Many parents today feel overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy and guilt. I am convinced that many of our struggles come from believing that it is our job to be perfect parents. But we don't need to get caught up in false beliefs that cause stress and worry. Read the eight truths about parenting that will free you to be a more positive parent.
Leslie Leyland Fields is a mother of six and author of "Parenting Is Your Highest Calling, and Eight Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt" (Waterbrook). She lives in Kodiak, Alaska.
1. You May Not Feel Loving Every Minute
Before we have children, we believe we’ll always love them unconditionally. But it’s not too many years after they arrive that the I-love-you/you-love-me-back arrangement is gone. In the hard times, we can easily jump to the wrong conclusion: I don’t feel loving toward my child, therefore I must not love my child.
The question is not, “Am I feeling loving toward my child?” but “Am I being loving toward my child?” If we’re supporting, encouraging, and disciplining our kids--if we're committed to their highest good--we are loving them. Don't worry about fluctuating feelings.
2. We Don't Need to Obsess Over Success
Increasingly, parents seem to measure their success by the achievements of their children. But this current obsession is leading to all kinds of excesses, including overscheduling and overprotection. We need to let go of our obsession with success, both for our sakes and our children’s. Our children need breathing room, unstructured play time, and the ability to make mistakes and learn from them. Most of all, we need to value and love our children not for their achievements, but simply for who they are.
3. Our Kids Have Their Own Purpose
Before we became parents, many of us believed that children would bring us happiness, fulfillment, as well as tons of fun! We soon discover that these moments do arrive, but along with them come many moments of, well, not so much fun. All parents feel surprised at how much work parenting is. But in many ways we receive more than we give. Children teach us how little we know—the beginning of real wisdom. Children expand our hearts. They free us from our self-focus and open us to the needs and love of others. Children don’t exist to fulfill us. Ultimately, they are here to find their own purpose and to contribute to the world in some way.
4. There's No Parenting Formula
While there are many helpful parenting books out there, some offer formulaic models based on behavior modification, obedience training, and rigid discipline. The underlying assumptions: we should be in control of our children at all times, and children shouldn’t mess up our lives. Raising children is inherently messy, thrilling, and unpredictable. Parenting "experts" and "one size fits all" parenting formulas cannot raise our children for us. We raise our children. Our children are too complex, creative, and unique to be raised by recipes or formulas.
5. We Don't Have to Buy Them Happiness
We often think the best measurement of our parenting skill is how happy our children are. Toward this goal, we put TVs in our kids’ rooms, go into debt for lavish birthday parties and vacations, and fix the foods our children clamor for instead of what they need. Our job as parents is not to make our children happy, but to help them become good people—compassionate, honest, responsible, hard-working. When a 10-year-old already obsessed with video games asks for an iPod, or a 16-year-old wants us to buy him a car, we may need to say no. The 10-year-old needs to gain some maturity and discipline; the 16-year-old could earn the money for a car. Our job is to help our children distinguish between their short-term happiness and the long-term good of their character.
6. Is Not Our Only Calling
Yes, we are called to love our families, but also to love our neighbors. When we focus exclusively on our children, we risk turning them into idols. Our children can grow up oblivious to others’ needs and the needs of the planet, believing they are the center of the universe. Enjoy your family and cultivate times of togetherness, but also enlarge your children’s scope. Take them with you as you volunteer. They’ll gain an outward, compassionate focus that can enable them to become generous citizens and good parents themselves someday
7. We Can Be Less Anxious
“I just want my kids to be safe.” How many times have I said this and heard other parents say the same? Of course we want our kids to be in safe cars, schools, and homes. But this desire for safety can spiral out of control, fed by fear, and lead to what some are already calling “the anxious generation.” Too much caution will cripple our children with fear and limit their enjoyment and effectiveness in life. As parents, we need to practice safety, but we also need to practice trust and faith. Kids need challenges and adventures to stretch their abilities and give them self-confidence, problem-solving skills, and courage—attributes every successful adult needs.
8. We Don't Need to Be Perfect
Many of us live with the realities of divorce, single-parenting, blended families, teen pregnancy, and many other less-than-perfect circumstances. We often feel like failures, and worry about our children’s security and success and their own future families. But there is no perfect family. Families throughout history were often marked by imperfection, yet the children from those families still accomplished much. With attentive parenting, we can help turn adversity into strength. For instance, I travel often to teach and speak. While our family is apart, my kids have learned to cook and manage the house. Our own family limitations never limit our children’s faith or their possibilities.