You are Probably Not Messing Up
One of the best parts of my job is to offer encouragement to mothers who feel like they are not enough. Like so many of us, these moms have a vision in their heads of what parenthood will look like and how they will do it. Aren’t we all experts on parenting until we have children ourselves? What we forget sometimes is that God knits each of our children together inside us. They are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139) by a creator who knows even the number of hairs on their heads (Matthew 10:30). Although it feels in my heart that nobody knows my children or could parent to their specific needs better than I can, the truth is God loves them more than I do. He knows them more than I ever will. And since God is good, this knowledge should bring me peace.
This peace doesn’t come from having perfect children. Christian parents still have kids who procrastinate to go to bed or wake up every hour during the night. They have children who won’t eat solid food or who refuse the breast. Their kids throw temper tantrums in the store because they can’t have a candy bar or their shoes are too tight or because they want to be naked. Christian children have toileting problems. Their kids struggle in school; they can be bullied, can be the bully. Being Christian does not protect us from raising teenagers who are depressed or anxious, who drive too fast or have no motivation to learn to drive at all. Our kids are kids just like everybody else’s.
But what I have seen is that kids who grow up in actively Christian home have an extra layer of protection. They get conversations about boundaries in the context of Moses having boundaries. They suffer their hardships knowing Jesus suffered to the point of giving up his life. It seems that having these kinds of conversations with our children as they grow, guiding them back to God, does seem to help, even when we, as parents, are not enough.
In terms of parenting, you are probably not messing up. Or, put a less reassuring way, we are all messing up as humans all of the time. So, you are probably not messing up more than anybody else. There are many beautiful, fabulous ways to love and raise a child. Our world has become so connected that sometimes we disconnect people from this fact. We compete with other parents, known and unknown, who are making mistakes just like you do but who post their victories on Facebook and then you feel less than. Don’t you have victories too? Moments when your sweet baby gazes at you and smilingly coos? Or your teenager runs back to the house before leaving with friends to say, “Have a good day, mom, I love you.”? Competition is killing our sense of camaraderie, the knowledge that we are all in this together, trying our best to be what each of our kids needs. The truth is, I can’t parent your child the way I parent my child. It won’t work. I can’t even parent my two children the same because they are different people with different personalities and different motivations.
So if one child potty trains at 18 months but the next isn’t ready until 3 ½ that’s ok. If you have to wear a baby everywhere you go to help with colic or you have an independent child who likes to spend hours on the floor staring out the window, that’s ok. If you let your baby cry it out so they can learn to self soothe and put themselves to sleep, great job! If this sounds cruel to you and you treasure the time you spend together during all of those night wakenings, go ahead and bond! The age you buy a cell phone for your child might be different from the next person’s. Think it through carefully, prayerfully, and then trust your decision to God. God has created family but has designed them to look different.
There are things as parents we should never do, no matter what. Your child has to stay in the car seat when driving, even if he doesn’t like to feel restrained. Your 3rd grader must attend school, in some form at least, even though she hates it because reading is still hard. Your teenager should not be using drugs, even if he rationalizes that it is natural. This is bad for his body. The fact that your child might push the limits on any of these things does not mean you are messing up. The mistake would come if you don’t do your best to guide them back to good decisions. And I say decisions, plural, because there are so many ways we can raise up our kids to follow God and build disciples. This, not perfection, should be the goal.
So stop berating yourself for not being perfect. Instead, find joy in the process of knowing each child well enough to lead them through the challenges of life. Be a person they want to tell about their accomplishments, no matter how big or small, and show them through grace that, just like you, they will make mistakes but being perfect is not the goal. It has never been the goal. We are called into relationship with Jesus Christ and that is something we can do no matter which baby food we introduce first!