How I Exasperate My Children with My Pride

Our middle son is musically talented and blessed with perfect pitch, which is a very good thing. I learned in the first weeks of his life outside the womb that the only way to soothe him during the midnight screaming sessions was to turn on the music and bounce him on my shoulder. It worked every time (thank you Van Morrison, and so many more).

My son’s ability to hear and replicate music continued to show up in ways that amazed me at a very early age. I remember walking by his room and watching him peck out “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on a 25-key “baby” piano at the age of two and-a-half. I could give many other examples from the early life of my musical prodigy, but I’ll spare you my boasting. If only I had had the wisdom then to spare my son the pride I felt in his innate talent; my focus on his musical gifts was exasperating to him over the years, and it was a long time before that light bulb came on in my head.

I think part of my amazement at our son’s musical talent is in its mystery. Where did this come from? His two parents and four grandparents are not responsible, for sure. There is no family lore on either side of a musically gifted ancestor. We did share an appreciation for music with our son, and it was played often in our home, but only my son could make music. It seemed to have almost a divine quality to it because it was such an enigma to me.

Predictably, I made it my motherly mission to foster and develop this talent in all ways available to us. The good news in this, because I could not teach my son anything, was that I had to hand him over to the tutors and choir masters of our community. I was just so proud of this gift he possessed, and confess that I defined my son by it. If a friend had a gifted athlete in one of her children, that was okay, because my child had similar aptitude for music.

As my son moved into his teen years, his developing commitment to making and singing music meant auditions and competitions. When he was contemplating auditioning for a role in the school musical in ninth grade, I told him he most certainly would get the lead. Imagine my surprise when he banged his hand on the table and said in agitation, “Mom, you think way too much of me.” He was right, too. He got a respectable supporting role in the production, and the guy who played the lead was really, really good.

Colossians 3:21 tells us, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Another translation for provoke could be exasperate. I believe I was exasperating my son every time I put his talent on the pedestal I had constructed. In my blindness to the limits of my son’s talent, and to the amazing talent of a lot of other kids in his world, I was leading him straight to discouragement.

This was not the only instance in my parenting when I exasperated a child by thinking too much of his or her abilities. It was my parenting mode of operating. Of course, this was born from my love for my children, but sin had found an insidious way to contort that love into a constant expectation of amazing accomplishments. I did not “beat” my children into high performing, I just assumed that would always be the outcome when they demonstrated a certain talent.

At Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit descended from the heavens and the voice of God told the world, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Notice the beautiful simplicity and profound love in this pronouncement. God does not say why He is well pleased with His son, just that He is. And thanks to Jesus’ atoning act on the cross, we are also God’s beloved sons and daughters with whom He is well pleased – just as God is pleased with our own children.

In terms of my son, I was communicating to him that I was pleased with him because he was good at music. I can only imagine how exasperating that was to him. My son knew that his abilities had limits and that there were peers out there even more talented and more inclined to practice than he was. This is the truth of all ability and giftedness. They have limits. What makes a person’s worthiness unlimited is the sacrificial love poured onto us by the only limitless person to ever exist, Jesus Christ.

In the Communion prayers of the Book of Common Prayer, there is a beautiful phrase prayed by the congregation, beseeching God to accept us by not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offenses, through Jesus Christ our Lord…

I am, and always will be, an admirer of my son’s musical talent. It brings him joy and amazingly it puts food on his table now that he is grown and making music professionally. I am grateful to our good Lord for this provision for my son. But just as our good works do not and cannot justify us, so is it true of our talents and abilities. Jesus’ perfect, limitless goodness is what saves and justifies both me and my son.

Carolyn Lankford lives in Birmingham, Alabama and has three grown children with her late husband, Frank. Formerly a co-director of Christian Education at the Church of the Advent, Carolyn served as the Advancement Officer at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University before transitioning back to the Advent to work as Interim Director of Women's Ministry from 2021-2022.

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