When Josh and I first became parents, we were incredibly blessed to be surrounded by faithful, godly parents in various seasons of life.
I also see now that we were blessed to have our first child before Pinterest or Instagram existed. I mean, we had Facebook, but it was in that early phase existing only for college kids and consisting mostly of actual status updates (think “Katie is enjoying her latte at Starbucks today! Yum!”).
So when I held Reagan in my arms I wasn’t also holding an iPad full of lengthy blog posts on how I’d ruin my child if I let her cry or was putting her life in great peril if my carseat hadn’t been inspected by a local firefighter.
I didn’t have thousands of nurseries to compare my little nursery to. I didn’t face overwhelming guilt if I bought the generic brand formula or gave my kids peanut butter before they turned one. The organic-everything obsession was new then (Organic diapers? What does that even mean?), and I was mostly oblivious to it.
What I did have was my friend with five kids who helped me know when to go to the hospital when I was in labor. I had my mom to say “Eh, don’t worry about it,” when I started to freak out. I had my pediatrician (remember back when we trusted our college-educated pediatricians??) who told me that it was recommended she sleep on her back, but he gets it, you do what you gotta do to sleep.
You get the picture. Shut your computer and go ask a trusted friend or older person or a doctor who actually knows what they’re talking about.
But even with all of that, I still face the thing every single parent faces which is simply this: there is no such thing as a parenting expert.
Try as we may to be prepared, capable, knowledgable and, ultimately, successful, we all fumble. I don’t know a single parent who hasn’t said, at some point, “Well what on earth are we supposed to do NOW?” In fact, it seems my friends with adult children are asking that question more now than ever before.
So, even though I really had it good going into this whole parenting thing, here are a few things I wish I had known that I didn’t.
There are a few convictions to hold tightly. The rest are malleable.
When we first had kids we were SO going to homeschool. We had a CONVICTION about it. Why spend 8 hours at school when you could do your school work in 3 hours and have 5 leftover in which to learn valuable lessons about character and homebuilding? We don’t need school!
There aren’t enough eye-rolling emojis in the world for how I feel about my 24-year-old self right now.
Nothing like actual, living, breathing children to upend all of your parenting ideals. I’m pretty sure I said to Josh, when we were about to adopt two more kids, “I will only survive this if these kids go to school.” Eva and Titus went to school literally 6 weeks after they got off the plane and knew not one lick of English.
The point of this is not what you should do with school. Some people have the opposite experience I did, certain their kids would go to school, homeschooling instead. No, the point is that there are a few things we can be certain of and the rest needs to be held with open hands.
What’s your “thing?” About which issue have you said, “I’ll never,” or “I’ll always.” If there is no explicit instruction about it in scripture, then we must interpret our actions faithfully with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Nancy Wilson refers to these as “principles and methods.” We get our principles from the Bible. But our methods are our own. We must not confuse the two, either for ourselves or for those around us.
You’re going to have to repent. A lot.
This is a hard pill to swallow as a parent, but once you do, I cannot tell you the freedom it brings. I talked about it some in this earlier blog post, but repentant parenting is one of the most gospel-filled things we can pursue for our children.
We constantly ask our kids to repent. Say sorry to your brother. Say sorry for hitting. Say sorry for taking that. If then, I yell at my kids in a moment of anger, I can either show them how to do the thing I’m telling the to do, or show them that I’m a giant hypocrite.
But aside from the message it’s sending our kids, it’s so good for our own souls when we embrace this attitude of repentance. No longer do I have to be the perfect parent. The pressure is off. I’ll get it wrong sometimes, and there’s something to do when I do, and then we move on.
There is a Savior who stands ready to cover sin and bestow mercy and strength.
Mom. Dad. Repent to your kids. It is one of the best things you can do for them.
Your kids are unique. Accept it.
One of the best things God has done for me is to give me a child who defies the logic of every parenting book that I’ve read. I tried my absolute hardest to Shepherd that Child’s Heart the way you’re supposed to but it turned out I needed to throw all of my preconceived notions of good parenting out the window in order to parent this child well.
Any parent who has a “different” child knows what I’m talking about. The constant, frustrating feeling that it just. Isn’t. Working. Square peg. Round hole.
I’ve found that much of my parenting anxiety can be wrapped up in how much I expect my kids to fit some imaginary version of themselves that I’ve concocted in my head. But just as I am unique in my struggles and strengths, so are they.
This has been especially true as they grow older and those personalities really start to shine. When the parenting is less about showing them who’s in charge and more about conversing about all the things they’re thinking and wondering.
One sees things in black and white. Justice and fairness are her favorite things. She’s not going to see the world, or God, with the same eyes as her sister, who is creative and thoughtful and dying to know how everything works.
With one I can make a joke when she’s crying and it makes everything better. If I joked with the other, she’d never forgive me for my insensitivity.
They see the world through different eyes. Every single one of them. So the question isn’t “How do I shape them into who I want them to be,” but “How do I shape them into people who see God.”
Love the kids you’ve got, not the ones you’ve imagined.
You’re Not in Control
Perhaps the most important thing I wish I’d known going in is that no amount of grasping for control was ever actually going to give me any at all. I can’t have it because it belongs to the Lord.
Parenting makes you want to control everything. I didn’t even know I was this controlling until I had kids. I want to keep them from suffering, I want to meet every need, I want to make them be perfectly behaved, I want them to never stray from their faith, I want them to be smart and talented and well-liked and successful.
I don’t get to have control of any of those things and I kind of hate it sometimes. In truth, though, it is only God’s complete control that could ever give you any comfort or peace in your parenting. If it’s not up to me to save them or change them, then I can rest instead of wringing my hands in constant fear.
Chances are I’ll have a whole new list of “I wish I’d known”s once these kids have – Lord willing – made it out of my home in one piece. But for now, here’s to learning and growing as we seek to parent faithfully.
“He Who called you is faithful. He will surely do it.”