Tag Archives: raising children

What makes a good parent?

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.

photo credit: Darren Johnson / iDJ Photography Mother and Son via photopin (license)

Teaching our kids how to lose

My kids are growing up in a world where every child gets a trophy or ribbon just for showing up. If you participate, you get an award. And it’s a topic that seems to produce strong feelings among  many parents. There are generally two camps of thought on this issue, or as I like to say, you’re either a Burns or a Focker (see Meet the Fockers if you don’t get the reference).

1. The Burns camp: We are misleading our children and doing them a disservice by celebrating mediocrity. In the real world you don’t get an award just for showing up and not everyone wins.

2. The Focker camp: We are building our children’s self-esteem, evening the playing field, and recognizing effort.

I have to admit that as a mom, I struggle between these two camps. While I do agree that in the real world not everyone wins, you don’t get an award just for showing up, and if we don’t prepare our children for that we are doing them a disservice; I also feel that my children will have 60+ years of the real world (God willing) where people and experiences will tear at their self-esteem, so why not let them have a few years to build up their confidence and believe they can succeed?

When my son’s hockey team came in third place (out of three teams) he beamed with pride as they put that bronze medal around his neck. And why shouldn’t he? He and his teammates practiced every weekend, skated their little hearts out, and worked just as hard as the kids who won first.

Yet when my daughter came home devastated because she was the first kid in her class to be eliminated in the school spelling bee, I had to remind her that not everyone could win or it wouldn’t be much of a competition, and she should be happy for her friends who won.

It’s a delicate balance. And I’m quite sure I haven’t got it figured out. But one thing I was reminded of this week was that letting our kids lose — and more importantly, teaching them how to lose graciously — is an incredibly important responsibility we have as parents.

My eldest daughter has led what I would consider a bit of a “charmed life”. She’s incredibly smart and therefore always received good grades, often without trying too hard. While she’s not a star athlete, she does pick up new skills fairly quickly. This, coupled with the fact that she goes to a very small private school, means she gets a lot of playing time on her volleyball and basketball teams. Most recently she’s been bitten by the acting/music bug and was given a solo in her school play earlier this year. The kid is used to things going her way. So when the school science fair came upon us earlier this year she desperately hoped and prayed for placing in the top three so she could advance to the Regionals. Low and behold her project won first place at the school level and she was going to get her wish to go to the Regional Science Fair.

A month later, we headed out early in the morning with a whole cheering section in tow (siblings, grandparents, the works) for the college where the Regional Science Fair was being held. My daughter was a ball of nervous energy mixed with excitement for getting to have this, as she called it, “once in a lifetime experience.” After a long day where she presented her project to seven different judges over the course of nearly two hours, we anxiously awaited for the winners to be announced. Her classmates who also attended Regionals won first in their categories, but my daughter’s name was never called. She didn’t place in the top three for her category. She would not be coming home with a medal.

She was on the other side of the gymnasium, so I couldn’t see her face when the awards were read, but I braced myself for a heart-broken little girl and a few tears. Instead, what I saw as I crossed the gym was her congratulating her classmates. There were no tears, and her head was held high.

Later, in the car, as we approached home I asked her what she thought about the whole experience and what she had learned. She said, “well I learned that you can’t win all of the time.”

“Yes, that’s true,” I said. “But what do you think about that?”

“Well, everyone deserves a chance to shine and succeed, and I already had my moment.”

That night I hugged her tight and I told her how very proud I was of her. Not just for all of her hard work on her science fair project, but for her poise and composure. I told her I was proud of her for the way she handled herself and how it showed what a strong character she had to not get what she wanted and still be gracious about it. She looked up at me beaming and said, “really?”

“Yes really. I couldn’t be more proud of you and the person you are becoming.”

Sure, I could have said things like “you’ll get ’em next time!” Or tried to find reasons why she didn’t win and start strategizing about what she can/should do differently next year to secure a medal. But then the conversation would have become all about winning. I would be teaching my daughter that success only comes in the form of a trophy or medal. When what I really want to teach my daughter — all of my children — is that hard work, strength of character, and trying new things that challenge us are the ultimate prize.

They won’t always be picked for the team, win a ribbon, or even be recognized for their hard work. And if they are doing it for the recognition, they will be disappointed. However, if they do it for the joy of the adventure, for the experience; if they focus on trying their best and being kind to those around them in the process; if they remember that approval and self-worth come from the One and not from being number one, then they will always be successful.

The last thing my daughter said to me that night?

“Mom, I can’t wait until next year’s science fair!”

Yes she lost. Perhaps it’s not what she would have chosen, but I’m so grateful that she was able to see the bigger picture and understand that losing does not equal failure. How we approach life and respond to disappointment is what truly makes a person successful.