As a middle age mom who’s halfway done with raising children (hopefully), I have to admit that God has quite a sense of humor. Young, unsuspecting parents generally come in to the parenting journey with a sense of optimism, idealistic goals, and determination. Patience and perseverance are rarely something that young parents associate with the new, exciting journey. Yet, just a few years into the experience and all of us have changed.
Unfortunately the change is not without trials and tribulations that test us and stretch us beyond limits that we did not know we had. For example, the three kids that God gave me came out with three spunky, different personalities. It reminded me of the many times I heard my mother saying when I was growing up, “I have six kids, and none is like the other!” Mom would say this in a spirit of exhaustion and exasperation. But at the time, I was a know-it-all teenager and could not relate.
Fast forward three decades later, and I had a little boy who would not sleep under the covers but on top of his bedspreads and comforters because he did not want to make his bed in the morning. Smart or lazy? Two young sons refused to untie shoelaces whenever they took them off but instead tried to squeeze their feet back into the tennis shoes. All three around the tender age of nine attempted to skip changing into pajamas and would sleep in their change of clothes for the next day. Everyone, except maybe the adults, knew that it was quicker and less work this way. Hopeless boys or think outside the box future renovators?
No one tells you that your kids would change almost every year as fast as they change clothes or interests. For example, one year one son was into casual gym shorts and homeless looking clothing while shrugging off all the nice college prep type polo shirts and dressy khakis. The next year, he insisted on slim jeans. When the kids refuse, they refuse. When it’s not their style, it’s just not their style and we cannot make them dress according to the way we had planned, the visions of our dreams, the pristine, determine goals we had at the beginning of this journey.
After a few years and more than a few conflicts with each child, parents become worn out and jaded. We let them do as they please, even if it’s unconventional. We get tired of fighting with them about eating their veggies, or picking up toys, or doing chores, or going to bed on time. Behavior charts, love and logic, love and respect, and other parenting strategies can help but not for every situation or for every child in the home, or for long periods of time. Trust me, I’ve tried them all and then some more. But there is no escape from the unexpected learning curves involved in raising children. Some parents wonder if their kids would ever get sick from the unhealthy food choices they make. Some moms even worry about kids not taking in enough calories each day because they are such finicky eaters.
At my house in recent months, one son is starting to develop an annoyance for pillow cases. So, all of a sudden, his younger brother follows suit and also removes the pillow cases. The boys insist on sleeping directly on the pillow without any covers. Is it worth the battle to keep insisting that the cases stay on the pillows when it’s already two hours past bedtime? Out goes the rules, the etiquette, the good manners, the “way it’s supposed to be” and in comes the new you. If you are so tired of doling out and enforcing behavior expectations, join the parenting club. We end up letting the children create their forts, play musical beds at night, and dwell in rooms that look nothing like the Pottery Barn catalog pictures.
Like me, you might struggle with a few occasional obsessive-compulsive moments when you have to put the darn pillow covers back on. Other times, you let them go to school in pajama like clothing that they insist on wearing because it’s comfortable and “all the kids are wearing it.” One year, I even had a son decide to take off the fitted sheets from his mattress and sleep directly on the mattress because it was more “comfortable that way”.
Throw in the more serious parental stressors and you get a mad house: mental illness, dysfunctional family relationships, health issues, “workaholism”, and internet/gaming addictions. My husband and I have had to deal with one or more of these issues over the years. And yes, despite our very best intentions and conscientious parenting, these problems do affect the kids’ mental health and behavioral functioning.
What is neat, effective, most economical, wisest, smartest, conventional, or most convenient don’t always take shape or form in this parenting journey. After a while, we throw our hands up in the air because it is a losing battle to insist on some options and choices that in the long run would not hurt their development or over all well-being.
If you have happy, growing kids, pat yourself on the back. If they feel loved, hug your spouse and partner in crime. If the kids show ability to relate well to others, then they are okay even though home life does not look remotely like what we had previously imagined. If you have to take a child to counseling or psychiatric care, your journey will become all the more richer for it.
Parents, do yourself a favor and give up on all those pretty dreams now. Put on the back burner those ambitious visions of your child becoming the next talk of the town, the successful, outstanding athlete or student of the month, the smartest kid that wins the awards, or the best looking, best dressed, most popular student in school.
Yes, you may have the talents, experience, and wisdom to impart on the young ones. You might even have the financial resources that you’ve worked so hard for. Of course you want to provide all these opportunities for them in order to achieve these dreams and goals that perhaps you were deprived of when you were younger. Who can blame you for wanting bragging rights, whether it’s a future Nobel prize winner or successful entrepreneur?
But for our sanity, speaking from parent to parent, let’s take lots of deep breaths. Then enjoy the ride. Take it with a grain of salt, so the saying goes. We, moms, more than anyone else, need to take measures to engage ourselves in self-care. Let’s kiss our dreams and goals goodbye, and raise these interesting, unique, spunky individuals in a fallen, unpredictable world of changing cultures and values. Let us keep the big thing the big thing, the main thing the main thing, and make frequent stops to smell the flowers on this journey of rocky roads full of twists and curves.
Let us remember that at the end of this journey, what is important is not that we lived vicariously through our kids. It is also not that they made us look good, that “we showed them”, “we succeeded” against all odds, or that the glory will finally be our family’s.
No, when I started out this parenting journey, I was frankly a bit naïve, idealistic, ambitious, and determined. I was going to do this parenting journey right, based on my experience being a child, all my education, and all the wisdom I soaked up from God and learning from other successful adults in life. Now more than halfway through, I feel closer to God and more dependent on Him than ever. I understand the work of the cross. I get the 40 days of temptations facing Christ in the wilderness. I hear the wisdom in Proverbs and all the other books of the bible.
When we are weak, then He is strong. When we are broken vessels submitting to His majesty, then He can shine His light in us and through us greater than we could have imagined. This journey is not about us or each individual child. It is not about our honor or theirs. If we come out still smiling, gracious, kind, forgiving, humble, and teachable, then in my book, we have “succeeded.”
How do you define parenting success? Is there a difference between the Christian parents’ outlook compared to non-believers’ outlook?
To our loving, sovereign God be all the glory!