Today I’m re-opening our faith and parenting series today for my friend and fellow blogger Joy Bennett. Joy has been writing since the second grade and blogging since 2005. She grew up in a Christian home, and says she should know the answers to all the usual faith questions...but doesn’t. She has delivered four babies, handed two over to heart surgeons in the hall outside an operating room, and buried one in a cemetery just a few miles from her home.
It always surprises me when people ask me to give parenting advice.
It also scares me a little.
I get parenting wrong every single day.
I lecture instead of listen and ask questions. I confuse childishness for rebellion and punish it instead of recognizing it as a glimpse of my child’s still-ripening maturity. I let things slide that I shouldn’t and then rant when things get out of control, even though I’m partially to blame. Even though I should know better after 12 years as a mother, I still expect things to be convenient, comfortable, and easy for me. Then I actually resent my kids when they make things inconvenient, uncomfortable, and hard.
I get it right occasionally, too. So do my kids. Those are good moments.
However, I don’t think that gives me authority as a dispenser of advice. My parenting choices are still largely untested and unproven. Our children aren’t even teens yet. It will be ten to twenty years before we see what kind of adults they grow into.
Even then, are children really the best measure of their parents? I say no. This is one of the biggest mistakes we can make, both as parents and as observers of parents. It assumes that parents have total control over how their children turn out – over what kind of adults they turn into. We blame parents for the unruly, rebellious, and backslidden; we laud parents for the polite, demur, submissive, and devout.
We forget that each child is a separate individual, endowed with a body that is unique (and imperfect). Some children have special needs or biological challenges to overcome or accommodate. Each person has a mind and will that is independent, accountable, and responsible for his or her choices. Parents have incredible influence on the way a child develops their mind and will, but ultimately each person is limited by their individuality and choices.
If my children grow into responsible, courteous, trustworthy adults, I cannot take all the credit. And if they grow into frivolous, foolish, rude, deceitful adults, I cannot take all the blame.
If they never become independent because of brain injury, autism, or developmental delay, the vocabulary of credit and blame has no place in the conversation at all.
All I can offer as a fellow parent working it out every day is a little perspective. I can remind us both that we can’t force our kids to make good choices but we can teach them how. I can remind us that we can’t keep our kids safe – after all, my daughter died in her own bed in our home. I can’t think of a safer place than that. I can remind us both that each one of our children is unique and different and will require us to work differently with them than with the others. That has nothing to do with fairness; it has everything to do with knowing your child.
And this last bit? The part about every child being unique? This is one of the biggest reasons I avoid giving advice. Only you know your child. Who am I to listen to a few sentences about a situation and speak into it with any real wisdom without knowing your child the way you do? I can help you think through it by asking probing questions. But ultimately, I’ve concluded this: All a parent can do is the best they can at any given moment. And the best we can do to help another parent is encourage them to keep doing their best.