This is the moment I tell you, first, that I do not have this parenting thing down.
In case you need proof, ask my children, who this morning are likely reeling from a heated conversation last night with the 5 of us I’m not at all sure was led by the Spirit. I woke up this morning, like I have many days in the past 18 years of being a parent: feeling like I have failed, colossally, and my kids will pay the tab.
So an expert does not write this post. Believe that.
Good thing perfection is not a requirement to share a few things I’m learning and have learned.
I have read many parenting books, of which I think are heart-in-the-right-place great…that tell me 8,000 things to do to parent these kids of ours…and yet no book has ever held me in the dark times. No book has ever been there to ask: what now? when an issue threw me for a loop, unique to my kid(s) and their exact situation. I’ve called my own mom in those times. I’ve read the Bible, even just for the comfort. Most of the time, I’ve just ugly cried. Ask my dog. She knows.
The reality for me is this: don’t tell me too many things to do or I will become overwhelmed and not do any. I’m simple. Spell it out for me. I suspect we make too many parenting things complicated. It’s true: parenting is complicated. But then, it’s really not. I think it’s mostly just hard. It’s really about trial and error, teaching the core, heart things, forgiving ourselves, being open and honest, and begging God for help.
If I boil it all down, there’s really only one thing I want to say to parents, particularly the ones raising kids a little younger than mine who ask me from time to time, what to do.
Parent hard and play hard.
This is not rocket science, my friends. (Thank goodness.) It’s my simple offer of parenting advice in my 18 years of learning.
Do the hard work of parenting and then play your guts out with your kids.
- Dive in headfirst and stay in the deep. There will be times you will be tempted like crazy to get lazy because you are so very tired, and not just in the bones (heart weary, too). Don’t go MIA and bail. Stay with them when they are gross. Stay with them when they are annoying. Stay with them when they don’t like you at all. Dive in the second you find out you are going to be their parent and STAY, forever.
- Let them know their place. These kids are so entitled now, we, the condescending adults say. But who gave them this permission? Surely we must look in the mirror. Since when were our kids, yes, these precious humans we would die for, supposed to be our entire world? Since when were they supposed to come before God? This is a tough one, parenting friends. I preach to myself. Perhaps they will not expect the things they do from this world (and us) if we feed them this message from the beginning: I love you. I am your parent until the end. But God will always come first. This is parenting hard, parenting well.
- Correct and realign. Correct and realign. Repeat. As a mom, I am officially a broken record. I say the exact things, over and over, again. Sometimes I hate the sound of my own voice, saying them. But this is my job. I say the same things, even when I don’t think they are getting it. I preach the same messages about the same things because I know, I can either preach about many things or I can preach about a few that really matter. My husband and I have chosen to preach the few, tirelessly. I’m not sure if it’s worked, but we can sleep at night knowing we’ve taught the important lessons. From day one, let them know they live with a standard and keep that standard in place (while flexing with discernment by the help of the Holy Spirit in the million little different circumstances), no matter the cost.
- Fight to the end. You are your kid’s pit bull. Never let them go and never let give up. Be relentless. Be the advocate. Fight for their pure mind and heart. Fight for their integrity. Fight for their kindness and responsibility and reputation. Fight and never stop fighting. This does not mean you take on their every issue…please, parents, let them fight, too. It just means never secede to the enemy. Draw a line in the sand and let him know: you can’t have my kids.
- Deny the urge to make it about you. As my son is nearing graduation in a few weeks, this principle has come into heavy play. (I’m writing about that soon, so look for it.) This is tough love and tough truth for all of us: we make so much of parenting about us. Parenting hard is denying to make the urge about us, even when we can or desperately want to.
I just want to be their friend = our desire to have a buddy at the detriment of their growth and development as a person. If you parent hard now when they grow to be an adult, you will get to be friends. It’s worth the wait.
I just want them to be happy = our misunderstanding of life which causes them to have self-focused life goals. So much heartbreak and compromise has happened in this world, in peoples lives, all in the name of just wanting to be happy. This can’t be the goal, lest our kids spend their life on an empty chase.
I just don’t want them to go through that = our selfish desire to rescue so we can feel better. Sometimes, you let them fall. Sometimes, you let them find out for themselves. This is hard. This is where they learn and we don’t cripple them. This is good parenting.
I just don’t know anything about social media = our lazy parenting which exposes our desire to live in denial. But I don’t know what I’m doing, we say. Doesn’t matter. Join the crowd. Learn. Become an expert. We can’t afford not to know. (Refer back to being a pit bull.)
- Warrior through with prayer. Parenting hard is praying hard. You won’t survive with it. The end.
And thank the Lord, this is not where parenting ends. We do the hard (it’s a lot of hard, to be honest.) And then, with equal fervor, we play hard with our kids.
- Laugh. Laugh, a lot. Laugh, freely. Your kids are funny, life is funny, the family is funny: laugh. Our kids need to see us laugh and they need us to laugh with them. No parent who parents hard will negate their parenting role by letting down and laughing. Laughing makes us all human. It puts it all in the same space. It unites a family. Have inside jokes between the family: trust me, if just for the fact you would be horrified anyone else knew, it will bond you.
- Be weird. I have no science to back this up. All I can tell you is my kids know I’m weird and I suspect they like it a tiny bit. (They will not admit this, so do not even waste your time asking.) I see it in their eyes: when I call them a million weird nicknames, talk in my weird voice, kiss the bottom of their big feet. I think it’s amazing to embrace the weird. It helps us all not take ourselves to seriously and wind up in a straightjacket.
- Take trips together. Listen. I know it’s expensive to take trips. I know raising kids is already expensive. But we spend money on a million different things, and I think trips need to be a priority. (Think back to your childhood. What do you remember but maybe the trips?) I’m not talking extravagant trips, here. Those are nice, but so are trips to the nearby lake where you skip rocks, old school. Pack a picnic. Tell your favorite things about each other. There’s a lot of love and wisdom between you. It’s amazing what happens when you get away from the grind and routine and play and explore in a new place, together.
- Play games. Yes, the table kind. Yes, the outdoor kind. Yes to scavenger hunts. Yes to tag. Yes to Uno. Yes to Mexican Train. Yes to a puzzle. (My kids say no, but yes.)
- Have both conventional and unconventional traditions. Some of our family traditions you would expect and some would make you look at me with side-eye. Some are spiritual and some are most definitely not. But they are all ours. And this makes them special.
By the grace of God, parents, we are all on the growing up journey. We fail, we fall, we rise, we risk, we love, we play.
Mostly, we just live in a space of grateful for the opportunity to mold humans into really great people.
Let’s parent hard and play hard and when we do: rest in knowing we’ve done our best.