He told us matter-of-factly this morning that he thought he was getting taller. We’re short people. So this was big news. And he was right. Asher, my six-year-old is getting taller. And his knees are getting knobbier, bearing more scraps from run-ins with sticks, cement, and rocks. His hands are getting larger and more calloused from gripping handle bars, swings, and any tool his dad will let him get a hold of.
But that’s not all that’s changing. Requests are no longer met with an immediate response—but a request for explanation and purpose. The discipline tactics that worked well before aren’t now. He is more aware of what exactly is forbidden, and how close he can get to doing, said forbidden thing.
He’s changing, and consequently, so is my parenting.
It’s new territory. I’m trying to figure him out, as he figures himself out. We are testing new relational waters, and some days, we are barely keeping our heads above water. These days aren’t always pretty.
In it all, I’m reminded of the story of Jacob from the Bible—whose name literally means “he grabs the heel”, and who earned his name’s figurative meaning, “he deceives” as he got older. Jacob tricks older brother Esau into giving him the birthright reserved for Esau, and then tricks his weak-bodied, and weak-eyed father into blessing him with the blessing that wasn’t his to receive.
But my favorite part of Jacob’s story is found in Genesis 32, when Jacob, on his way to meet the brother he deceived, is left alone. There, he wrestles with a man—who many believe was an angel—all night. The man, unable to overpower Jacob, wrenches Jacob’s hip by touching the socket. At daybreak, the man asks to be let go, Jacob asks for a blessing and then the man asks Jacob his name. “Jacob,” he answers. Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”
Jacob’s name is changed on the spot, but so is his gait. He leaves that place walking with a limp.
For me, some days, parenting feels like a wrestling match. Wrestling with the emotions of growing kids. Wrestling with wills, attitudes, and the changes common to family. Wrestling with the reality that parenting is hard. And it is. Hard.
Wrestling, I’m coming to find, is tiring. But it isn’t bad. When Jacob’s name is changed to Israel, it becomes the name God’s people are known by. It’s meaning, to struggle with God, something the Jewish religion considers a tenant of their faith today. It’s good, not something to shy away from in our faith, or in our families.
Because it means we are engaged. Active. Wrestling in parenting means we aren’t tapping out or checking out, but continuing to participate when our mental and physical exhaustion beg us to quit. And I happen to think, that if we are doing it right, we ought to bear the sign of it.
Jacob earned a limp. But it wasn’t a shame. It was a marker. It wasn’t a weakness. It was evidence of a holy struggle.
Jacob’s limp wasn’t a weakness. It was evidence of a holy struggle.
Wrestle long enough as parents, and we may find ourselves with just such a limp. And it too represents a worthy struggle. When we feel our growing and changing kids have worn us out and spent us up, when we are struggling with how to relate and how best to love, we ought to recall our limp isn’t a mark of defeat, but a well-earned trophy. It is a mark of involvement. Of a hallowed task. And our limp is evidence that we’re doing it. The holy work and the hard work.
One day at a time.