Parenting might have one of the longest job descriptions one may ever hold with the least amount of pay. In fact it costs a great deal financially, emotionally and spiritually. There is no award. There is no destination. One sometimes feels like you have to wait until the end of your life time to see the end result of your work. It seems though, that I don’t have to wait until my end to see the fruits of my labor, maybe you don’t either. Together, let’s look at parenting right smack dab in the middle.
Recently on Facebook we posted an article about the anxiety of our children, but how about our own as parents? Am I the only one who asks questions in the middle of the night like, Have I taught him everything I need to teach him? What if I have done too much for him? Have I modeled the right ways to deal with conflict? Have I sheltered him by creating a world seemingly too perfect, or have I allowed him to share in the hardships of real life too readily? I could go on, but if you are anything like me, you don’t need help coming up with a semester exam to validate yourself in the middle of the dark of night.
Whether you are waking up for midnight feedings, navigating through helping a kindergartener learn to read or negotiating curfews, it is important to check your perspective. These four tips will help you enjoy all the messiness of the time in the middle of parenting.
Tip 1: Define your goals as a parent. Be deliberate and thoughtful in your defining those goals. What are your non-negotiables in the end product (your child as an adult)?
We are a goal oriented society. We want to measure our effectiveness, which ironically is what my next blog will be about. Often times, with the wrong goals in mind, we set out on a course to be perfect. Especially, we mothers want to create the perfect home with the perfect memories with the picture perfect Christmas card. I am learning, though, to look for the gift of the imperfections. I just finished a book by Steven Furtick called Unqualified. There was a story in his book that resonated with me. He shares of a mother whose nest has become empty. She had spent her time making the perfect home, and in that home was beautiful carpet. She had managed to keep that carpet clean throughout the raising of her children. She met her goal of keeping her carpet clean, but at what cost? How much energy, time and focus had she invested in that goal? As she reflects now, she wishes she had spilled more apple juice and spent more time using playdoh on that carpet creating memories. That is easier said than done, because just the other day, my youngest son had spilled something on an accent chair that I am fond of, and for a moment, my reaction wasn’t positive as a result. Sometimes I forget that I am a work in progress in the middle of his work in progress. Is your goal a perfect home or memories tied to lessons that will be left throughout a lifetime?
Tip 2: Forgive yourself for your imperfections. As a parent, you need to be ahead of the game, but you don’t have to be perfect. It’s a good thing because it is impossible!
That brings me to another book that I am reading. Am I the only one that can’t read just one book at a time? I am reading, no devouring, a book called, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. In this book, Dr. Brene’ Brown uses data and research to analyze the impact of perfectionism on a person and who they love. In the context of my relationships, I am learning to forgive myself when I don’t react like June Cleaver or Clair Huxtable in the face of adversity. For some advanced students of life, that may seem easy. For me, not so much!
Tip 3: You find what you look for. Look for evidence that you are doing a good job, and pat yourself on the back!
I am in a unique place in my parenting journey. I have an 18-year-old graduate, 17-year-old senior now, and a five-year-old first grader. I am truly in the middle. I am looking at my past, standing in my present and looking to my future with my children. Reflective doesn’t even begin to touch the season I am in, but we will start there. While I have been reflective, I am hearing from people about my children. A fellow baseball mom who I am not as close to came to me at a banquet and said, “All of your boys are precious!” Now, obviously, they are behaving better in her presence than in mine because I get to see them at their worst like when my oldest son, Kort, is giving Dylan, my 17-year-old, hitting advice and it turns explosive quickly. She hasn’t seen them when the only time my oldest are allies are when they are torturing my youngest son, Taylor. Do I tell her that? Of course I did. What I should have said was, “thank you” and feel the warmth of that job well done. The reality is if I had 50 simple math problems worked out with one wrong, and I asked you what you noticed, most would notice the one wrong, not the 49 that were correct. We do that to ourselves. Instead, look for the time you do something well. If your children are old enough, ask your children about what you teach them. Ask them what kind of parent they see you as. They think you are way better than you do, I am certain.
Tip 4: Never stop learning ways to be a better a parent.
Parenthood isn’t reduced to my three quick steps to being a great parent. There isn’t a parenting for dummies or quick fix, but the reality is we must first take care of ourselves before we can take care of others. Just like being an educator, never stop growing. Read, listen and learn from other great parents. Spend time listening to what wisdom your parents give you. One of my favorite gifts was a mug from my sister that says, “Everything my mother said was RIGHT!” As I get older, I am finding that more and more true. The verdict is still out on who my children will become. How will they adjust to independence or first grade, I do not know. What I do know is that I have set in place my goals even before I knew I was doing that. I am working on forgiving myself when not if I don’t get something right. I am always watching my sons and listening to who they are. I will never stop learning how to be a better parent in the middle of every stage.
See, the reason that my sons behave better with that mom who says that they are precious is because I provide a safe place because they are loved through their make mistakes, so they can learn. They also show up in their greatest selves when the need is greatest and the chips are down, just like being up to bat as the third potential out, tie ball game, in the last inning of the championship game (those who know me, know I can’t go an entire blog without a baseball reference). Why do they do that? We taught them to never give up. Recently, I caught my recently graduated son in quiet reflective stares as he contemplates where he is going while treasuring where he has been. I asked him what we have taught him the most. He said, “Honesty.” I see that honesty in the middle of his transitioning relationships. I see that honesty when he reflects on how a heated conversation went with his brother. I see that honesty in his authentic hug he gives me before he walks out the door, because he knows those daily hugs are limited now. In the middle of the cost, I feel the gratification that those sleepless nights in feeding, when he was sick or during his teenage years were worth it. While I am in the middle of Dylan’s last summer of high school, I see him reflecting on his future, I know that he will always run home because just today he shared with me a song that reminded him of our relationship from the series, Flash, called “Running Home to You” by Grant Gustin. While I am in the middle of Taylor’s need to have two special songs, two special stories and two special hugs and kisses before bed, I am reminded that one day those things won’t be needed, but I will be. In the middle of all these things, I find joy.
Sheril Morgan is a mother of three boys, baseball mom and Director for Schools of Character. As a former school counselor, Sheril became a proponent of implementation of the 11 Principles of Effective Character Education to be used to create a culture of character in every area, especially the home.
Want to learn more about raising and teaching children from parenting and character experts? Join us at the 2017 National Forum on Character Education in Arlington, Virginia October 20-21.