- Quality time is important
- Quantity time is more important
- Watch and notice
- Work together
- Go on an adventure
- Share what I love
- Read books
- Be silly
- Sing and dance
- Go outside
Parenting is a concept where we act in order to have results. We parent our children so that they can go to bed, do well in school, act in certain ways, and think how we want them to think.
But what if we switch from parenting our children to being a loving parent? Instead of working to have certain outcomes (the verb form–parenting), we instead focus to be the best we can, regardless of what happens next.
Today at bedtime, I wanted my kids to calm down and go to sleep. So I decided to employ some good parenting techniques: we played a few games, I read stories, sang songs, and tried to show love and attention to my children. But I wanted results. I was parenting: if I did it right, then my kids would calm down and go to sleep.
Do you know what happened? They would not calm down. They giggled and they would not listen. I was trying to do the right thing, or so I thought, but I was doing the right thing only for a certain conclusion that was not happening. (And then I got very frustrated, which did not help anything.)
Parenting (working for specific results) is not effective because kids are people and people make choices. That means that even if we parent perfectly, we may not ever be able to get our kids to think and respond in the ways we want.
But being a better parent is not dependent on the outcome. It’s just doing what is right no matter what happens. If the kids are misbehaving and disrespecting and being horrible, I can always be a loving parent. I can control what I do–and this is a lot easier if I’m not attached to results.
I have to let go of my parenting goals and those expectations I want. Which means I have to stop thinking and googling things like “how do I make my kids (go to sleep, do well in school, stop hitting each other, listen to me, respect others, etc.).” I have to realize that my kids will make choices that I do not like. And that they will do this a lot, and I cannot control it.
I can guide them, love them, and teach them. There can be consequences to actions. I can tell them what is right and wrong.
But at the end of the day, I will never be able to force them to go to sleep (or do so many other things). Instead, I can only force myself to love them even more.
This started with the book 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson. One of his rules is, “Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.” He goes on to say that we should discipline our children and teach them social norms. He says:
Because children, like other human beings, are not only good, they cannot simply be left to their own devices, untouched by society, and bloom into perfection.
A child will have many friends, but only two parents—if that—and parents are more, not less, than friends.
Parents need to be parents and help their kids, and kids like limits. They like when their parents set those limits. I have noticed, since reading that book, that after I calmly discipline my daughter, instructing her to do the right thing, there is an increase of love with each other. She loves me more afterwards, not less. It may make her angry for a moment, but she feels safer knowing that I’m watching out for her and teaching her.
This sentiment is echoed The Collapse of Parenting by Leonard Sax. He tells parents to get their kids off screens, have consistent discipline, and teach respect and self-control to my kids.
Command. Don’t ask. Don’t negotiate. Modern American parents are forever rationalizing their decisions to their children. There are many problems with that approach. The mere fact that the parent feels compelled to negotiate already undermines the authority of the parent. When you lay down a rule, and your children ask why, answer, “Because Mommy (or Daddy) says so.
I need to be both supportive and authoritative. Sometimes it’s hard to set those limits and follow through. It’s easy to let kids be on screens for hours at a time. It’s easy to do all the work and not have them help with the chores. It’s easy to say they can do what they want.
But it’s not good for the kids. I’ve been trying to be better: they have to sit down and listen sometimes. We put away the TV for five days a week. We try to do daily chores and dish jobs (still a work in progress). I try not to tolerate it when they back talk and remind them to be respectful.
Growing up, we had a book that was called What to Do When Your Mom or Dad Says “Clean Your Room!” I loved that book growing up because it tells you exactly how to clean your room, and I still use some of this methods to this day. I was searching on the internet to get a copy, and I found that there was a whole series called The Survival Series for Kids, written in the early 1980s.
So I ordered a set of 17 books. When they came, I looked through all of them. Parenting has changed a lot.
We don’t teach manners anymore, partly because adults don’t always have manners either. Do you know what you should do when someone stops by your house? Well, first, no one is going to stop by your house without texting you first. But if they do, do you remember to invite them in, take their coat, and ask if they would like to sit down?
Do you ever say, “It’s nice to meet you?” Do you instruct your kids to call adults by respectful names, like Mrs. and Mr.? Do you have regular expectations for your kids, like the chores they need to do and having them help clean up and cook? Do you do things for your kids that they could do for themselves? Do you tell your kids you can’t afford it? Do your kids know how to hold a conversation with a stranger? Do you kids know when to say thank you? Do your kids know how to behave in public, like holding still and not talking out of turn? Do you tell your kids to put away screens when they talk to other people? Do you do that?
It made me realize that we forget to teach our kids how to behave. We pretend kids are adults and we treat them that way, which leads to a lot of disrespect and even confusion.
So I’m working on it. I want to be a little old-fashioned in some ways.
I have never been praised for my singing voice, except for some mild positive comments. I view this as an entirely good thing.
You see, when we get praised for something, particularly when we are young, we may start to build up our self-imagine around that thing. It becomes part of who we are. But the thing is, we may not actually be particularly good at it in another setting. And we usually always have room for improvement.
