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Written by Maralee Bradley
Photographs by Rebecca Tredway

I recently had the privilege of working with Nebraska Public Television on a short parenting segment that will be used as part of a child abuse prevention campaign. It was a new experience for me since up to this point I’ve been just been writing my thoughts and doing some work in radio. Thinking about being on camera brought on a wave of new thoughts and such self-consciousness!

I went to the taping and things went a lot more smoothly than I had imagined. It was great to meet other women who were passionate about their work and to feel like part of a team. I also enjoyed sharing the experience with a friend who documented it through her photographs and kept me from getting anxious. I’m learning it’s hard to get nervous in front of a friend who watched you give birth—no pretensions left.

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(getting hair and make-up done by Emily Lovelace at Tangled Up Salon in Lincoln, NE)

So as I was enjoying my leisurely drive home from what felt like a professional day of vacation from my normal mother duties, I remembered how bad the day before had been. I was NOT in professional hair and make-up. I was in a t-shirt and jeans with food crusted on them at about the height my almost-toddler’s fingers reach up on my leg when he’s begging to be picked up. TV personality I was not. But it was the frustration in my voice and the irritation in my heart with my kids that was the most discouraging to me. Who is this person?

Here I am delivering a message of second chances for your kid, when in my own house I occasionally stomp around like a tantrumy toddler. It was tempting to think, “Forget it! Who am I to give any wisdom to other parents?” But then I thought about who I want giving wisdom to me.

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(teleprompter instruction from NET’s Stephanie June and

Kelly Medwick from Nebraska Children and Families Foundation)

Is it the perfect pinterest parent with her daughters sitting in a line of matching stain-free dresses she sewed herself while simultaneously teaching them piano lessons? Is it the parent who has never shut herself in the bathroom just to get a minute of peace? Is it the parent whose children are reading chapter books at age 4 and religiously tend the hobby farm chickens and goats without complaining? Is it the parent who has never thrown in a frozen pizza because she ran out of energy before she ran out of meals to cook? You know who I want to hear from?

I want to hear from someone real.

We live in a Facebook-friendly world. Many of our “friends” exist only in profile pictures and 140 character updates. We can craft an identity we’re comfortable with the world seeing, but in our hearts we know we aren’t who we’re pretending to be. This fear of being real immobilizes us when a friend comes to us with their own problems. How can I identify with her without admitting my own failures? How can I ask anybody else for help if I’ve worked so hard to protect this image?

As an advocate for foster children, I have especially seen this fear from families who are considering foster care. How can I possibly help this child when we aren’t perfect? Real Parents- if you’re waiting for perfection, the day may never come. If we real parents aren’t the ones to offer hope and healing to these kids, WHO WILL? A hurting child doesn’t need a perfect parent. A hurting child needs a REAL parent. A parent who is honest about their failings and gives grace to themselves and extends it to the children in their care.

I felt like a bit of a fraud to be giving advice when I know I haven’t got it all figured out. But you know, I think the woman who is struggling in her parenting doesn’t want to hear from somebody who thinks they’re doing everything right. Maybe she wants to hear from somebody who was pretty grumpy with her kids yesterday, but realizes today starts fresh.

The lessons I’ve learned in this parenting game haven’t just come from unmitigated success. Some of them have come from huge failures. I have been humbled in ways I don’t easily talk about. Through my houseparenting work I have loved children I had to let go. Children I couldn’t convince to make good decisions and who ultimately chose their own path with difficult consequences. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, this love and loss has made me very “real”. I have no image to protect and that gives me the freedom to deal with the realities of parenting. I have been forced to become a person who offers a lot of grace to other moms because I am well acquainted with my need for it.

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(steadying my nerves prior to taping)

I can’t tell you how to raise a perfect child because I haven’t raised one yet. I can’t tell you how to raise a child who won’t embarrass you because I’ve been embarrassed many times. Children I have invested in and loved have chosen to drink, abuse drugs, father illegitimate children, and have spent time in jail. They have broken my heart and through the healing process my heart has grown big enough to include love for the drunk and drugged, the deadbeat dads and convicts. I have learned that being a loving role model doesn’t insure the child you love will make choices you love.

So I parent in faithfulness to God.  I choose to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do not because it guarantees a positive outcome for me or my kids. I choose to be real because my sisters need me to be. I share my stories and lessons learned because I’d love for somebody to not make the same mistakes I’ve made. We need to have a community around us of women who are more than profile picture and 140 characters deep. We need mothers who are more than sound bites and made-for-television make-up. When the real problems come, that’s who we can turn to for support and understanding.

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Maralee Bradley

Maralee is a mom of six pretty incredible kids. Four were adopted (one internationally, three through foster care) and two were biological surprises. Prior to becoming parents, Maralee and her husband were houseparents at a children’s home and had the privilege of helping to raise 17 boys during their five year tenure. Maralee is passionate about caring for kids, foster parenting and adoption, making her family a fairly decent dinner every night, staying on top of the laundry, watching ridiculous documentaries and doing it all for God’s glory. Maralee can be heard on My Bridge Radio talking about motherhood and what won't fit in a 90 second radio segment ends up at www.amusingmaralee.com.

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