My friend Jonathan is a finance professor who teaches at a large state university in Texas. At the end of one semester a student named Chris approached him at the end of class to inquire about why his grade was so low. Jonathan replied: “Well, I looked for you in class to tell you that you were losing points because of the attendance policy, but every time I looked for you, you weren’t there.”
Chris decided to utilize some of the knowledge he had learned from what little of the finance class he had attended, so he drew himself up to his best undergraduate bargaining height and responded,
“It seems to me that I’m the one paying for this class, and that makes me the customer. And I should be able to decide how many of the classes I want to attend. You shouldn’t be able to dictate how much class I attend. I’m the consumer, because I’m the one paying for this class.”
You may need to know a couple of things about Jonathan. He’s a very intelligent guy, and a big guy, and he was also in the Army before the classroom. Jonathan is not someone you argue with lightly, especially not in his professorial role.
So Jonathan responded: “No, son, you’re wrong. You’re not the customer here. You’re the product. You’re MY product. Society is my consumer, and if I pass you in this class I’m putting a stamp of approval on you that says you are a good product. We hope that someday someone in society will want to pay for you – pay a salary for you, and I need to be able to promise them: this is a product that will show up for work. This is a product that will have the knowledge I taught him in this class. My reputation lies in your value as a product, and right now, you are not a product I feel proud providing to my customers.”
Bless Chris’s heart – he just didn’t know when he was in over his head.
Four years ago when I became a mom I knew I was in over my head. I read lots of books, searched a lot of blogs and asked for a lot of advice from every mom I knew, young and old. So many of them said the same thing about their hopes and dreams for their children when they grew up: “I just want them to be happy.”
As little as I knew about this path of motherhood, I somehow realized that statement wasn’t quite right. Because if we just wanted our children to be happy we would let them have candy every time they went through the checkout counter, and stay up past their bedtime every time they asked. And a lot more people would have ponies as pets.
I thought about the story my friend Jonathan told about the finance student who got the roles mixed up. And it occurred to me that parenting wasn’t about pleasing a little customer who was always right.
On our son Drew’s first mother’s day four years ago I wrote him a letter.
“Drew, you’re only two months old now, and you might have noticed a lot of staring going on. We just sit and look at you a lot.
We sit and stare at you and ask, sometimes out loud: What is it that you need? What can we do for you? How do we get you to stop crying? How do we get you to sleep? How do we make you comfortable and clean and full and happy?
If someone didn’t know better they might mistake you for the customer at our house, the one whose needs are constantly being heard and met. But make no mistake, my little one, you are really our product.
We are looking to produce someone who will be happy and healthy and grow strong and good. But we are also looking to make a product that will realize that he is a holy child of God. And so as you grow sometimes the services we provide you are going to come in the form of discipline and denial, because we have our eyes on the product that we’re hoping and praying you will become.
And even though we won’t always give you want you want, we will be there for what you need, especially your most basic need, which is to be loved by us, so you will know how you are loved by God.”
Here’s to all the mothers who gave us what we needed and not what we wanted. Who listened to our crying and pleading for things that would make us temporarily happy and saw a longer future ahead, one where we would need to understand that life wasn’t all about having our every whim met.
And thanks, Mom, for not giving me everything I wanted. It was just what I needed. I hope I am a product that has made you proud.
Jessica LaGrone is an Associate Pastor at The Woodlands United Methodist Church in The Woodlands, Texas. An acclaimed preacher, teacher, and writer, Jessica enjoys speaking at retreats and events at churches throughout the United States. She and her husband, Jim, have two young children, Drew and Kate.
Jessica is the author of Namesake: When God Rewrites Your Story and Broken and Blessed: How God Used One Imperfect Family to Change the World.