Thoughts on “perfect parenting”.

An early morning outdoor ballet session.

Whenever I run across the “perfect” family, the one in which the children “obey” immediately and everything seems to work like a well-oiled machine in which the parts know their place and the place maintains its rigid, functional hierarchy of parts, I am torn between a sense of personal failure and a sense of pity. Of course we secretly long for the pats on the back and the social approbations of “Wow, you’ve really got your kids in line” because this is the cultural equivalent of complimenting someone on their parenting skills. This longing itself requires a critical gaze.

As a mother, I struggle with the social anxieties of having children who act their age- children who jump around and make crazy noises and express themselves with passion about almost everything. At these moments, I find it best to take one, two, three, okay maybe fifty steps back and remember my goals as a parent. This matters because time (and teachable moments) remain in limited quantities. The impressions and information that we share with our children constitute a core of knowledge for them in their interpretation of the world. Our time priorities, commitments, and inhabitings of the dailiness in life is the book we write about our values– the book they will actually remember, as opposed to the book we gave to them to read.

These are my three simple redirections that assist me in reorienting myself when I crave something as simple (and silly) as a parenting map.

  1. What are my goals as a mother?
  2. Do any of these goals contradict each other?
  3. How do I prioritize and act on these goals during the day?

Here’s how this plays out in an example. The house is a wreck and we have guests coming for the weekend. Max needs my attention to get through a some new concepts in math, and Micah needs my attention to feel good about the game she is playing with her dolls. I have three hours to get everything done and the kids are all over the place- ready to bounce from the wall to the skillet. My temptation? To turn on the TV and start cleaning the house so at least the guests will think I can take care of a household. If I take a minute to try the redirections, I realize that this would be the wrong choice for me and my family.

My goals as a mother can be briefly summed as follows:

  • To provide my children with an environment of unconditional love and nurture from which to explore the world
  • To kindle and guide their personal spiritual seekings
  • To assist them in their attempts to learn more about the world
  • To model and encourage a sense of love, respect, tolerance, and care for human beings, animals, and our natural environment

Nowhere on this list do I find “making a good impression on guests through a clean house”. Parenting is about choices- making the choices in a way that reflects and dignifies your personal parenting philosophy. The choices you make will be reflected in your life (our never-quite-tidy house is a reflection of my choices). Be honest with yourself about the trade-offs. And be honest with yourself about what you value. I think a focus on ends (i.e. this is how we want our child to behave) is a mistake. You can make your child behave anyway you want by emotionally and physically abusing them. Forget ends and focus on means (i.e. how you treat and teach your child).

Your personality type, as well as values, will be reflected in your parenting choices. For example, Patrick and I really value family time. He gets off around 6 pm everyday and comes home to our usual chaos. If our values placed a premium on order and efficiency as opposed to family time, then I would feed everyone as soon as he arrived and then the kids would be bathed and put in their beds to sleep (or cry) before 7:30 pm. Instead, we manage dinner and then piddle around until around 9 pm when everyone gets in their pajamas and Max gets his goodnight kisses. We pray together. Milla and Micah climb into our king size bed where Micah plays with my hair while drinking her milk and Milla nurses herself to sleep. Then we move Micah to her bed in Max’s room. If the kids get scared during the night, they come to our bed.

Of course this is “inconvenient” at times. But it is also sweet, tender, and family-centered. I hope that our little ones remember their childhoods and nights as moments of safety and affection, islands of love to grow from. I know that I will not regret having treated their need for human touch with respect and dignity. Though our family choices are not “mainstream” (in that we aren’t dedicated sleep trainers or custodians of perfect order), I understand why many families choose to prioritize child-free evening time over child-filled evening time. And I respect their choices. Because I want my children to respect the choices of others.

Speaking of choices, I’ve read every sleep training and Ezzo-authored book under the sun, but you won’t find them on this list because they don’t quite fit us. My favorite parenting and childcare book is The Complete Book of Christian Parenting and Child Care: A Medical and Moral Guide to Raising Happy Healthy Children by William and Martha Sears. We take some and leave some, as with everything. There is no right answer- only a well-consiered position. Keep your arms open to the world and the children all over it.