[Week 26 of 52 Weeks to a Better Relationship With Your Child]
Let’s begin the discussion by pointing out something that is truly foundational, but often overlooked:
No one is prepared to be a parent
There is nothing quite like parenting to expose our weaknesses and flaws. Every strength we thought we had is challenged. Every selfishness will be revealed. Every inadequacy tempts us to self pity.
Yet, the model is for a child to be born to two people with no prior parenting experience. True, some people have had extensive experience with younger siblings or have taken care of other people’s children. However, it is never the same as the responsibility and delight of parenthood. And while it is helpful when there are friends and family to lend emotional support and occasional live action help, the parents will bear the load of parenting.
Examples from real life
I want to talk a little bit more about the experience that people come to parenting with, even if it’s not exactly parenting.
I was the oldest of four children and I grew up in what would be considered a very stable, modern American family. And I got to see how my parents did things and I know they did well overall, they made some mistakes – even as a child I could see that – but overall they were a good example.
However, I did not have a lot of experience really interacting with younger children and putting any of this to any sort of test before I had my own children. I did babysit occasionally and try to apply some things, but I soon discovered that the way other families did things was not going to be easily modified by how my parents had done things as I applied them in babysitting.
For another couple of examples, I have some good friends who both come from large families, of about 9 kids each, I think. And each of these ladies will tell you that despite the various responsibilities and skills that they learned, there was still nothing like the responsibility of having their own children.
In the midst of all of this, you may be asking yourself (I know I did):
Why does it take children so long to grow up?
Children were designed for long term care. This has a uniquely human potential for relationship with parents. It makes it possible for families to grow together in ways they would not if children were out of the nest every year like little birds.
And in the midst of it all, everyone comes to parenting with different advantages and disadvantages. We all have to learn to appropriately use our advantages and overcome our disadvantages to the best of our abilities. No matter what background we come from, we all have an innate sense of our children needing to be nurtured and guided.
Part of the challenge in knowing how to proceed is sometimes sifting through what are helpful and what are harmful cultural norms, and as parents we should be very careful to examine that. There are those who would try to insert themselves between parent and child relationship, and it is very useful to try to see through the misinformation and manipulation that is used to do that to families.
Along those lines, let’s ask another question:
Will the real parent please stand up?
No one human being knows how to or can care for ALL the children of the world. And, along the same lines, there is no cookie cutter method of training or educating all the children. There are principles, but these have to be applied in creative ways. It takes knowing a child personally to get insight into his needs in the circumstances and challenges that he and the family are facing. It takes that same insight to get to know his strengths and desires. In other words, it takes deeply relational communication to answer the most important questions of life or to help in difficult times. It takes a parent.
If you love your children and honestly want what is best for them, give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Give yourself room to learn and problem solve, because this is obviously how it is set up especially for first time parents. Then, keep in mind that you are always parenting any given child for the first time.
This means a couple of things. You may be parenting your fifth or your seventh child, but it is the first time you are parenting that child. Along the same lines, when people might have a superior attitude toward their ability over yours, they have never parented your child.
Through it all, aim for a humble confidence. Be confident that you are capable of being a good parent. Be humble about the need to problem solve on a regular basis.
Don’t be afraid to be the adult in the relationship
Don’t confuse adult-adult relationships with parent-child relationships. Children are not little adults to be given all the same personal freedoms. Children are immature humans that need both protection from others and protection from themselves many times. A parent is uniquely allowed to interfere with a child in ways that would not be at all acceptable between adults. I discuss this more in The Limits of Libertarian Ideas for the Family.
It is also important to keep in mind that the marriage relationship is not to be abandoned for some misguided dedication to the children. The marriage is designed to be the core of the family. Preserve the marriage (not just in terms of legality, but in terms of relationship) and the children will feel a security that will guard them from many destructive outside forces. In addition, the parents will benefit from camaraderie and support that keeps parenting strong in all the right ways. There is a blend of priority to the marriage relationship and priority to care for the children that will serve the children optimally.
Obviously, there are some who have real and legitimate challenges with marriage. Those issues must be counted among the disadvantages that must be dealt with as a parent. Such individual situations do not discount the importance of good relationship between parents.
Take mistakes in stride
When you make mistakes, don’t beat yourself up over it. Don’t get sucked down into the muck over it and don’t keep apologizing to your children. In fact, save the apologies to your children for really important mistakes. They don’t need to know every little thing you are second guessing yourself about.
Also, don’t feel guilty for getting angry. It is not the anger, but what you do in response to it that is important. Anger is always something that should be used to help you evaluate the situation.
Why are you feeling angry? Is it because you are tired and need to adjust the schedule? Or, just as likely, is the anger a signal that there is a real issue with a child that should be addressed? But then, don’t address the issue in your anger. Step back, take a deep breath, and deal with it in a rational way.
You should regularly remind yourself that you DO have more parenting experience and motivation to be a parent than your child. Have honest discussions and don’t be afraid to say when you don’t know something, but rest assured that you know a lot more than your child. You have experience and insight just from being a parent.
An important bookend to the discussion is that you need to —-
Enjoy being a parent
Don’t be intimidated by some people, or misguided by circumstances, into letting someone else take over your role as parent. If you leave margin in your schedule for organic relationship growth, if you have a routine that gives priority to family relationships, and if you want to enjoy your children, you will be the parent your children need. Savor the moments and the opportunities. Enjoy being a parent.
For a list of each post in the 52 Weeks to a Better Relationship With Your Child series click here.