I’D RATHER NOT
My tulips are blooming, the sky is blue-ing, and the temperature is climbing. For the Sargent family that means one thing. It’s time to pretend. When the four of us pile into the car and pull out of the drive, someone will say, “It’s vacation time! We’re on our way!” And then someone else will count down the months or weeks or days until our car will be loaded with beach gear and we begin our southern migration for real.
Six months prior to vacation, we dream about it; six months after, we reminisce about it. Our family vacation is the most valued week of our year. Rusty works overtime and I teach a night class to make sure this vital week happens.
And we fiercely guard it from all distractions. For seven solid days it’s just the four of us—re-tightening bonds that busy lives can loosen. On the outside we’re snorkeling and collecting seashells, but on the inside we’re saving our family from the myriad of things society says is more important than US.
(I wonder what my future sons-in-law are going to say when we tell them they can’t go with us?)
And since our vacation is a road trip, you know what that means: car games! YAY! Let’s see—we play travel bingo, the ABC game where you look for letters on signs, trivia. (We’re not very inventive, are we? Please feel free to make suggestions!).
And then there’s that one game, the one I DESPISE. I cringe when the girls start it, and even though I refuse to play, I’m trapped inside a metal box on wheels and have to listen. It’s the “Would You Rather” game, and it goes something like this:
RANDI: Hey, Kelli, would you rather stick 1,000 needles in your eyeball or let a rattlesnake bite you on the tongue?
Then it’s Kelli’s turn. And her job is to top needles and rattlesnakes.
KELLI: Would you rather jump from a plane and have your parachute open 10 feet above ground or be buried up to your neck in hot molten lava?
Would You Rather is the WORST GAME EVER! How is choosing between two horrendous options entertaining?! That isn’t FUN! It stresses me out! Seriously. It hurts my brain to try to make a choice.
And there’s another thing that bothers me about that game. Sometimes I’m forced to play it…but not in the car…in real life. Sometimes being a mom feels like a game of Would You Rather. Too many times I’ve faced a decision—and neither option is one I want to choose. It hurts my heart to try to make a choice.
You’ve played that game, haven’t you? Many of us were introduced to the mom version of Would You Rather even before our firstborn arrived:
Would you rather work outside the home, receive an income, and let someone else witness your baby’s firsts OR be a stay-at-home mom clipping coupons and feeling alienated from the adult world?
For some this isn’t a difficult choice; for others, there is no choice. But this isn’t a one-size-fits-all decision, and the cost-benefit analysis can be excruciating.
Whatever our decision, it’s only the beginning of the game because our babies become children, and the game changes into something like this:
Would you rather let your son spend the night with a friend whose family values differ significantly from your own OR tell a sweet, innocent child no again until he finally quits asking if your son can sleep over?
And it doesn’t matter how many times you let the little boy spend the night in your home or how many times you invite him to the movies or to play laser tag. He doesn’t understand why you won’t let his friend spend the night at his house. But his mom does, and occasionally you run into her in the grocery store and smile and try to be extra friendly to overcompensate, but you still feel like a jerk.
As our children grow, the options—like parachutes and hot molten lava—get worse:
Would you rather admit your child is suffering from anxiety and needs counseling OR deny the symptoms and leave her to cope all alone?
Because it’s hard to accept when our child might not be “normal,” and we don’t have time to deal with it, and we don’t really understand that our teen growing up in today’s world is vastly different than the world we were teens in. But when 1 in 4 teens suffers from anxiety—and 80% of them go untreated—wow. That’s a pretty big would-you-rather. When I started teaching twenty-two years ago, I couldn’t tell you what anxiety looked like. Now, I see it every day. Anxiety is becoming “normal.”
