Is that acceptable?

Deep breath. This might get long. I have to start with a story.

This last quarter at school, my nine year old started missing assignments. It started with a day or two of being sick, and over time they began to add up until he had quite a few to make up over Christmas break. As he was working through this problem that had gotten so out of hand, he asked me a question that has had me thinking ever since, and that's really the part I want to talk about today. I think we, as his parents, waited too long to intervene, but part of the assignment and curriculum is that the children learn to take responsibility for their own work. Well, after a couple weeks, the problem just became too big for him to tackle alone.

Finally, Zach had widdled his missing assignments down to eleven. As we were discussing them and what still needed to be accomplished, he looked at me and said, "I only have eleven left. Is that an acceptable number?"

I knew immediately where he had acquired that terminology. I had told him at some point that his performance was not acceptable to me or in our family. That 25 missing assignments was not acceptable.

Because it isn't.

My knee-jerk reaction was so say, "No! Zero missing assignments is what is acceptable in this household. Zero missing assignments is what is expected. Zero missing assignments is what you must accomplish."

But, I stopped. Was he asking how much effort is just enough effort to get by? Was he asking how much longer I would be looking over his shoulder? Was he asking if he could skip the remainder of the assignments? Or was he asking if he, Zachary, was acceptable to me, his mother?

Was Zero the magic number that would secure my love for him? Was eleven? Was twenty-five or twenty-four or twenty-three? Had he perceived my love for him as conditional?

Or worse, had I placed a condition upon it?

You probably see where this is going and sense the amount of guilt I felt. In the end, I told him that if having eleven missing assignments was the best he felt he could do, it was good enough for me. It was acceptable. The thing was, I knew he could do better. I knew zero missing assignments was within his reach. So how was I to bridge the gap between what he felt he could do and what I knew he could do?

If I wanted to draw the parallel to the Savior and the Atonement, which I normally would, I would point out that I could forgive the eleven missing assignments, but to satisfy his teacher, or justice, someone would have to complete the assignments and turn them in.

But I want to look at it a little differently today--by asking this question instead: At what number, at what point are we acceptable to the Lord? When is our best really our best?

Honestly, I don't know. I do know that with every person on earth I feel like the number is zero. I remember a seminary teacher explaining to us that the only person who would ever offer us unconditional love is God. Even our parents would place conditions upon it, not because they are jerks, but because they are human. Even today with my own parents I feel that my number of missing assignments has to be zero to be acceptable. And oh man, I wish I didn't make Zach feel that way, because the truth is that 25 missing assignments is acceptable to me if that is truly the best he can do, and even if it's not the best he can do. I was as proud of him when he had completed that first missing assignment as I was when he completed and turned in all of them.

So, *sigh* this mama needs a hug.


Heather said…
Brought tears to my eyes Mis! Because as a parent I find myself doing the exact same thing! I love my kids so much and I want them to succeed (their definition or mine?) that I want them to do their very best. But at what point do I push them to do better at the expense of my relationship with them? I get so tired of the nagging to get homework done, and honestly I think they do to. It comes down to the same question Zach asked...when is it enough? And it breaks my heart that I make them feel like what they have to offer isn't enough. Because it is. Or it should be. Thanks for the interesting thoughts today. And if you get it figured out, let me know. 'Cause I've got no idea!