- Tabitha Caplinger
The Imperfect Parent's Guide to Parenting
I am far from a perfect parent. (Thus the title of this little post.) I am sure there are things I do well. The days when I am full of grace and patience feel drowned by the days that I am the monster roaring 'don't make a mess'. So, maybe I am just too hard on myself and maybe I am the last person who should be writing advice on parenting. But in the spirit of living this year on purpose I have been taking a lot of time to assess myself in every area including being a mom. I think about what I want my kids to be; not doctors or rock star astronauts but happy, responsible, kind, passionate daughters of God. I don't know fully what it's going to look like getting them to that end but here are a few things I do know (or at least think).
1. I'm not raising kids, I'm raising adults.
"Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6
I don't mean that my kids are little adults, nor do I have an expectation for them to act like adults. They are kids, they act like kids, but the things they are learning now are lessons that will create the type of adult they will become. Do I want them to be independent? Then I can't do everything for them. (Aside from babies, you have to do everything for babies, it's the baby gig. But my kids have age appropriate chores and responsibilities.) Do I want them to be responsible? Then I can't just fix everything. Life choices come with consequences and they won't learn how to make good choices or deal with the consequences of bad ones if I just make it all better all the time. (Kissing boo boos to make them all better is a perfectly acceptable exception.) Do I want them to be kind? Then I have to practice kindness, teach them kindness and empathy. (Mean girls and bullies don't suddenly happen in middle school, at least not completely. So pay attention to how your kids treat others, even if you think it's a small thing. Small things can have big impact.) I could probably spend a whole blog post here but I think you get the point. This isn't about being unreasonable with how I let my children behave, but I need to examine present behavior with eyes that look to the future of who they will become and steer them in a good direction. Society will thank me, us.
2. Choose your battles.
"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." Ephesians 6:4
Being parents is hard. Especially when your idea of what should happen and your kids' idea of what should happen are two different things. And this parent/child war zone begins young. The moment those little buggers (and I mean that in the most loving way) can crawl and explore, the word NO starts flying like it's the only one you know. And quickly after you have to start saying no you realize that they are doing it anyway and they know it. They are barely walking before they start seeking little pieces of independence and that is scary and painful. The older they get it just gets scarier and more painful. We want to protect our children. We want them to make those good choices. We want them to be wise and safe and happy. In our wants, which are good wants for us to have, we get caught up in little skirmishes that serve only to hurt our relationship rather then help our kids. For instance my seven year old wants purple hair. She is probably going to always want some variation of purple hair. I will probably always be able to think of reasons why this isn't a good idea and tel her no and fight with her about it. I will probably win that fight because I am still bigger than her, but our relationship will take a hit. Is that hit worth it? Some battles are worth it, 100% for sure. We will fight battles for and with our kids over things that will matter for their eternity and we should fight those fiercely. But some battles are not hills we should be willing to die on because the cost is far greater then the victory. Purple hair isn't going to hurt my daughter, it isn't going to separate her from God. In fact it would only be purple temporarily, but her trusting me and feeling loved and safe with me needs to last forever.
I might have to write a whole blog post on this one, but again you get my point. In conflict with our kids we need to use wisdom. Ask yourself, 'is this a hill I'm willing to die on?' Is a small victory over something that won't matter in the long run, the success and safety of their little life, worth the damage the argument will do to their little heart?
3. When you choose the battle be sure to win it.
Let's piggy back on that last one. We would do well to learn not to make mountains out of mole hills, we should choose our battles, but if you decide to fight for it, win. I don't mean win at all costs but win. You are the authority of your home and you will establish how your child deals with all authority including God. So really this isn't about winning, it's about obedience.
"Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you." Exodus 20:12
Honoring parents is a big deal because it's a training ground for honoring God. Honor all boils down to obedience and respect for authority. When I step into a conflict with my children, when I choose to fight a battle, (and part of the reason it needs to be worth it) I need them to yield. As I type this I am locked in battle with my 3 year old. It started with me asking her to turn he ceiling fans back off. We are on the third time I've ask her to turn them off, and leave them off, and I really don't even care about the ceiling fans anymore but I care about her being obedient in action and attitude. (As a side note, one of my favorite lines is, "obedience is doing what you are told the first time without question." That's the shining beacon I look toward as a goal, more so for their relationship with God but I'd like that response for myself a little too.)
4. Be willing to apologize.
I know, I know. I just told you that if you pick a battle to win it and saying sorry doesn't seem to fit with that. But sometimes we are wrong. Maybe I was completely wrong, maybe the way I handled it was wrong, maybe my attitude was wrong. Again, sometimes we, as parents, are wrong. When we are we should apologize. Why? Because my kids need to see that making a mistake isn't the end, it's how we proceed that matters. Because my kids need to know that I'm not perfect, only Jesus is. Because I want my kids to own up to their mistakes and apologize when they make them so I need to lead by example. It's hard. It's incredibly humbling. Some of the moments I am most proud of myself as a parent have come out of me apologizing to one of my daughters for being, you guessed it, wrong.
"Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working." James 5:16
5. Grace is sufficient.
"But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." 2 Corinthians 12:9
Because I'm not perfect I am thankful for a God who is more than enough to fill in my gaps. When this mom (and dad) job gets hard, I run to Him. I lean in and seek forgiveness, wisdom, and direction. He is always there to give it.
6. Prayer is necessary.
"Pray without ceasing." 1 Thessalonians 5:17
I think that verse alone about sums it up. So pray, for yourself, for your spouse, for your kids, for their future spouse, for the one who bullies them at school, for the teacher who is hard on them or the one who works extra hard for them, for their children's pastor, and their best friend...You get it, right?
7. It takes a village.
*refer back to the verse with #1.
We can't do this gig alone. We aren't meant to do it alone. We need a support system, and not just for date night babysitting. We need people we can vent to. We need people who will pray with us and for us. We need people who will pray for our kids. We need people who will help teach our kids. And, yes, as much as it pains me to admit it, we need people to tell us when we are doing it wrong. I'm not saying that other people should get to tell you how to raise your kid. I'm not talking about breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding or whether or not to immunize. I'm talking about the stuff that we don't see because we are too close. There are people in my life, people I trust, people who (and this part is key) I know love my kids as much as I do. Those people are allowed to tell me when I'm missing something, when I may need to rethink the way I am doing something. Whether or not I listen to them is up to me but God can use others to help us and we can't be so closed off that we don't even take the opportunity to listen. Some things you won't like and they won't be right for you and your family. But some things you still won't like but they will be right and you need to be humble enough to admit it. Also, as your kids get older they are going to need more than just you. They aren't always going to want to talk to you or listen to you. They need godly voices that they trust, and you trust, pouring into them. It only makes them stronger.
8. Do hard things.
I want my girls to grow up seeing beyond themselves to the world around them. I want them to have compassionate servant's hearts. I want them to reach out and be like Jesus. That is not easy, so even while they are young we do hard things. We make time for nightly devotions. We save money to buy an extra Christmas gift for a needy child. We leave them to go on week long mission's trips so they can see us sacrifice for the Kingdom. As they get older things will get a little harder. We will ask them to go on a mission's trip. We will want them to give up their Saturday to serve the homeless. We will teach them to have conversations about their faith. We will expect them to be willing to put their own comfort aside to help others.
"Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God" Hebrews 13:16
Too often we spend all this time on soccer teams and ballet classes (which are not bad at all) and we forget to teach them gratitude and sacrifice. The world does not revolve around your child and they need to learn that lesson. You can teach them by choosing to do hard things as a family, or the world will eventually teach them and it won't be so kind.
9. Do fun things.
"I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." John 10:10b
Balance is key. We spend a lot of time as a family at church or doing ministry. So far in their little lives the only vacations they have really had are ones spent taking students to National Fine Arts. But we go to the zoo, or play candy land, or dance around the house singing Taylor Swift songs at the top of our lungs. Life will have some hard times and ask difficult things of them, but should also be beautiful and joyful and abundant. Find things that make you laugh together. Do them often.
10. Parenting is a team sport.
I have not forgotten about the it takes a village step. This is different. This is about mom and dad. I mean, as parents I don't want to say it's us verses our kids, but it's us verses them. We all love each other and are a family and all that jazz but if there is dissension with mom and dad kids will use it to their advantage. I'm not judging them, they're kids. What I am saying is that, as parents, if we aren't on the same page we are causing more trouble for ourselves. We have to parent in unity. What does that look like? This could be a whole other post too but let's try to shorten it up...Be on the same side. If you're not on the same side, act like you are until you are in private and then discuss it. Be a united front. Why is this important? It goes back to honor and obedience and respect. If as mom and dad you are undermining each other then they will see it and they will do it. They will know they don't have to honor dad because mom's going to save them, or vice versa. That's not helping them.
Again, I know this is hard. My husband and I have disagreements all the time about parenting decisions. We are different people, we handle things differently, we are bothered by different things. But when we disagree it's always as a discussion (and I mean actual discussion not code for fight) away from the kids that may change how something is done in the future. In front of the kids we have each other's back. We walk in unity as parents because God's word tells us in Psalm 133 where there is unity God commands a blessing. Who doesn't want that for their children, for their marriage, for their family?
So there you have it. (Man, that was way longer than I thought it was going to be. My apologies.) My year on purpose has me trying my best to walk these things out with my kids. I am still learning for sure, adjusting the plan, seeking God's wisdom. With God's help my daughters will be happy, responsible, kind, passionate daughters of God. And hopefully they won't need therapy. ;)