Joy in the Journey
Years ago, I was having lunch with my sister and her 2 year old daughter. We were enjoying our visit when we became aware that the noise in the restaurant changed to a low titter. Looking around, we noticed all eyes on us. My sister then saw what was causing the stir and burst into gales of laughter. My niece was happily entertaining herself by washing her face and hair with the inside of her peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Her hair was sticking straight up, stiff with peanut butter, while jelly oozed down her chubby cheeks. Pity we didn’t have phone cameras back then!
I was as amused by my sister’s reaction as I was by my niece’s antics. My sister was always wonderful with young children. Somehow despite the often exhausting nature of raising children and taking her parental role seriously, she never failed to enjoy the journey.
Many of us understand that raising our children is one of the most important things we will ever do. Determined to be the best parents we can, however, we are sometimes tense, anxious, and even neurotic in the pursuit of perfection. I know because I often took myself and my choices for my children WAY too seriously. Like many parents, I was trying, because of the deep love I have for my kids, to control the outcome.
Obviously parental choices do matter. We CAN harm our kids through abuse and neglect. There ARE things we should try to avoid when raising our kids and more effective ways to manage the challenges that parenting brings. The proverb, “train up a child in the way he should go, and in the end he will not depart from it” certainly implies that HOW we parent matters.
In Search of the Holy Grail of Parenting
But many parents are in search of a magic formula, a holy grail of parenting. We want a rock-solid guarantee that our children will come out all right– that they will be happy, successful adults living in healthy relationship with God and others. I know I did.
We agonize over the external details. ..if I don’t let my children eat sugar and only feed them organic food…if I only expose my children to classical music and literature…if I home school or send them to an expensive private Christian school…if I protect them from the negative influences of this world, then they will be safe and turn out well. Again, none of these things is wrong, but we are fooling ourselves if we thing they guarantee anything!
My friends and I were comparing notes on all the things we did when we were young parents. We wanted so badly to get it right! One friend passionately believed in natural childbirth and an extended period of nursing but she noted after all her effort, one of her children seems to have lost his way-at least for now. We marveled at our naiveté. My friend said, “Yeah, and I even nursed my drug addict for 2 years!” We cracked up! It was both funny and poignant. We tried everything we knew to do to guarantee a good outcome.
A Terrifying Gift
God gave each of us a truly terrifying gift. He gave us the gift of free-will. The option to choose both good and bad is INSIDE each of us. We can make choices that bring either blessings or pain. And so can our children. Controlling the externals doesn’t change this fact.
Good News and Bad News
Free-will brings both good and bad news to parenting. First, the bad news: We can’t control the outcome. There is nothing we can do to guarantee our children will make good choices. There is no magic formula. Sorry. I wish it weren’t so.
The good news is that not everything is our fault! Not every choice our children make is because of something we did or didn’t do as parents. Sometimes basically good kids, with good parents, make bad choices. Hopefully those choices won’t be life-altering and forever. Sometimes, against all odds, kids who’ve been raised in the most horrific environments manage to turn out all right. We all have choices. It’s not so much what happens to us, but what we do with it and what choices we make. So some of us need to cut ourselves some slack, relax, let go of parental guilt, and enjoy the journey.
I am a Licensed Professional Counselor and a registered nurse with several years experience helping people with healthy, successful living. I am a less-than-perfect but “good-enough” mother of five.