When your kids let you down OR: How to be happy

So I need a photo for the back of Dragons and dirt, this book I’m writing. I ask my friend Roz to work her magic so I can get the shot I need – and some of our family. Because it’s cool to frame moments where you’re blurred younger and cropped thinner – a flat smiling family with no depth disclosing irritation or tomato sauce on someone’s eyebrow. I imagine it perfect: We look incredible. We frolic for the camera like nothing is rigged. We get shots they can use on ads for margarine or washing powder. Roz thinks to herself: What well-mannered boys! What serene parents!

But tantrums during photo shoots – that’s how we roll.

Scott falls asleep on the couch half an hour before Roz arrives. We wake him and he gathers all the climatological forces of evil into a black storm. He ain’t smiling for no camera. Roz can’t get his face into a single family photo because it’s burrowed angry in one of my armpits.

Cam’s face is in most of the photos. He has picked out his ‘wedding clothes’ – as smart as it gets – and asks me to spike his hair cool. He photo-bombs every shot wild and loud. Then he flings himself into a foul mood when we say no, he’s not riding his bike to the shops and no, Roz is not going to run along the pavement to photograph the action.

We apologise for his, um, enthusiasm. Then we apologise for his sulk. Then we just apologise. Murray is being Super Dad – controlling the boys and his temper to salvage what’s left of our parental dignity. I’m feigning indignation: ‘They aren’t normally like this. Really!’ Roz keeps smiling and snapping calm. I die the slow painful death of inescapable embarrassment.

It’s pretty disastrous. Roz is pretty wonderful. She laughs unfazed grace and reassures us that we are amazing parents and that we can reschedule the shoot for any other more cheerful afternoon.

Truth is I’m a lousy parent. An angry, disappointed, lousy parent and I may as well kick and sob hot and cross like my boys and I can see how this mess spirals back to me:

Because I’m not getting what I want.

I’m mad because I want my kids to be good and do good so that I look good and feel good. I’m pinning my happiness on their behaviour – making them responsible for it when it’s up to me. Which is unrealistic and unfair. It sets them up for failure.

And being mad because they aren’t following the script in my head says more about me – and my pride – than it says about them.

Roz leaves. We pick up the day’s pieces. By suppertime the hearts under this roof are soft again. Sort of. Soft enough to get me wondering what obedience looks like when your kids turn a photo shoot into a fiasco. And I think how maybe it looks the same as obedience everywhere else:

‘…the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.’ (Micah 6:8)

Do what is right, I say to me. Teach truth. Find the courage to discipline for sin – not punish. Because Jesus already took all the punishment that I deserve, that these boys deserve. Discipline for repentance and restored relationships.

Love mercy, I add. Because mercy loves my boys when they’re good and gregarious, confident and competent. And mercy loves my boys when they’re disobedient and disrespectful. Mercy doesn’t plot parenting success on the graph of achievement over obedience. I resolve: Live grace. Love well.

Walk humbly with my God. Yes, that. Don’t try this (=cultivating small humans) at home without divine supervision. Don’t give up on these boys until the Father has given up on me. Which will be, like, never. Seek simplicity: be undisturbed and undisturbing. Because I can’t control my children’s reactions. I can control mine.

At bedtime Scott whispers warm apologies into my cheeks and hugs me hard. ‘Please you be happy,’ he says.

I am, I tell him. So happy.

And I think how sometime – maybe – we might even try another photo shoot.

. . .

Thanks for reading. And feel free to leave a comment. I’d love you to share the #5minutes4freedom journey with me on Facebook or twitter. You can also sign up to get these posts by email.


  1. i love it Dalene. Even your mess comes out so graceful and articulate over here. Thanks for your honesty and real. I cannot wait for this book to come out and with a title of ‘Dragons and Dirt’ maybe a photo out of this photo shoot is EXACTLY what that book needs?

    much love
    brett fish


    • Ha ha! Yes indeed… Murray kept saying to Roz she should keep snapping the tantrums because I would need some photos like that ‘on file’…! Thanks as always for your encouragement; means the world. Love d


      • Well Dalene, I have a saying, ‘Quality shows’ which is not true of everyone [sometimes you have to dig for it] but with some people there is just instant resonance or depth that appears – you are one of those people, as is Mr Bruce – doesn’t mean that person is perfect or always gets it right or maybe even close to either of those [as i imagine both you and Bruce would both argue which is probably also a sign] but it just means it is more obvious and clear to me from earlier on…


  2. This is real and raw and made me laugh too! The amazing thing is that pride in being a great parent contiunues to bite you even when they are adults and don’t do what you wanted and even then the mother in me wants to stamp my feet – and God reminds me ‘ I am in control not you – this is theirjourney. It was striking to realise s I read this that even though I don’t have toddlers any longer I still want it to go my way too often!


  3. Don’t give up on these…the Father never gives up on any of us…True now…true always…so much courage written on my heart as I read this post. Your real is like a cool breeze in an endless hot summer. Love Mercy. Those words contain such a valuable lesson that I have learnt- am learning- will learn…


  4. You’re normal! And so are we. Thanks Dalene xx I love this sentence the best: “We wake him and he gathers all the climatological forces of evil into a black storm.”


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