Jo Rowe has developed a new approach to working out how well she is parenting
Do you have a question about raising your kid? Good, here are 278,997 parenting websites, 30,000 podcasts and 405,662 self help influencers you can follow, to tell you exactly what you are doing wrong; sending you the message that there is, in fact a right, and therefore a wrong, way to parent! The mountain of information, opinion and faddy new ways that psychologists have now discovered of parenting kids is a minefield. It communicates to us parents that we are probably going to mess this up.
The pressure on parents has never been higher. A study by New Action for Children shows 82 per cent of UK parents have demonstrated at least one of the warning signs that may indicate parental burnout in the past two years. The fear that we are not meeting the needs of our children being the main factor, we are afraid that we are messing up our kids, that we are not doing enough. Whether we work full time, part time or are stay at home parents, we all measure ourselves according to an impossible set of standards set by social media suggesting what is perfection and how to compare the progress of our children. Juggling the needs of our kids, our spouse, the financial needs of the house and all life admin can feel overwhelming.
This is most perfectly illustrated by your first child’s first start at school. I have personal experience of this as a parent, and I have watched this happening again and again as an educator. As parents, school is the first time we feel that our parenting is seriously being weighed and measured. Is our child ready? Have we done a good job preparing them? Are they reading enough? Are they on the correct reading level? Have we provided the perfect packed lunch? Are our children behaving well? Are they liked? Did we remember what dress up day it is?
For the first time, we get to see our children through other people’s eyes, and through the education system as they are seemingly pitted against each other. Although, logically, we can remind ourselves that children are individuals and work at their own pace, with their own set of giftings and talents, we still, inexplicably, feel judged and measured by our childrens’ achievements, or lack thereof.
You see, we get very little encouragement. Very few people tell us that we are doing a good job. We don’t get feedback on our wins or help with our failures. We only have reading levels and progress to go on. And this is our real FULL time job, it’s the most important thing we do. Parenting is an endless, constant stream of sacrifice and decisions, and without feedback, we judge ourselves, or compare ourselves to those around us or those on social media.
Social media is full of perfect parents; parents spending quality time with their beautifully turned out kids, in their clean houses. And it makes us look at our less than perfect life and compare. We see their carefully crafted, heavily edited highlights and judge them against our real life, behind the scenes, low points and assume we are failing. The desperate questions that are asked of mumsnet.com and parenting forums show just how overwhelmed parents feel. The desire to be perfect parents is suffocating. Our children deserve our very best, and most days, if you’re anything like me, it feels like they get a little less than our best.
Tougher for Christian parents
For Christian parents, the pressure can be even higher. It can feel that on top of all the normal life milestones, standards and reading levels, our children also have to have a faith and a character that reflects their faith. On top of the nagging questions of whether our children are succeeding in life, we also worry if we are inputting their faith enough, reading the bible enough? Christian parents can hold themselves to even higher standards and therefore be the harshest critics of themselves. I don’t know about you, but I feel the God-given responsibility to raise these kids and am desperate to do a good job. So how do we come out from this heavy burden of perfection? How do we silence the inner critic that provides a constant tirade of negativity and failure? And how do we do that and still create great families that love each other and Jesus?
Well, I am sorry to say that I have not found all the answers to those questions. However, I have seen a gradual shift in how I think and I have discovered a little more balance and a little more grace. Here are some of the things that I am learning:
1) I am not called to be perfect.
If I was perfect, I wouldn’t need a Saviour, and I DEFINITELY need a Saviour! Jesus doesn’t require perfection, He doesn’t expect us to get parenting right all the time, and He is fully aware that I will make lots of mistakes… and yet He trusted me with children! I am learning to own my mistakes, take them to Jesus, and apply the grace He died to give me, to forgive myself. I apologise to my kids a LOT! I want to teach my children that growth is more important than perfection, so I model it by owning my mistakes and saying sorry when I nag, or shout, or drop a ball. My aim is to learn and grow from my mistakes rather than punish myself.
2) I need to stop projecting the image of perfection inside and outside the house.
I am learning to be vulnerable and let my mess be seen because it creates an atmosphere of growth. Nothing is learnt in a perfect environment. I post the real, unedited photos as well as the perfect ones on social media. I tell the stories of the mess and the mistakes because it helps other people too. I want it to be ok for my kids to fail too, because they will, so I need to be ready to be vulnerable. If I teach my kids that perfection is the aim, I don’t allow room to process the real feelings of failure and disappointment; which are vital for a healthy life.
3) Comparison is the thief of joy.
Point three is from Theodore Roosevelt, and it is just so darn wise! I have been through my social media and deleted people that make me feel like I am failing! I also bow out of those conversations about kids reading levels and milestones. I know they don’t help me! I want to surround myself with people who love and support me in my parenting. I also have to start believing some of the things that Jesus says about me (I read Romans 8: 26-35 when I am struggling).
4) It takes a village.
I need help and encouragement. I have learnt that I need the help of other parents and wise leaders to help me raise my kids well. My village comprises other parents who are a little ahead of me age/stage wise, who I can ask questions of and get tips from. I also have parents who are in the same season as me, people who I can bounce ideas off and feel solidarity with. I have friends who don’t have kids who come alongside and help with time off (occasionally) for date nights. I have learnt to ask for help. The Church can be a great resource to find other mums and leaders who can help.
5) I am doing the best I can!
I can’t be a perfect parent; I find it hard to keep the house perfect and remember everything and do a good job at work and be a great wife and be a great parent all the time. There will be seasons when I invest in some things more than others, and that’s ok. Right now, I am preparing to help my daughter through her GCSE’s. That means my season looks like helping with revision timetables and helping her process her emotions, making sure she eats…cleaning my windows can wait! I am doing the best I can so I have found grace for smudgy windows in this season.
6) The Holy Spirit is a much better parent than I am.
I am learning to listen to those little prompts, the still small voice, that whispers in hard parenting moments. There are times that I have wanted to react in one way and I have felt that little prompt to hold back. Sometimes, when I ask Jesus for help, I am aware that there is a subtle shift in my sense of the right thing to do or say. I am learning to act on that small voice and trust that He knows what I am doing.
Parenting is hard. There is no perfect manual. And there has never been a perfect earthly parent, not even Mary, Jesus’ mother (she lost Jesus at the temple!) so there is grace for me to learn on the job. I am practicing the art of imperfect parenting and do you know I enjoy it a whole lot more.