Friday, October 2, 2015

When Parenting Gets Hard

My three young boys and I still had not made it through the security checkpoint. The airport was hot, our carry-ons heavy and we stood uncomfortably close to strangers. Turtles moved faster than that line. Turtles didn’t even have to be alive to move faster than that line.

What little space remained between us, our luggage, and the passengers next to us, my two younger boys somehow managed to fill. They sprawled out on the floor in discomfort, their limbs intruded on strangers, and they whined like champs. I quietly reprimanded them. My oldest son yelled at his brothers to stop – continually and loudly. I reprimanded him as well. Finally after two long hours, we made it through security.

Later, I thought about how trying to get through an overcrowded airport alone with my boys can bring out the worst in me. Then the image of my oldest son trying to get his brothers to quit being obnoxious popped into my head. I gasped. Oh my goodness. My oldest son was trying to help me. When his dad is not around he likes to become the man of the family. I know this about him, so why did I reprimand him? Yes, I know he was yelling in strangers’ ears, but my poor little man stretched his wings of manhood and I immediately clipped them.

{Big sigh.} Parenting is hard. 

It is wonderful, rewarding, and amazing, but hard. And it just gets harder. For one simple reason: as the kids get older, they remember. Our words matter. 

It is hard to lay emotions aside and know what to say when.  It is hard to know when to push and when to pull back. We can all entertain parenting fears like:

What if my kid could be really good at – insert sport, talent, academics here – but I never pushed him/her hard enough and he/she missed out?

What if I pushed my kid to be good at – insert sport, talent, academics here – but my kid hated it and never told me and grew up resenting the activity and me?

We can freak out if our kid hasn’t hit a milestone or learned something as quickly as the kid up the street. We can compare ourselves to all the best qualities of other parents, then of course feel like we fall short. We can helicopter too much. Or we can give our kids independence then kick ourselves when they fail because we doubt our decision to let go. We can worry our children’s shortcomings reflect our own parenting failures. 

Look. I know intentional parenting is good. But unhealthy pressure and unrealistic expectations is not. But here’s the thing: even though I can question and worry about my effectiveness as a parent, my heart tells me – Are you ready for this? – it doesn’t matter. Whether we put unhealthy pressure or not on ourselves, our kids are going to turn out okay. 

Haven’t generations of imperfect parents before us have successfully raised kids? Didn’t the generation before us have to walk both ways uphill barefoot in the snow to school? That generation turned out fine.

Our generation turned out fine too. When I think of my own childhood, I don’t remember it as perfect. I remember sometimes being pushed and sometimes not. I remember good conversations and frustrating conversations with my folks about decisions I made. I remember good times and hard times. (Mom, I am so sorry about junior high. I was awful.) In the normal ups and downs of family life, I have fond memories. Why? I always felt loved.

Hmm. That thought is telling. 

Maybe when this parenting thing gets hard and we are not sure what to do, we can simplify it. We can let go of all the unhealthy expectations and ask ourselves: In this situation, does my kid feel loved? 

After our airport incident, my oldest son had to write about his happy place for third grade. This is what he wrote:
"My happy place is a place I go a lot. My books are at that place. My cool collections are there. My toys are there. My neighbors are at that place. My family is there too. My happy place is home."

Be still, my heart. Despite my mistakes, my son still likes home best.

As parents, we won’t do everything right. We will not always be sure what the best thing to do or say is, but we can confident of one thing: we know how to love our kids. We can create a home that embraces them. We can be a family that learns together, is full of grace, is accepting and safe, and loves deeply. 

We can create a happy place. 

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