Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My parenting book: "Im just as messed up as you."

Recently, I had a friend ask me for book referrals for parenting books.

I cringe at the thought.  

Oh I know, to some this is a shock. I used to live by making all my opinions known and most of them were well versed in LAW.  That means that they generally left you feeling completely lacking.  And not because I had arrived as a parent. I just set up this standard that was pretty difficult to reach.  For myself included. But that didn't stop me from being a good little pharisee.  Because remember, Pharisee's can't see how they themselves don't measure up because they are too busy watching everyone else.. and making the rules.

So back to cringing.

Of course I haven't read any books recently on parenting.  And I haven't read any in the past that I would EVER recommend.  Also, this is a HUGE trigger for me.  Anything with my parenting, in the past, caused me to feel humiliated.  Inadequate.  Depressed.

And then God transformed my life with something called: HIS GRACE.

Not just in the area of my own walk with Him. But in my understanding of control.  And how little I actually have.  Especially as it relates to the choices of my children.  Even the young ones.

So with this in mind, I desire to send out some encouragement to you moms out there in the blogosphere.  Step right up and gawk at the ridiculous transparency that I will try to use to help you feel less awkward, humiliated, inadequate and depressed.  Because the title of my parenting book, should I ever write one, would be titled: "Parenting 101: I'm just as messed up as you are."

So take a deep breath and read along to the "how to's" of my *new and improved* parenting philosophy.  (SPOILER: if you are hoping for quick anecdotes on behavioral issues.. that is NOT this post).

1. Face it: your kids are maniacs. 
For the first five years of my parenting journey I was angry.  ALL the time.  When my kids spilled something, it made me mad. When my kids fought, I got mad.  When my kids smeared poop on every flipping surface, I got mad.  When they looked right in my eyes and told me, "NO!!!!", I got mad.  When my kids threw a tantrum in the middle of the grocery store, I got mad.  You get the point.  There was not much that they could do that would actually make me happy.  In fact, I think I vaguely remember a blog post in which I told everyone to go look at pics of their kids to remind them how much they truly do love their kids.  Craziness.  Here is what I thought those first five years:  "These kids are not supposed to be like this.  They are supposed to be polite and not wopp each other on the head. They are not supposed to be rough.  They are supposed to be quiet and talk only when appropriate.  Why do they have to be crazy?"

Ya see, I had this idea that if I told them something one time, they should do it (or vice versa).  I didn't realize that I am dealing with four INDIVIDUALS with INDIVIDUAL WILLS.  They make their own choices and it isn't a reflection on my parenting.  I was angry all the time because I thought that their behavior was ALWAYS a direct result of somewhere I was lacking. Or slacking.  And heaven forbid I actually take into consideration the ages and emotional maturity of each of my children before I go expecting perfection major leaps in one single bound.

Let me sum it up. All kids will do everything at least once.  NEVER say, "my kids would never." That pretty much guarantees it will be done and with incredible execution.  Your kids are doing what kids do: act a fool.  And our job isn't to make them good, sit still, stop talking and generally just sit there looking like dolls (although, I do try).  No, our goal is to help them see that their choices have certain consequences.    And that no matter what they do, they are deeply loved.  To their core.  Because that's how God loves. And that's our goal.  To learn how to accept that from God ourselves and give that gift to our children.  Therefore my biggest fear in life isn't about how my children behave in life.. it's whether they reject God's GRACE and LOVE for their own life.

Well, you do have the job of keeping them from hurting themselves long enough to reach an age where it sinks in.

2. God LOVES you..even when you throw a tantrum. 
This is the continuation of #1.  When you understand that you yourself are broken and make foolish choices (umm.. don't ask me about how much I yell) and then you consider how much you are LOVED, it changes your approach to parenting.  No longer am I hell bent on making them good.  Well because, honestly, I'm not that good myself.  I am the genius that does the classic, "STOP YELLING AT EACH OTHER AND CALLING EACH OTHER NAMES..   (muffled...you terrible brats...muffled...)."  Yeah. Exactly.  I have now become the "do as I say, not as I do" idiot.  But if I can recognize that I fail, and often, and tell that to my children.. they get to see the example of forgiveness and God's love.  He loves even me.

