Parenting: The Greatest Challenge

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Does anyone else struggle with the idea of whether or not you are doing the right things with raising your kids? Some dictionary definitions of a parent are as simple as “having offspring,” but what does parenting really mean? According to Wikipedia, parenting is “the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, and intellectual development of a child from infant to adulthood.” That’s a huge responsibility, but doesn’t parenting seem like so much more than that, though?  How do you promote and support them? How do you know what to do? How much do you push them to make good grades? How much do you push them to succeed in their sport or activity of choice? How much influence do you have in the people they are choosing as their friends? How about how much screen time you allow them to have or if you allow them to have a phone of their own and what age? At what age do you allow them to use social media and how much do you monitor it?  Are you a helicopter parent? Authoritative? Passive? Uninvolved? Permissive? I could go on and on.  Parenting is not an easy job.  It’s serious. Parents are ultimately responsible for the kind of adults their children will be come.  The responsibility is tremendous.  The decisions you will make could alter the course of your children’s lives forever. Will we ever know if we are making the right choices? I don’t know the answer to that. Is there a right and a wrong way to raise your kids? Again, I don’t really know the answer.  I do believe that we have to try to make the best decisions that we can for our kids, but then I wonder what “best” means.  Is what I think is best, really the best?  I’m positive that what I think is best is not the same as what you think is best, so which one of us is right? Are we both right? I also know that a lot of us try to parent the same way that our parents parented us; but times change, new and different challenges arise, and what worked back then doesn’t apply to the world we live in now.  Parenting is hard.  It is the greatest challenge we face.

The way that I parent each of my kids is even different.  Both of my girls are on the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to personalities and needs.  The way that I parent my older daughter is totally different than the way I parent my younger daughter.  My oldest daughter requires a more hands-off approach.  She has always been able to play by herself and has always been totally ok with being alone and often prefers it that way.  She doesn’t like to talk about her feelings and hates when you ask her a ton of questions.  She is super shy and really dislikes confrontation. If I were to even slightly raise my voice at her, she would crumble and burst into tears.  That’s not just because she is a hormonal teenager either. She has always been that way.  On the other hand, my youngest demands attention at all times and requires a much more hands-on approach.   She’s never been one that likes to play by her self and she can’t stand being alone. She likes to talk and tell you about her day and her feelings all the time.  She is super outgoing and actually seems to love confrontation. I can yell at her until I am blue in the face and it makes no difference to her.  In fact, she will just yell right back at me. My oldest has never been the lovey-dovey type.  Even as a baby and toddler, she was never the cuddly type.  My youngest is the exact opposite.  She craves that physical contact and love.  They both came from the same two people. The same two parents in the same home and environment raise them both. However, they both require such different parenting styles.  How do we know that what we are doing with each of them won’t scar them for the rest of their lives?  How do we know that what we are doing is right?

There are millions of “experts” out there that will be glad to tell you how to raise your children. There are doctors, strangers, friends, grandparents, authors, celebrities, tv personalities, etc. that are all too happy to tell you what you are doing wrong and what you should do different.  Honestly it is very rare that you will find someone that believes that everything you are doing to raise your kids is perfect.  Everyone, even those close to you, has opinions about what you are doing as a parent, whether they verbalize it to you or not. Are all of these people right?   Do they really have the answers we all long for? Do you really suck as a parent like they sometimes make you feel? I know I am always second guessing myself.  I know that I look to these “experts” to tell me what to do, but what they say isn’t always what is best for your children. No child in the entire world is exactly alike.  Even twins who share the same exact DNA are not alike in the way that you need to parent them.  What works for one child is not going to necessarily work for another.  In fact, it often won’t. What one child needs may not be exactly what another child needs. These “experts” may not really know what they are talking about or be just following the latest fad, and it may not work for your child.  I once heard someone say that “everyone knows how to raise children except the ones that have them.” Everyone can give you an opinion but only you know if it will work for you. You have to take other’s advice with a grain of salt and not let it make you feel like a failure. Sometimes, we want advice from others.  Sometimes their advice will help, but so often it doesn’t.   If only it were easy to know what the answers were. There is not one single handbook on how to parent that will work for everyone. It’s not possible to produce such a handbook because everyone is different.  Everyone has a different personality and everyone has different needs and wants and situations.

