You’ve probably already figured this out, but parenting is hard work!
Before I go any further, I want to get one thing straight. I love being a parent. My wonderful wife and I have been blessed with 6 talented, beautiful, and sweet children. No, they are not perfect. But, I genuinely believe that they are much better children than I was at their age. It’s really a privilege to be their dad. And more than that, it’s a lot of fun!
That said, not every day is just fun and games. While being a parent brings many joys, it also brings its fair share of challenges.
While I do love being a dad, sometimes I get down on myself because I long to be a better parent. And the harsh reality is that I really have no excuses! I have two degrees in Family Studies (including my PhD), and I have taught family classes at the university level for the past decade (including parenting classes).
I really do know what I’m supposed to be doing. So why do I mess up so much?!
Some of My Frequent Mess Ups
- I am often too impatient with my children. (Honestly, I didn’t even realize that I struggled with patience until I became a parent!)
- I’m too quick to correct a child in front of other family members. I know this is wrong, I really do – but in the emotion of the moment, it’s easy to make the wrong choice.
- I sometimes mishandle children’s emotions. As my oldest child entered adolescence, words like “this really isn’t something to cry about” would sometimes escape my lips – which isn’t exactly following the counsel that Dr. Tim provided here.
Hang in There!
Unfortunately, wallowing in my weaknesses will never help me be a better parent. Sometimes we simply need to get up one more time when we’re knocked down and recognize that our children will generally forgive us of our “humanness” – especially when they know we’re trying our hardest.
As you honestly assess your own parenting deficiencies, please also remember the many, many good things you are already doing for your children. The fact that you would read a blog article like this speaks volumes to you as a mother (or father). Yet for many of you, especially women, it can be hard to notice the good things that you’re doing; it’s so easy to be blinded by our feelings of inadequacy!
As a scholar, a teacher, and a father, I assure you that there is no greater cause than helping our families successfully navigate life. And in my opinion, there is no other job, duty, or task as important as being a parent.
So the next time you’re having one of those not-so-fun parenting days, hang in there. You’re doing better than you think!
If you’re like me, some of your most difficult moments have come from raising children. No matter how much blood, sweat, and tears you invest, you may always feel inadequate and imperfect. Because you’re reading this, I’m sure you want to improve as a parent (as do I).
Yet even with our pure motives and diligent efforts to improve, I have noticed a disturbing trend among us parents. Too many of us say we want to improve and change — but only if it fits into our assumptions and experiences. However, the number one thing you can do for your children is to seek truth and then parent accordingly. Yes this is simple, but not at all easy. It will be the hardest thing you will ever do.
Let me share a few of the many ways in which this occurs.
I Turned Out Okay!
Every semester I hear the same thing from several students who challenge a parenting idea that they personally disagree with. They may take issue with the fact that traditional time-outs or bribes are counterproductive to character building. Or that you don’t have to punish to discipline a child. The rebuttal comes in many shapes and sizes, but it usually comes down to one idea:
“But my parents did ____________ with me growing up (fill in the blank), and I turned out okay!”
Even if we don’t say it or think it, we’ve probably fallen victim to this philosophy more than once. Research and common sense have made it pretty clear that—for better or for worse—the way we were raised will be the primary source for how we will raise our children. Too often these built-in biases go undetected.
I get the “I turned out okay” challenge so often from students and parents that I preemptively address it by inviting them to seriously reflect on four questions:
- How am I defining “okay”?
- Am I really okay, and could I have been better than okay?
- Don’t I want better than okay for my children?
- If I am willing to dismiss research and doctrine because of my own biases, am I really as okay as I think?
Before I go further, I need to offer two important disclaimers. First, I believe that the majority of parents love their children completely and second, they are doing their very best with what they know. I believe that’s true for both you and your parents.
Conscious & Unconscious Traditions
In her book For Your Own Good, the psychoanalyst, Dr. Alice Miller observed: “Many people continue to pass on [false ideas, unhealthy attitudes and parenting practices] to which they were subjects as children, so that they can continue to idealize their parents.”
She goes on to say that we have a powerful, unconscious need to believe that everything our parents did to us was based in love, informed, and in our best interest. We often use the same parenting strategies with our kids to ensure the truth of our assumptions.
However, there are traditions and are based in truth and their are false traditions based in habit.
Case in point:
The Power of the Anecdote
Another barrier to accepting truth is the almighty power of the anecdote or personal experience. In the documentary Minds of Our Own, recent electrical engineering graduates of an Ivy League school could not solve a basic electrical problem in trying to light a light bulb. The reason is simple: their personal experiences and assumptions had overridden 4 years of training. They were ultimately unwilling—consciously or not—to let go of those assumptions.
Frankly, I get a little tired of debating with students who reject research simply because it doesn’t fit into their personal experiences. Even more frankly, although this seems to be part of human nature it can be somewhat egotistical.
When the opinions others conflict with our own, we often assume that the other person is misinformed, crazy, or even purposefully trying to deceive. We fail to consider the possibility that their ideas could actually be useful! Unfortunately, this tendency can spread to all areas of our lives—anywhere from sports to family relationships.
Now you may be asking, “Dr. Tim, aren’t you egotistical because you think that you have the truth and most parents don’t?” Although I’m passionate about learning and living truth, I am also flawed and human. I have to constantly work through my own misconceptions!
If we really want to improve as parents, we have to be willing to throw out tradition or personal experiences that aren’t evidence-based. That is the challenge!
Truly we can resist the change that we need most without even being aware of it. So I have to ask a question. Are we causing unnecessary problems and pain because we fail to see our parenting biases clearly?
Doctor, is There a Cure?
I hope that none of us wait until our children are grown to be humbled by our false beliefs about parenting. Just like our food choices, let us go after healthy sources for our parenting nourishment.
May each of us have the heart and the courage to change what is necessary. Let our traditions, upbringing, and experiences be held to the candle of what is best and proven rather than what is automatic and comfortable. I know this is within the reach of every parent because this is the most important work you will ever do.
While it may be uncomfortable, carefully examining your parenting practices can make all the difference. After all, your kids deserve to turn out better than just “okay.”