Bottom line: once that message sinks in.. it starts to seep through to your kids, and to other's in your life. You start to realize that we are all pretty much the same: broken people with a desperate need to know the love God has for us.  For me, it's finally starting to sink in that my children and I are on the same "playing field."  I just happen to have more experience with  bad choices life.  Then I am reminded that this is my goal as a parent.  To help my children see that they are never beyond the reach of that same GRACE.

3.  Comparing kills brain cells. 
If you have an enemy it's definitely in the comparison game.  For me it's the mom out in public with her kids.  They all seem to be walking quietly alongside their mom.  The children talk quietly as they interact with each other.  When asked to do something they respond with a quick "yes ma'am."

Oh yeah.. then I look over at my rugrats and think, "geez, this bunch would NEVER do that."  And then the self hatred begins, or WORSE, the angst toward my own children.

But this scenario could go one of three ways:
1.  That mom just used every last vocal cord she has threatening her children, before entering the store, that if they so much as breathe the wrong way they will pay for it once they get home. Oh, and they won't get dinner.
2.  Those kids are acting.  They know that if they obey long enough to get home they can act a fool and  mom will be happy.
3.  (and the more likely one). The kids, mom and all the universe are having a good day.  Something has clicked and the kids are deciding to live in harmony for five minutes and the mom sees that she doesn't really have to threaten (today).  The very same kids may choose to "act a fool" a different day, but we won't see it.  And that mom may decide to scream frantically on another shopping day, but alas, we won't see that either.

Bottom line: If I compare my bad day to every one's good day.. I will certainly be disappointed.  The next time you see a mom with all her "ducks in a row" you can say to yourself, "wow.. so that's a good day, huh?"  She has not arrived and neither have her children. In fact, she could probably talk your ear off about her own self-hatred.  The good news is that comparison can stop with GRACE.  And remembering that you have good days too.  And as your children get older you get more and more of those successes.  So much so, that the fight becomes trying to remember from that whence you came.

4.  No one asked your opinion. Even if it's right. 
So now you've had a good day (or more) and you feel validated.  Your little parenting belt is getting a good stroke (if you've forgotten #2) and so now you are on to conquering helping other moms' kid conundrums.

But here is the problem.  No one has asked you to take on that battle.  So instead of heaping grace on a mom, it comes out as judgement.  And insanely prideful, even if you don't intend it to.  Don't believe me? Ask me how I know. I used to do it to mom's all the time.  Here is the conversation low down after a friends child is throwing a fit:

Friend: Ugh.. I just don't understand what is wrong today.  He just isn't grasping that he can't just keep asking me the same thing over and over again.
Me: Yeah.. I know what you mean.  Mine do that too (see, I"m off to a good start... )
Friend: I mean, how many times do I have to keep repeating the same thing? (this is meant to be rhetorical, btw).
Me: Yeah.. mine did that and then I started having to say "If you ask me again, I will tell you no and you won't get to play" so that he would learn the consequence of continually asking me when I've given an answer.

DOH.  I just did it. I coached her on parenting and didn't even realize it.  She didn't ask me for my answer to the situation.  Even if it worked.  It doesn't matter.  What she could have used was a little bit of GRACE.. not a little bit of instruction.  I could have left it at her last response. Let her rest in the tension and then if it felt like the right time I could have said something like, "Ugh. it is really rough some days."

Now, if she had asked about my stellar parenting ideals, then I have every freedom to share my insights.  As long as I can hang on to myself and remember that I have not arrived.  And maybe throw in a few example of how I've failed. And often.

...to be continued...

What are your thoughts so far?  Do any of these points strike you as urgent?