I'm catching up with my present. I've transitioned from the baby stage where I am trying to keep my kids alive and pretending that in doing so I am thriving to a stage where I have 4 powerful persons under my care. Its not that an 18 month old isn't powerful. But even in the midst of a tantrum I could still pick them up and move them where I needed them to go. In the baby stage I remember all the feelings of inadequacy, unknowing and secretly comparing. After starting off with cloth diapers I switched to flushable and then shamefully to disposable. I started off making all my own baby food from organic, fresh, vegetables to buying squeezable pouches the kids could feed themselves. My eldest didn't see a TV until 3. I'm sure my fourth was watching cartoons before she could speak. There are so many opinions, studies, beliefs about what is the best way. And the stakes are high. Somewhere I got this idea that I birthed a perfect child and I had to find the perfect way to feed, nourish, teach, train this child or all their flaws would be on my head. My parenting modo unofficially was to try to mess them up the least I possibly could.
Talk about anxiety producing and depressing. In that mindset the kids are extensions of me. Which isn't hard to get to, they came out of me and I fed them. But the line between them and me was thin if nonexistent. Their personhood was attached to my personhood. For me to being doing a good job at being a mom meant that they had to be perfect. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know this is unhealthy. I vividly remember a moment when I saw myself, with definite boundaries and I was different/other than my kids. They could be them and I could be me. I also slowly let go of the lie of "perfectly parenting" for something else...love. Love holds so much more in it than perfection. It allows for grace, for I'm sorry's, for I don't know. Perfection requires control and it is motivated by fear. Love, as I always say, is the opposite of fear.
As a parent, your "success" cannot be counted like the wins and losses of a sports team. Your success cannot be measured by your kid's "pleases and thank you's", by their health, by their cute outfits. Your success cannot be measured by your kids at all....because you cannot control them. As a parent your success is in something totally other. Are you being you and are you teaching and training your kids to be them? Is there love? You can feed all the right food, send the kids to the perfect school, have just the right amount of media but in parenting 1+2 does not equal 3. Kids are not mathematical equations to solve. They are messy. They are exhausting. They are exhilarating and they bring joy. And just when you think you've cracked the code of how to get them to sleep through the night something else comes up.
I am no longer trying to sort out the best diaper or baby food. Now I am sorting out how to protect a relationship with 4 kids with different personalities, different needs, different desires about how they are loved. One kid likes to be early, another late and another right on time. One kid loves presents, kind words and gentle touch while another loves to wrestle, punch, tease. But the same principle applies. It isn't about me being a perfect parent. And if my sense of self starts to attach to them I find I start trying to manipulate and control them to do and behave the way I think is best. But it isn't what I think is best as much as helping them choose what is best. Helping them sort out and figure out how they are going to navigate life, not me doing it for them or manipulating them to do it the way I think it should be done. It is a change from me feeding them to them choosing their own lunch at school. It is a change from me sitting there on play dates asking them to clean up their mess, to now sending them off to friend's houses hoping they have manners, but if they don't it is their decision.
Danny Silk, an author and speaker encourages parents to get good at telling their kids "What I am going to do" rather than what they should do. "I would be happy to play basketball with you once you have cleaned up your art project." "I will be coming to tuck everyone in bed in 10 minutes." I am much better at telling my kids what they should do--"clean up your mess", "get to bed". Telling them what I am going to do requires me to actually follow through on what I am saying. It requires more action from me. It also gives my kids the opportunity to choose something--clean up the mess and play basketball or leave the mess. There is so much more that could be said about this...but for now I am going to sign off. Because part of parenting is learning to take care of ourselves, have healthy boundaries and it is sunny outside in Scotland right now and I am going to walk with a friend before the kids all get home!
Ali Millikan, Author
I love Father, Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit. I love my husband and kids. I believe that God is in the room with us; that hearing God's voice is for everyone and that it will change your day to day reality.