What makes a great parent? Or even a good one? It’s a question that I have asked myself many times over.
I used to know the answer…before I had kids.
Oh yeah, it was so clear to me back then. Good parents set boundaries, loved fiercely, read nightly, kept to a routine, played lots of classical music, prayed with their kids, helped with homework, disciplined, modeled values, and showed up. And in return they had well-behaved, polite, kind-hearted, honest, hard-working children who loved the Lord.
I’m now in my 15th year of parenting. I have honestly done all of those things on the “good parent” list more than not (well except maybe the classical music part). Sometimes some of my kids exhibit some of those qualities I thought would come in return, but never do all of my kids exhibit all of the qualities at once. And so I have also yelled, cried, pleaded, threatened, hidden in my room, bent the rules, changed the rules, and completely checked-out.
The end of the school year is both a relief and a bit of a regret. Another year down, another year closer to when these chickies leave the nest and there are glaring reminders all over of how imperfect my kids are — the awards ceremonies, the report cards, the standardized tests, the calls home from teachers and administrators, etc. And the thing is, it’s not the fact that my kids are imperfect that bothers me — I expect that and know that — it’s that it all feels like a recrimination of my parenting skills and choices.
Surely the mother who beamed proudly as all of her children received one academic award after another knows something I don’t. Surely the father whose son not only received the Christ-like behavior award, but prompted an impassioned speech from his teacher about this wonderful young man’s character, has done something I haven’t. Surely the friend who gets phone calls from the teacher just to tell her what a joy it is to have her children in his/her class has this parenting thing down to a science.
I tell myself this and I really want to believe it. I need to believe it. Because if it’s true, then it means that I have the ability to raise “good kids” and to be a “good parent”. I just have to figure out the right formula.
Of course the flip side is that it also means that in 15 years of trying I haven’t found it yet and I’m running out of time. My kids are closer to the age of leaving home than not and they are still making really bad choices. Choices that break my heart and scare me. They seem hell-bent on learning lessons the hard way, and not always learning the lesson the first, or second time around. Sometimes I feel like we are living in one bad after-school special after another and walking on the fringes of that one mistake that will change their lives forever.
So here I sit with this question: what makes a good parent? Because I really, really want to be one. More than I’ve wanted to be anything else in my life I want to be a good parent. This is the most important job I have and God has entrusted these three lives to me. There are no do-overs, and I desperately want to get it right.
But you know what I want almost as much? I want a friend to say, “You are not the only one. I know exactly how you feel.” I want a friend who comes alongside and says, “my kids did all of those same things and they made it, they turned out great.” I want a listening ear without judgement, and advice without recrimination. Because the hardest part of being a mom who feels like she isn’t getting it right is having the rest of the world agree with you.
Every well-meaning friend who has offered unsolicited advice or lectured one of my children in front of me, is a confirmation of “you don’t know what you’re doing, so let me take it from here.”
Every teacher or church-leader who has said, “why don’t you have your kid do xyz, it will be a good influence on them,” is recrimination that I haven’t provided enough good influence and my kids really need some more.
Every person who has come up and said, “let me tell you this funny story of this thing your kid did yesterday,” and then proceeded to tell me a highly unhumorous story of what my kid did wrong, is a reminder that I’m raising kids that make poor choices, not in a vacuum or in the privacy of their home, but front and center with the rest of the world watching and judging.
So yeah, I really want to know what it takes to be a good parent — and if you have figured it out, please tell me. But until then, I desperately just want someone to love me and love my kids in all of our imperfection, without judgement.