It being Mother's Day and all, I was thinking about that tricky balance all parents must struggle to attain, the balance between loving unconditionally and setting limits, maybe even providing the occasionally necessary swift metaphorical kick in the tush. As a teacher, I have this same struggle - when and how to strike the balance between supportive loving encouragement and forceful demanding expectations. I believe both are essential to a person's healthy development, yet both can go too far.
Loving unconditionally doesn't mean being a doormat and it doesn't mean endless permissiveness either. Tough love doesn't mean brutality, nor does it mean the denial of love or a constant questioning and challenging. It's way too easy to go too far in one direction or the other. Most of us humans aren't so good at balance, finding the happy medium. Maybe that's why having two parents helps. We can balance each other, rather than attempting to achieve that harmony within one flawed person. Of course, in our efforts to find the balance, sometimes we end up playing good-cop-bad-cop.
This brings me to God and parenthood. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we talk a lot about God the father. But really I think we should talk about God the parent, since there are mothering and fathering aspects to God. Likewise, the Bible seems to have examples of both a God who demonstrates the unconditional love of a parent and a God who demonstrates the tough and demanding aspects of parenting. The struggle to understand how these two sides could coexist is often at the heart of our own human struggles to understand God. Maybe that's because finding the balance between these things in our own lives is so very hard.
Perhaps in clinging to the unconditionally loving God a little too much, I have failed to understand that necessary tough love aspect. I wonder if any of us truly manages to understand the tough love side of our parents until we become parents ourselves.
Today, on Mother's Day, I find myself ruminating on this.