4 Things You’ll Never Be Able to Do as a Parent (and 4 Things You Can)

Do you ever feel like you’re not qualified to be a parent?   Do you ever feel judged for the way you parent?

You’re not alone.  Most parents feel inadequate at one time or another.  A lot of it has to do with some completely unrealistic expectations we have for ourselves.

Recently, Jan Cox, the director of student ministries at my church gave an excellent message about parenting.  One part of her message that stuck with me me is what she called “the perfect parent monster.”

To summarize, a lot of us have these unrealistic expectations of what we ought to be able to do as a parents.  When we fall short of those expectations, we get frustrated and upset with ourselves and our kids.  When we get frustrated and upset, we actually become worse parents, which causes even more frustration and continues this downward spiral.

The perfect parent doesn’t exist.  Not even in the Bible.  As Jan pointed out, even Mary and Joseph lost Jesus for 3 days. 🙂

As I reflected on the message, I thought about some things we as parents often think we ought to be able to do (control), but when you think about them are really quite unrealistic.

4 Things No Parent Can Do (though we often think we should be able to)

  1. Keep our kids complete safe. We can’t protect our kids from everything.  Every child gets hurt.  Sometimes, even when all reasonable precautions are taken children are seriously injured or even die.
  2. Make our children obey. All people by their very nature are self-centered, and children are especially so.  Children are by definition immature.  Growing up involves figuring out who they are and what they want.  It requires pushing boundaries.  We can’t control our kids behavior, we can only provide reasonable consequences.
  3. Prevent our kids from screwing up their lives. Obviously there are things we can do as parents to increase the chances that our kids will make good choices, but sometimes even great parents have wayward children.  No matter how well we parent, our kids may still get pregnant or get into drugs or drop out of school.
  4. Lead our kids to follow our faith. Again, there are things we can do as parents to increase the chances our kids will follow our faith, but we can’t make them believe what we believe.  Even the most devout and loving parents have children who choose a different path.

While we can’t be perfect parents and can’t control those outcomes.  There are some things I think we all can choose to do as parents.  They won’t ensure a perfect outcome, but they can increase the odds.

4 Things Every Parent Can Do

  1. Be there. Show your kids they matter by spending time with them.  Don’t let work or other things take priority over them.  If there’s been a divorce, stay involved.  This is a choice every parent can make.
  2. Love unconditionally. Your children are going to mess up, disobey, and be disrespectful at times.  It’s not about you.  Seriously. So, don’t take it personally.  Even when you have to discipline your children explain to them that it’s because you love them too much to allow them to grow up thinking it’ll be OK to behave that way.
  3. Demonstrate forgiveness. Nobody’s perfect.  One of the keys to good relationships is living with imperfection, which means asking for and offering forgiveness.  When your children misbehave, ask them to apologize and ask the person they’ve wronged (sometimes you) to forgive them.  When you make a mistake, be quick to apologize and ask forgiveness.
  4. Tell them you love them. Kids need to hear it.

I think one of the best things we can do as parents is to realize that life is not about perfection but about reconciliation and loving in the midst of imperfection.

What unrealistic expectations have gotten you frustrated as a parent?  How have you dealt with them?

11 Responses to “4 Things You’ll Never Be Able to Do as a Parent (and 4 Things You Can)”

  1. Paul – those points, all 8 of them are so spot on.

    I vaguely wrote about this when our eldest went off to University. I alluded to the fact that “he was an experiment”. Because he was our first and because we had had no lessons, or direct education on the matter then everything we did, decided or tried was effectively an experiment.

    If it didn’t work we change dtack and tried something else. When we’d exhausted all our avenues we asked God (yeah I know, too late in the day) or other family / friends who’d already BTDT.

    You can read the whole thing here: http://www.churchtechy.com/2008/09/last-weekend-to-gods-glory/

    Some might see teh word experiemnt as a bit harsh, but truthfully it’s exactly what it was. However – throughout we loved him unconditionally.

    • Stuart, when you put it that way, all of life is an experiment. No two people or two situations are the same. We can never really control or predict an outcome.

  2. What a good reminder! Just a couple of weeks ago my oldest (8), who often engages in “extreme emotive behavior,” was having a major melt-down. We were at our house church and I was so angry with her for carrying on like she was. My anger, I came to realize, wasn’t so much about her behavior. She struggles with self-control and knows it. Rather, I was angry because I felt it reflected poorly on me as her mother that she was acting that way — in front of people, no less!! My unhealthy desire to appear to be the perfect mother was getting in the way of me being the mother she needed at that moment.

    This post reminds of a book I read a few years ago by Carla Barnhill, The Myth of the Perfect Mother. It ministered to me a lot when I read it shortly after my oldest was born. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/080106466X/carrollcountypub

    • April, thanks for your comment. I think being embarrassed and thinking we will be judged by our kids’ behavior is one of the hardest things to get past as a parent. And let’s face it, its hard because we are often quick to judge other parents when their kids misbehave.

      Thanks for the book recommendation. I had heard of it, but never read it.

  3. Deborah Taylor-French Reply May 21, 2010 at 8:10 am

    Spot on post. Right to the heart of what every parent faces.

  4. Great post Paul thanks! My wife and I just started talking about having kids recently and asking ourselves questions about the four things parents CAN’T do. Thank you so much, this was extremely timely. 🙂

  5. You are so right with 3 and 4 of the “can’ts”. I have two grown daughters. Although they both made professions of faith growing up and I baptized them, they have walked away from the Lord and His church as adults. We love them and pray for them constantly. But we cannot make their decisions for them. And we cannot keep them from screwing up their lives, and they have really tried to do that.
    Our challenge is how to love them back from their own self-made prisons into the freedom of following Jesus. We’re not giving up. -Richard

    • Richard, that must be really tough. Two things just came to my mind. First, God probably feels much the same way you do, because after all they are His daughters too. And second, how amazing is God for his patience, faithfulness, and love that he did not give up on me when I was following my own path instead of Him.

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