 Psychology Today says that “parenting seems subject to fads and changing styles, and parenting in some ways has become a competitive sport.” This is so true.  We see it all the time.  We jump on whatever the newest fad in parenting is and think we have it all figured out when we really don’t.  Then we start to compare what we are doing to others. I know I am also guilty of it. You want to believe that you are doing a better job than Suzy Homemaker down the street. You want to believe that you are making the right choices, but maybe you aren’t.  Maybe Suzy Homemaker down the street is a better parent than you.  Maybe you aren’t doing such a good job as a parent. I see others who seem to have the perfect kids and the perfect life. Then I see those people that seem to be falling apart. It is so easy to judge others.  It is so easy to tell others what we think they should or shouldn’t do. It’s so easy to compare ourselves with others. It’s not easy to hear how someone else is doing this parenting thing so much better than you. It makes you feel like a failure. We have to stop the cycle of comparing ourselves to other parents.   We have to stop competing with each other over who can be the better parent. We have to just focus on our own kids and doing the best we can by them. There are some things that I think I am doing well and other things that I feel like I am drowning with.  I think that’s normal.  It’s not right to compare myself to others because their situations and their kids’ personalities are different than mine. My focus should only be on my kids.

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So…how do you know what is “best”? I honestly think that you won’t ever truly know.  You will always wonder if what you are doing will affect your child later in life.  I even think that when your children grow up and become adults, you will still wonder. I imagine wondering in my old age if some flaw or issue (because none of us are perfect) that my adult child may have is all my fault, something I caused.  I think I will always wonder if I would have done so and so differently, would my child have turned out to be a better person?  I don’t think we will ever truly know.  The only thing that we can do is to make decisions based on each individual child and his or her needs.  You can only do what you think is best.  Back to the question of what is the “best,” I think that is going to be something that you have to figure out based on your own personal feelings and beliefs and what you believe your children need.  My best is not going to be the same as your best.  My best for one child isn’t going to be the same as my best for the other child. Use the information that you have, use the knowledge you gained from your own parents, use what you learn from others, but ultimately follow your own heart.  Only you know your child and how they work and think and react.  Only you know what your child truly needs. Yes, you will constantly second guess yourself.  That is just human nature.  Yes, you will make mistakes, but learn from them.  Yes, it is going to be a lot of trial and error, but don’t stop trying. Yes, it is going to be hard, but you can do it.  I can do it.  God gave us these precious, golden gifts to mold and shape.  Maybe we aren’t doing the right things. Maybe we are screwing our kids up. I have to believe that you can only try. Try to make the best decisions for them.  Try to teach them to be strong, independent adults.  Try to listen to them and their needs and give them what they truly need. Try to be a better parent today than you were yesterday.  Try to grow and change with your child. All you can do is try. Trust God to show you and lead you the right way.  He wouldn’t have given us these precious gifts if he didn’t think we could handle it. You just have to believe that. I’ve said this before.  I’m not perfect.  You aren’t perfect.  Our children aren’t perfect.  There is no perfect way to parent.  There is only your way and your way is perfectly imperfect and that’s okay. What your children need most is love.  Love them with all of your heart and you will find the answers. Be present in their lives. You don’t have to be perfect.  You just have to be you. You are a good parent if you truly love your children and strive to teach them the best way you know how.  Be the parent your children need you to be.  Whatever that looks like is your decision and yours alone. Choose happiness and gratitude over thoughts of failure and defeat. That alone will bring you the joy and peace you need to be a great parent.  Parenting may be the greatest challenge but it is also the greatest joy.

Anchored in Parenting,

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