When we get praised, we often will start to build our ego and self-worth around that thing. This is dangerous, because our self-worth shouldn’t really be based in what we do; it’s just who we are, and it is still there even when we can’t do something anymore, or we can’t do it as well as we thought.
We shouldn’t stop praising people, but we need to be careful with our children and praise in the right way. So that they know they have self-worth even if they realize later on that there are millions of people who are smarter than them, and stronger than them, and better than them at doing certain things.
Instead of saying, “You sing really well,” try, “I love to hear you sing.”
Instead of saying, “You are really smart,” say something like, “I really am proud of how hard you have worked in school.”
Sometimes we do things whether we are good at it or not–we do it because we enjoy it. And that’s much better way to be, doing things independent of whether we are better than someone else, doing something because it feels right, instead of doing something to inflate our ego and make us feel better about ourselves.
And stop praising yourself too–you don’t have to BE a good writer or a good singer or good at anything. You just exist. You DO. And that’s enough.
(Written January 2018)
How many times have you told yourself that you’re a good mom/dad or a bad mom/dad? You’ve probably done it a lot–and if you are like me, you are usually saying to yourself that you aren’t good enough.
The thought of being a good parent or a bad parent is not very useful. First, who is coming up with the classification anyway? We are all very different people and we have our individual ways of doing things, so there is no universal ideal of a good parent.
We create our own ideas of what a good parent is and what a bad parent is. And when we measure ourselves against the ideal, we forget that we made it up in our heads.
And usually we are doing some things better than other things. And parenting is so huge, that even when we do something well, there is something else that we are forgetting to do. We can’t be perfect parents all at once. It’s sort of impossible.
So we should stop telling ourselves that we are good or bad parents. It doesn’t do any good at all. It’s not the point, anyway. The point is to love our children, not to get a passing grade in parenting.
We should keep striving to be better–but we should do it for the benefit of our children, not so that we feel good about ourselves.
And in the end of it, I don’t want to be a good mom as much as I want to be an instrument in the hands of God to do what he would have me do. And that may mean forgetting about whether I am a good mom or a bad mom and just trying a little harder.
The biggest surprise I’ve had in becoming an adult is that I’m not very good at this.
I guess when I was younger, I expected that I would grow up and be a stable, happy, functioning adult. And while I knew I wouldn’t be perfect, I guess I figured that I would at least be competent.
Instead, sometimes I am a complete wreck.
And I want to be better. Of course I do. We all do. But sometimes it’s really hard. Life is harder than expected.
Part of this is being a parent–there is nothing quite so humbling as being a parent. Being a parent requires you to basically be good at everything at the same time. It’s an extreme sport in patience, faith, teaching, loving, and more. Every parents makes a whole lot of mistakes because sometimes there are no easy answers.
But I have to start separating myself from my extreme expectations of being able to do everything and do it well. Life isn’t like that.
There are messy days in life.
Days when I cry over spilled milk. Or I just don’t feel like talking with anyone. Or I say no to good things. Or we eat cereal for dinner. Or I binge watch random videos I don’t even like.
I want to get rid of the messy days and I want to get rid of them for forever. But I’m not perfect. Life isn’t perfect either.
But I don’t need to be ashamed that I’m not always on top of things and I make mistakes, sometimes large mistakes. Because the perfect person I’ve envisioned is just in my head, an ideal that I made up and that isn’t part of how the world really is.
I don’t need to expect perfection in myself or perfection in others. But what I can expect is that I keep trying and I keep moving forward.
I may never overcome some of my weaknesses. But I can keep trying my best to do the best I can, and be happy in my efforts. My efforts mean something, even if the results are less than impressive. I can keep trying.
I am worth something. I am worthwhile. I am doing better than I think I am.
It’s funny–I write these essays and I’m not always very good at what I’m writing about. In fact, sometimes I’m really bad at it, which is why I’m writing the essay. And sometimes I keep learning the same thing over and over and over again.
Because knowing something in my head for a minute is a lot different than learning how to live it. And so I will keep learning the same thing over and over again, and maybe I’ll get just a little bit better at it every time I keep trying.
We can’t have it all.
As mothers, sometimes we feel pressure to do everything: work, stay-at-home, go back to school, start a new business, sign our kids up for various programs, do a better job at taking care of our house, whatever.
I know a lot of moms who work–and it’s really hard to balance work with family and home. You often feel like you are always in the wrong place. I know a lot of moms who stay at home–and it’s really hard to feel like you have purpose when you stay at home. Sometimes you battle loneliness, depression, and low self-esteem. And there are a lot of moms who are somewhere in-between.
There is always too much to do.
Motherhood requires sacrifice, no matter what your life looks like. And your life will never be quite the ideal. Something always seems to be missing.
And we are often worried about what others think. No one has the ideal life, really–it’s just a whole bunch of messiness. No one has it figured out in a way that’s right for everyone–we have to figure out our own specifics.
Sometimes that means working. Sometimes that means going back to school. Sometimes that means saying that now is not the right time. Sometimes it means really long days at home with your children.
We need to stop judging other people for whatever choices they make. But more importantly, we need to stop judging ourselves and instead just continue on the best that we know how.
