, the wisest stewardship, the most Biblical approach, the soundest doctrine.

The world spun around, life took strange turns, and the solid truths of meat and potatoes grew mushy. Maybe there was room for disagreement on this. Maybe there were other ways of doing things, and good reasons for doing so.

You changed your mind. You do things differently now.

Today, your kids laugh about it at Sunday dinner, if it wasn’t really a big deal. Or maybe the memory is still a popcorn hull in their back tooth, nagging. Or they have pulled away from you, bitterly, because they tried to make you see, back then, but you wouldn’t and couldn’t, and despite the mounting evidence you were pigheaded and determined.

No doubt, you would be the first to tell others that growing and changing is part of life. “The foolish and the dead never change their opinions,” you know. You’re allowed to make mistakes. There’s grace for this.

It’s harder to give grace to yourself, certainly with the big things, but also when the changes you made were small and relatively insignificant.

What I would tell myself, back then, is that it’s comforting to know things for sure and to stand on firm ground. It’s far less fun to parent out of uncertainty, groping and hoping, needing to make a decision right now because the slumber party is tomorrow, but never feeling like there’s enough information or time. You will do less damage, I think, if you make peace with uncertainty and regularly admit, "I could be wrong."

With the basics, we stand as firmly today as we ever did. Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God. Brush your teeth, show up, tell the truth.

It would have been ok to be less rigid with other things. “You know, there’s nothing immoral about eating hamburgers without buns, but we have only a dollar per person per day for food. Maybe in a year or two you can grill hamburgers and eat them however you like.”

It’s also ok to make a rule, as parents, simply because things need to be decided so we can go on with life. Are t-shirts ok for church or not? You’re allowed to decide that no, they’re not, and that is the rule for this stage of life. You’re allowed to change your mind later. There is grace for this.

If you are honest about the relative morality of this decision, then it’s less humiliating if and when you change your mind, down the road.

If you present this rule as the only possible way for things to be done, reinforcing it with Scripture and long-held tradition that must not be messed with, and then you change your mind later, it’s far more embarrassing.

If you punished harshly and followed terrible advice, the regret brings far more than embarrassment. It means dark nights of condemnation and haunting memories.

But there is grace for that as well if you can face it and speak of it honestly.

We will never get it all right, as parents. We often take on the job long before we are fully grown or slightly healed. We do the best we can out of who we are and with what we know at the time. We are influenced by family patterns, the latest fads, and the blowing cultural winds.

It’s a perilous journey.

Years later, you might find yourself sitting at a sunny picnic table with beautiful adult children. They might reminisce and laugh about hamburgers and chicken, about nylons and rules.

You will feel really silly, and you'll taste the biting vinegar of regret. You will wish they'd have children of their own and find out what it’s like. You will be held close by your Father, who never makes a mistake but allows you the freedom to make plenty of your own. And you will be immersed in a deep and sufficient Grace. 

We ate at this picnic table today. Emily arranged the bouquet.


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  2. Thanks for that! I've experienced having my adult children laugh at those kinds of things but thankfully they take it all in stride and don't seem harmed by our mistakes.

    1. It's such a mercy when they can laugh about it.

  3. Truth! I've had to explain to our adult children that some of my practices and frustrations in earlier days came from the fact that we were poor and to be wasteful or break things meant that I had to do without and work harder to stretch what little I had. They're amazed at how relaxed I am now. (But I still don't like unnecessary waste.) Oh, and I still wear pantyhose to church, simply because my legs are ugly and I don't want to offend anyone.

  4. Thank you. Just thank you.

  5. Our daughters attended a Christian school where tgey had to start wearing panty hose in 9th grade. It was a stuggle keeping them in panty hose as they were fairly expensive and the girls were not always careful. Im thankful they are no longer required although I do wear them to church often myself.

    1. Pantyhose are not practical garments, for sure.

  6. This brought tears to my eyes because it's real and parenting is hard... what to be firm on and what to let go... what to fuss at and what to laugh at. Xo!! Jennie

  7. Beautiful! Thank you.

  8. Dorcas Byler7/24/2019 6:22 AM

    Oh my! Thank you so very much! I needed this!

  9. Oh, I very much needed to hear this! Thank you so much for this wisdom - my children are younger than yours and I have a new teenager and oh my word, I needed this advice for the rules. I love rules. . .

    1. Ha! Rules are wonderful as long as they don't forget they aren't the most important thing.

  10. Love! Love! Love this post! �� THM, nylons, t-shirts to church, living on a shoe string budget and requiring the bun and hamburger be eaten together... All so true! And equally true that now our older teens laugh about and compare enviously about what the younger ones get away with. We held to things that now we see weren't that important. I give much grace to each family as they find their way on what they value and what they let go of... Now we use lettuce for the bun... ��
    I love your candid style of writing. I just kept smiling and nodding. ��

  11. Thank you. You're making me cry. Crying about the awful things my mom and my super conservative church used to make me do and now they're not even doing it themselves anymore, for shame! And at the same time I'm crying about how hard it is to be a parent. I have a 9 yr. old who has been questioning the rules since the day he was born. You wouldn't believe how hard it was to convince that infant that night is for sleeping and day is for being awake. And yes, I'll admit that now I sometimes work a late night shift and sleep the next day. For shame!
    Thank you for your reminder of grace. The gospel reaches even into these things.

  12. So! true! Love this...Naomi

  13. As a mom of two preschoolers, this post was SO ENCOURAGING. Thank you. I want to cry.

  14. Even though I am not a mom, I can relate very well to the heart of this message! --Rose Mary