Reader Question: Parenting Advice?

READER QUESTION: What is the best parenting advice you’ve ever been given?
THE REAL BETSY SAYS: This is certainly timely!

One time, I tried articulating to my own parents what it was like to live with my boys, (then ages 6 and 3) and to attempt to take them out in public. Try as I might, there were no words. However, as I refused to be silent on the topic, I came up with a decent metaphor.

Here it is:
It’s like if you had 2 fully grown lemurs in your home….and then you fed them amphetamines….and then you tried to make them wear clothes (and shoes)……..and they were both partially deaf (so they can’t hear much AND they talk VERY VERY LOUD – yes, the lemurs talk in my world)……and they had both bladder and flatulence control issues….and both of them had serious issues with short term AND long term memory…….and no appreciation for any kind of danger…and they touch everything. Yes. It’s pretty much like that. Nailed it!

But the truth also is that the lemurs are also super awesome….and are the best and hardest job I’ve ever had. It’s cliché to say, but they really are the best thing I’ve ever done. They make my world fun. They make me better. They teach me about myself and about the world and about my husband. They are incredible little beings. As much as I like to compare them to little lemurs or rodents or even the occasional hurricane, I love my boys and wouldn’t change a thing about them (except for maybe make them appreciate danger a little bit more!). They are so fun, and I can’t wait to see what God has planned for them. (assuming I survive to see it!).

Parenting is hard. It is emotionally and physically exhausting and challenges you in ways you never ever imagined. Daily, you will realize that while you may be revered and competent and capable of amazing feats in the professional world, on that same day, your 3-year-old can make you feel like a completely incompetent idiot. It’s true. If marriage is like a mirror, parenthood is like a vote of no confidence. Parenting is a shame minefield. Even if you’re a confident decision maker and you study each parenting option with dissertation-like research, you will still second-guess yourself multiple times each day, and probably for the rest of your life. It’s exhausting. It’s challenging. It makes zero financial sense. But it’s always ALWAYS always worth every bit of it.

If we can’t be real about the challenges of parenthood, we don’t do anybody any favors, right? This junk is hard. So, I guess where we need to start is this: you cannot be a perfect parent. It doesn’t exist. The minute you grasp something, the circumstances change. That’s how it works. So, once you let go of perfection, there is only this bit of advice: chill out! It’s just that easy. I’m trying to do that. It’s hard, but I’m trying.

Today, I’m going to give those boys a break – THEY ARE LITTLE BOYS! They are SUPPOSED TO ACT LIKE cracked-out lemurs. But I’m also going to give myself a break. The house is a DISASTER. (Whole Pop Tart under the couch cushion…. but wait…. wait…. still edible! Score!!!) I sent Collin to school with a lunch that was mostly all l stuff from bags and boxes, not some mystical organic back yard garden. I forgot about “character dress-up day” at Cameron’s school Wednesday. I still haven’t signed Collin up for spring baseball. I hope that’s still open. I haven’t started reading that chapter book to them every night and I think we’ll have pizza for supper.

You know what? It’s ok. THEY ARE GOING TO BE OK. Even if they don’t make the honor roll every single time (GASP!!!) and even if they don’t play travel ball (GASP!!!!) and even if they don’t go to college (GASP!!!) and even if they don’t get an advanced degree or become CEO by 35 (OH THE HORROR!!!!!) and even if they’re not in advance placement classes (EEEEK!) or if they decide they don’t want to play ANY musical instrument (DOUBLE GASP!!!!!!!), THEY ARE GOING TO BE OK. Their eternal choices and the men they will be when they are 80 years old have ZERO to do with what I put in that lunchbox and the fact I forgot that Michelangelo costume.
Kevin DeYoung said it best:

“There are ways to screw up our kids for life, but thankfully the Happy Meal is not one of them. There is not a straight line from Ronald McDonald to eternal rebellion. Much like there is not a direct correlation between doodling loudly in the service as a toddler and doing meth as a teenager. Could it be that, beyond the basics of godly parenting, most of the other techniques and convictions are just nibbling around the edges? Certainly, there are lots of ways that good parents make their kids a little more manageable from day to day, but even the kid hooked on Angry Birds who just downed a pack of Fun Dip and is now watching his fifth Pixar movie of the week still has a decent shot at not being a sociopath.” (From his book Crazy Busy p.73)

Let’s all give the kiddos a break. Give the kids a break and give OURSELVES a break. For those of you who are past this stage, don’t leave it there. Take the time to encourage us, the ones who are still “all up in it.” For everybody, when you see a stressed-out mom (or dad!) in the grocery store or the mall and s/he looks like s/he’s at the end of her rope, go over and just put your arm around him/her or give him/her a friendly pat and say, “You’re doing just fine!” or better yet, offer to help if you can. It really does make a difference. Plus, nobody ever became a better parent because of an icy stare. You can take that to the bank.

So, the best parenting advice I’ve ever been given is this: Chill out.
I’m working on it. And now, I’m off to buy some more Pop Tarts….
Yes, I just said that…. Love Y’all!

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