How can parenting be this hard? It’s exhausting. It’s all consuming. It’s the worst job you’ve ever loved having. Either kids have gotten much more demanding over the years, or parents have decided to make their lives more difficult than they have to be. Most parents I know–including the two that live in my house–are often bothered, usually stressed, and always tired.
No doubt, some of this is unavoidable. From running them around town, to helping with homework, to breaking up fights, to cleaning up puke, to mending broken hearts, raising kids is a lot of work.
But if we are going to work hard, let’s make sure we are working hard at the right things. The average Christian parent in the West is probably more involved in the day to day demands of parenting than almost any other parents in the history of the world. And yet, these same parents are likely more worried about being terrible parents than were their parents or grandparents, let alone their great- or great-great-great-grandparents.
We are all about to freak out. And it may not be over any of the right things.
I seldom feel like a really good parent. I love my wife and love my kids deeply, but being a husband has always seemed pretty straightforward (thanks to my wife, no doubt), while I’ve always felt much more inadequate as a parent. There are dozens of things I wish I did better. Not many, however, are worth fretting and fussing.
Here are four things parents should stop freaking out about.
1. Food. I know you read an article once about how bubble gum stays in the small intestines for 73 years and that kids these days aren’t getting enough flax in their diet, but it will be okay. Be sensible. Make them try new things. Keep the complaining to a minimum. Put some apples or carrots in the lunch box. But after that, let’s take a deep breath and relax. So what if McDonald’s food looks the same after sitting on the counter for three years. Don’t leave it on the counter for three years! Everyone knows you are supposed to eat the fries while they’re hot.
2. Sleep Methods. Kids need sleep, probably more than they are getting. But don’t freak out about how you train your little ones to sleep. Some methods will tax the parents more than others. Find one that works for you. Don’t let your toddler run your life. Eventually they go to sleep. Have you ever met a teenager who can’t sleep in in the morning because his parents never taught him well as a 9-month-old?
3. Clean Rooms. I hate messes. I keep my desk pretty tidy. As soon as I get to my hotel room, I unpack my suitcase, hang up all the fancy clothes, and place everything else neatly into drawers. I like order. I want my kids to clean their rooms. Mom (or Dad) shouldn’t have to do everything for them. But in the grand scheme of things, their toddler or teenage pigpen isn’t going to make or break them as a follower of Christ. World War III should not be fought over clothes on the floor.
4. Measuring Up. It looks like every other family is excelling while yours is failing. And you know what? It looks like that to those excelling families too. Their kids are so polite. Theirs are always reading. Theirs can do any sport they try. Theirs can play the piano. Theirs are so friendly. Theirs are so respectful. Theirs are so smart. Let’s be honest: some kids do play their musical instrument better. Some are more athletic. Some are more spiritual. But wishing your kid was another kid is a pretty bad way to love your kid. In reality, the proud parents almost always have less to be proud of than they think, and the woe-is-us parents doth protest too much.
So does that mean parenting is a laissez-faire experiment in letting children do whatever they want? Of course, not. There are things every Christian parent should work hard to have in place. They just don’t have to do with how much ice cream the kids eat and whether you can breastfeed on roller skates. Work hard for the things that matter.
Things like going to church every Sunday, no matter if its the Super Bowl or if soccer practice starts at 10 a.m. The best way to raise kids who put church first is to be a parent who puts church first.
And discipline. As in, have some. You are bound to be stricter than some of your friends and looser than others. You’ll be amazed by the family that allows seven minutes of screen time every month and by the family who has the kids in bed by 8 p.m. sharp every night. We will make different rules. But have rules and enforce them. Kids need boundaries (adults too, come to think of it).
Work at making true spirituality a part of the home. This may mean a wonderful discipline of family worship around the table or stories at bed time or long walks every night. The important part is that our kids see that following Jesus is not just for Sundays.
In all and through all and surrounding all of this, let your home be a place of fun and laughter. Talk to your kids. Tease them. Let them tease you. Show them how much you love your spouse. Be affectionate. Play games. Wrestle on the ground. Kiss their owies. Stay up late when the teenager is finally ready to open up. What matters most are the things the kids think about least—the things that are such a regular part of their lives that their whole world is being shaped by them whether they realize it or not. If the home feels safe, if mom and dad love each other, if your children trust you, if there is some basic semblance of routine and some palpable, even if not totally explainable, sense that these weird people actually like each other, then that’s a whole lot to be thankful for.
The world doesn’t depend on you being perfect. And neither do your kids. So do what you can, be grateful for what you have, and pray like crazy.