We can count our blessings and help each other figure out how our individual lives should look like. We have to learn to make sacrifices of good things that we want in favor of what is better for us and our children.
And we should remember that our lives are going to be different from we expect, and instead of worrying about having it all, we should worry about having the right thing for us.
Right now, I’m a stay-at-home mom and I’m starting to homeschool my kids. I didn’t choose homeschooling as much as it was simply the right thing to do. With all four kids at home, I don’t have as much time to do some of my own projects. I’m also planning on going back to school in the fall. I don’t know how it will all work out. That’s okay. I’ll figure it out.
I do know that when I trust in what is right for me and my family, things will be all right.
It’s not going to be perfect and we’ll have horrible days and really good days. But we just keep trying.
From a young age, I have been involved in numerous choirs. I like to sing, but I haven’t had a lot of praise or criticism related to my ability to sing. I’ve some mildly positive comments, but that’s about it.
I am grateful for this. First, I’m not a great singer in the first place. But I’m also not a bad singer. So when I sing, I’m not worried about whether I’m doing it well or not. I’m just singing because I like to.
There are other aspects in my life where I have been much more sensitive to any praise or criticism that has come may way. I built my self-image around being good at academics or writing. The things I received the most praise about became part of who I am. And that wasn’t really a good thing.
Because no matter how good I am, there are always so many people who are better than me. I always have room for improvement. Sometimes, I’m not quite as good as I think I am–I have failed miserably at things that someone once praised me for.
I should never do things just to get praise. Who I am is different from what I do.
If I never received grades throughout school, I would probably be a different person. I would have a different, more resilient view of myself. I might be more willing to ask questions and admit what I don’t know. I would have learned more quickly to seek after learning for the sake of learning, not just to receive top marks.
Praise often does not lead to resiliency. It can lead to increased pressure and an inflated ego. Our self-worth needs to be based on who we are, not just what we can do in comparison to other people.
That doesn’t mean we stop praising people all together. But we need to be careful about the praise we hand out. Instead of saying, “You sing really well,” we can try, “I love to hear you sing.” Instead of saying, “You are really smart,” we might say, “I really am proud of how hard you have worked in school.” I am working on this with my children, but it’s hard, and I often shift back into the easier way of talking about things.
Sometimes we do things whether we are good at it or not–we do it because we enjoy it. In my experience, I find a lot more fulfillment and joy when I do things not because I’m good at them, but because I want to do something for its own sake. I learn to learn. I write to write. I like when I am focused on the work I am doing, instead of focused on myself and my reputation.
I am slowly trying to stop praising myself. I don’t have to be a good writer or a good singer or good at anything. I can just be me, and I can do those things and love them and that’s enough.
I don’t really want to do this today.
My two-year-old took off his poopy diaper today while I was taking a nap. We are attempting potty training. The diaper was on so that I could take the nap. I woke up because of the screaming baby who wanted attention, but the diaper situation won over her cries. We got him all cleaned up, as well as parts of the bathroom that had gotten a bit dirty in the process. And then I picked up the baby.
The reason I needed a nap is because my baby has suddenly forgotten that is she supposed to sleep in her bed at night and she has long periods of either crying or sleeping by my face, which is not restful.
Before my nap, I had spent an hour on Instagram because I was tired and I wasn’t making good decisions. I let the two-year-old and the four-year-old to watch movies or play games or do whatever.
The furniture in the toy room was rearranged today (not by me) and there are games scattered across my living room. Remnants of peanut butter and jelly sandwich are still stuck to the counter and cracker crumbs cover the dining room floor. Did I eat lunch?
The boys are outside while I am writing this, and a part of me wishes I was out there with them, but I have a house to clean up and a baby who still needs to eat something for lunch, even though it is way past lunch time.
My four-year-old insists that I make him jell-o, and I don’t know why he wants it so bad. He’s been pestering me about it all day, which probably means that I should just boil the water and make the jell-o and everyone will be happy. But I don’t. Because I don’t like orange jell-o, when it comes down to it, and that’s the only flavor we have.
I’ve had a string of really good days — some of them have been productive, some of them have involved adventures, and some of them have just been totally normal. Today doesn’t feel like another good day. I’m tired.
But eventually I will get sleep. And even this not-as-good day was full of good moments: I talked to my mom. I read a book as the boys lined up dinosaurs in patterns I didn’t understand. I sorted through the Pokémon cards with my four-year-old and we figured out how many cards we own have over 100 HP. I played Candy Land. I made my baby smile.
At one point, an alarm rang on my phone. It has a text-to-speech function and announces, “Potty,” in a weird, computer voice. I look up after dismissing the alarm to find my two-year-old without any clothes on his lower half, carrying pants towards me. Too late, alarm. Much too late.
Life is about continuing to try. The house will get cleaned up. Dinner will happen in some form or another. I will probably make orange jell-o today and I will go outside and play in the melting snow, happy that it is melting.
So I guess I do want to do this after all. That even through the exhaustion, this is my life. I will keep doing laundry, keep picking up my baby when she cries, keep trying to teach my children how to be responsible while trying to remain responsible myself.
And know that no matter how hard it feels sometimes, this is the life I have always wanted.