When I was growing up, my mom had a book called "Parenting Isn't for Cowards" on the bookshelf in our family room. As a teenager I looked at that book and thought about how she had to be courageous to stand her ground with me.
I didn't understand the half of it.
Parenting is the hardest thing in the whole. wide. world. There are days I cry from the weight of it all. The thing about parenting is, no matter how hard we try, we can't get it just right. We mess up. We hurt our kids. We do things that we know are wrong. We do things we don't know are wrong.
And all of that is so difficult for this perfectionist to accept.
I've got a degree in education, and I consider myself an expert in that department. I know that children need to be exposed to a certain number of books before they become readers, and I know the importance of recognizing and capitalizing on teachable moments.
I'm also a research fanatic, so I know all kinds of things about child development. I know that we need to sit at the table with our children when they eat meals so we can teach them that food is a social experience. I know that kids need a certain number of fruits and vegetables and whole grains daily. I know that "screen time" has a ton of detrimental effects. But what I do is a different story.
When I am in a hurry and my kids are eating alone while I fix my hair, I feel guilty.
When my kids reject all fruits and vegetables and only want goldfish and bread products, I feel guilty.
When I choose to let the kids watch television (after having let them already watch a reasonable amount that morning) just so I can have a conversation with another adult, I feel guilty.
I know that feeling guilty is stupid. I know that everything is about balance and doing your best and maintaining your sanity, but in my heart, I just see failure when I do the opposite of what I know. I want to give my kids my very, very best, and anything less hurts. Even though letting them watch television so I can be a mentally healthy mom is sometimes the best choice, I just see research and statistics and scold myself. Even though I sit with my children for most of their meals, I see the times that I'm off working on my computer or folding laundry while they eat alone, and I beat myself up.
And don't get me started on my fear of judgment.
I'll never forget when Brennan was two years old and we went on a play date with friends. I brought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat, which was one of the only things he would eat those days, and I had stopped and bought a small bag of Cheetos to share with him, which was a really big deal for our special trip to the park. When we sat down to eat with the other kids, and they proceeded to take out chick peas, quinoa, black beans, cooked carrots, and other amazingly healthy foods, my heart sank. Then, when the moms looked over at Brennan's food, I wanted to crawl under the table. Brennan would never eat any of those foods the other kids had. He still won't. He would honestly go hungry and have his blood sugar drop and have a total, complete meltdown before he would even try any of those foods. I know from experience. That doesn't mean I give him Cheetos all the time. I try to give him healthy things he will eat (which are so limited), and constantly encourage him (usually unsuccessfully) to try new things.
Other, well-meaning moms tell me to just give him what we are having and let him go hungry. My pediatrician disagrees. And all of that is beside the point. I'm doing my best and making intentional choices for my kids. And I still feel like a failure. I put that pressure on myself.
I've been wondering whether I make other moms feel that same sense of failure. I am a research junky, so I have lots of facts to share. I am a perfectionist, so I know lots of best practices. But at the end of the day, I'm just another parent who messes up and falls short. When friends ask me for advice, I tell them what works for me or what I have learned, which may make me sound like I know it all. But I so don't. I know nothing.
Last week I shared with Jim that I needed to give Brennan more grace to be five years old and stop expecting perfection from him (sense a theme, here?). I decided to write the word "GRACE" on our chalkboard to remind me to give him a break. The irony is, the word has been up there more for me than for him. Every time I feel like a failure, a hypocrite, or a crummy mom, I see that word and I'm reminded that God knows my heart and will make my children who HE wants them to be. I'm reminded that He doesn't expect me to be perfect and actually gave my children to me knowing that I wouldn't be perfect. He will cover all of my sins and imperfections.
I still hate that there will be consequences to my failures because I am human and there is sin in this world. I can't go back and change Adam and Eve's decisions, and it stinks because I love my kids. I love them so much it hurts, and I don't want it to be so tough.
But I guess that's sort of how God feels about us. It's a good thing He's our heavenly father. He is perfect. He isn't a coward. The buck stops somewhere and there is a perfect standard. Thank goodness my kids can grow up and learn about being a perfect parent from someone.