And what’s causing all this anxiety (besides the time our kids spend on social media—but that’s a subject for another post)? Let’s see if this one sounds familiar in your home:
Would you rather let your high school student load his schedule with college classes, play sports year-round, and work a part-time job because each comes with valuable advantages OR limit his choices and frantic pace, which may also limit the achievements he can list on his scholarship application or limit his chances of becoming a professional athlete…or limit the things we parents like to brag about?
Or how about this one? It’s pretty common. If you haven’t played it, you know someone who has.
Would you rather let your daughter stay in a toxic relationship OR try to force her to end it?
Because we all know what happens in this scenario when parents try to force the end, don’t we? Have you ever heard of it going well? But how impossibly difficult it is to stand by quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) and pray your daughter comes to her senses–or that Mr. Toxic succumbs to his own toxicity (I don’t mean that literally…mostly).
This kind of reminds me when the prodigal son takes his inheritance and blows it, realizes his mistakes, and returns to a loving father who welcomes him back. While I know that’s a parable to illustrate God’s forgiveness, there are two things that amaze me about the father of the prodigal.
ONE: At least as far as I can tell, the father didn’t react with even an ounce of anger. As much as I would love for my prodigal child to return, I can’t imagine not feeling at least a half ton of fury at his selfishness, foolishness, and any other -ness I could list here.
TWO: I once read something about this father that stayed with me. He didn’t go after his son. Although he knew his son chose to walk away from everything good in his life, the father didn’t go find him and drag his unappreciative hiney home. Does that hit you like it hits me? Does that mean at some point we give up the fight with our prodigal…and simply look down the road, praying and waiting for him to return?
When I think of the father of the prodigal just waiting, I think of another parent of a prodigal. She herself didn’t go after her daughter…but she didn’t just wait either. Years ago before we moved here, my hubby encountered that mom’s would-you-rather, and it went like this:
Would you rather watch your daughter’s drug addiction consume her OR become an informant and help law enforcement make a major drug bust that will put your daughter in prison for years?
I can’t decide which is more heartbreaking—the mother’s tears when she asked my hubby to help her send her daughter to prison or the mother’s tears when my hubby knocked on her door with news that her daughter had been arrested. For just one second can you let yourself feel the desperation and courage it took for that mother to save her daughter?
And sometimes the would-you-rather isn’t necessarily a bad thing…but it’s still a difficult choice. Here’s one I’m facing:
Would I rather let Kelli go on a mission trip to Haiti like she feels called in her heart to do OR try to convince God to quit speaking to her heart so I can keep her close and safe?
Look at any screen in your home—TV, phone, iPad, laptop—and there’s a constant reminder of the evil in the world. As much as I want both my daughters to experience foreign missions (and I do!), my heart beats just a little quicker as the opportunities get closer.
So what do we do when we feel trapped in a metal box and are forced to play the would-you-rather game? There are SO MANY would-you-rathers. And there are NO easy answers. So how do we choose?
Maybe we make our choices like the kids do when they play the game in the car–deciding which is the least painful or the least gross or which has better odds for survival.
Or maybe we could ask questions to answer the questions:
Which option more closely agrees with our core values?
Which aligns with our faith?
If there’s something to be lost, is there also something to be gained?
How will we or our children grow if we choose this option?
When we’re cruising through life, and life decides it’s time to play Would You Rather, sometimes we feel like we can’t win. But sometimes we do win. Because we’ve made hard decisions before, and we’re still rolling down the highway.
So this summer when my family is heading for the beach and the girls ask once again if I want to play the game, I’ll tell them I’d rather not. I’d rather stick 1,000 needles in my eyeball.
To better equip yourself for those would-you-rather moments, be sure to sign up for the FREE give-way of the child and teen editions of Praying the Scriptures! If you signed up to follow The MOM Journey via email, you’re already entered. The drawing is March 31, so watch for an email from me!
We’ll have a new give-away in April. I’m excited because it will give you an opportunity to bless some moms! Info coming soon!
And if you have a friend who also plays the mom version of Would You Rather, you can share this with her by hitting the Facebook icon below.