Wednesday, November 6, 2013

"Isn't it hard enough?" or Why I Think We Shouldn't Judge One Another as Parents,
Part 1

Parenting is hard.  And it just keeps getting harder.  (I’m learning that is the way with most things in life.)  We have 4, soon to be 5 children.  In the process of raising them, we have had to make some tough decisions and had to have some tough conversations.  We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve made mistakes, we’ve tried to follow the Spirit, and mostly we’ve just worked every day to let our children know they are loved.

Last Spring, we went through a tough parenting period with the decision of where to send our son to middle school.  We live in a very diverse school district with a lot of school choice options.  It was an interesting experience for me to talk with other parents who were simultaneously engaged in the school selection process.  I enjoyed sharing perspectives and ideas, but I also found that some parents felt strongly that they needed to offer some corrective advice.  There were also those that felt they had to fiercely justify their school decision because we were choosing a different path.
The process made me reflect on why we are critical of one another as parents.  Seriously, isn’t it hard enough?!  I know that as a new parent, I was quick to make assessments.  The words, “I’m never going to do that with my kids”, may have been uttered.  I think I was also quick to offer my newly found parenting wisdom and advice.  But those years are LONG gone.  I have grown a lot as a parent over the past 12 years and along the way I have learned some valuable lessons.  The combined take-home message from those lessons is that we really shouldn’t judge one another.  We should love, support, laugh, listen, pray for, and cry with one another…and recognize that we all are doing our best to help our children become the best they can be.
I want to share just a few of the lessons I’ve learned and the reasons I think we should all show some charity and cut one another a little slack as parents.
Lesson #1:  We are different people.
Would you raise my children differently than I do?  Absolutely!  You are a different person.  I’ve learned this lesson so many times over in 12 years that it is almost laughable.  I think most of us go through the stage early in our parenting when we read a lot of books, imitate parents around us, and take a lot of advice.  In the end, we learn that what works for us is what mostly aligns with who we are innately.  I am my best as a parent when I am being my best self.  When I am taking advantage of my personality, talents, passions, and strengths, parenting is more workable, enjoyable, and successful.  I’ve been given some incredible advice from some incredible parents that completely bombed in our home.  Why?  It just wasn’t me. 

I remember just after baby #4 was born, I had two women in my family call to offer some reassurance and support.  These two women are some of the most phenomenal mothers I know.  They are creative, patient, and accepting in ways I can only hope to someday attain.  Both of them talked about pairing down life… “Don’t worry about routine.”  “Don’t bother taking your other kids to school/preschool.”  “Just make sure everyone gets fed.”  I couldn’t do it.  In fact, it was the opposite of what I needed to do for who I am.  I needed a return to routine and normalcy to get back on my feet physically and emotionally.  Was their advice bad?  No.  Would it work for me as a mother?  Absolutely not.
As I have gotten older and more secure in my “me-ness”, I’ve really enjoyed seeing how my friend’s personalities flavor their parenting.  I love my laid back friends who can ignore the mess and engage their children in an activity.  I love my ultra-organized friends who can run 6 children to many different activities and not get flustered.  I love my patient friends who are phenomenal listeners and can drop everything to talk with their children.  I love my fun friends who can turn a normal day into a super cool spontaneous adventure.  And I love knowing that I am not them and that is okay.  They are not me.  We all get to bring who we are to the table.

Personality absolutely spills over in how we choose to manage our children’s behavior.  We all have different perspectives and priorities.  I do STRONGLY believe there are traits and skills every parent should strive to develop and demonstrate:  love, kindness, patience, gentleness, consistency, to name just a few.  I also believe we can strive to emulate the best in one another.  Every so often, I do something spontaneous with my kids.  Occasionally, I manage to ignore the mess and let them take over my kitchen.  But every single day, no matter what, I do my very best to love them the best I can.

Lesson #2:  We are parenting different children.
While this sounds like a “no-brainer”, it was a hard one for me.  I spent years beating myself up because my children wouldn’t behave just like our friend’s children.  I had one dear friend in Ohio who would line up her 5 children on the bench at Church where they would politely (and quietly) sit and color for the entire meeting.  That has NEVER happened on our bench.  I don’t have those kids.  I can’t make my kids that way.  And most importantly, God doesn’t expect me to.  I truly believe that God sends our unique children to us for a reason.  He has sent me a whole batch of smart, dynamic, emotional, strong, and LOUD children.  I don’t know why.  I do know that it isn’t easy.  My kids are challenging, but they are mine and I love them with everything I’ve got. 

I have had a lot of painful parenting experiences dealing with this lesson.  (We’ve had a couple just recently at Church.)  Every so often we will encounter an adult who has never had to deal with a child like ours.  Those adults are often critical and impatient.  I have watched them blame my children and I have felt their judgment towards us as parents.  It hurts and it isn’t fair.  I’ve shed many, many tears over the things I have had said to me about my children.  My kids aren’t broken or bad because they are passionate and intense.  Likewise, your kids are broken or bad because they’re quiet or shy.  God sent us different kids.  On purpose.

We all should feel confident making our parenting decisions based on the unique needs of our children.  I have developed deep respect for several families who have chosen to home-school their children because they were inspired to know that it was the right thing for their children.  Doug and I spend many hours seeking out specific coaches, teachers, and mentors who we feel will understand our children and show them the love they deserve--even on their most difficult days.  

No one can know what it is like to be me, dealing with the children I have every day.  Conversely, I can never know what it is like to be you…in your home with your children. What we can do is seek to love and accept one another’s children.  We need to recognize that each of our children is a child of God on their own personal journey of growth.  They are in different places learning different lessons.  When I taught middle school, I dealt with over 200 adolescents every day.  Before each day began, I took a moment to stop and reflect that every child who walked through my door was a beloved child of God—the happy ones, the angry ones, the disobedient ones, the helpful ones, the disorganized ones—every one of them.  And they all deserved to feel His love through me.
It is lesson I try to continue to live each day.