I'm no expert on parenting.
I mean...you think I would be. I've been doing it a while.
But I'm not.
And, to be honest, I distrust most of those who would call themselves "expert". Especially if they call themselves experts at single parenting having never been one or a part of a single parent household (And it doesn't count if your wife grew up in a single parent household. That makes her the expert.)
Here's why I find the idea of parenting expert suspect...
Parenting is new every day. And it differs with each child. And there are always going to be situations where you find your self going "Oh my God, what do I do now?" or "HOW did we get here?" or "What am I supposed to say to make this better???" or "Who the heck is this person that looks like my child but just talked like that to me?" (Can I get an "Amen"?) And you are going to think through all the parenting books you've read through the years...and come up empty. You rely on your heart, your mind, what you know about your child, and your relationship.
Sometimes you get it right. Sometimes you get it wrong. Sometimes the thing that worked the day before doesn't work today.
The last couple of weeks, I've actually gotten a few things right so I'm feeling pretty confident in my abilities. I figured, before I screw it up and am back to blogging in parenting S.O.S mode, I'd share.
Recently a friend of mine with a newborn told me of her desire to get it "perfect" and I had to laugh. I remember the days I read all the "What To Expect When You are Expecting" type books and had visions of my perfectly clean, cutely dressed children playing with their building blocks while I prepared the most wonderful dinners and bake from scratched cookies. In my dreams I never spanked my children, never yelled at them and certainly never curled up in a ball on my bed fervently praying that their therapy bills as adults weren't too astronomical. I know those parents. I'm not one of them. But I have learned the value of looking at my kids and telling them "I screwed up. And I'm sorry."
It might be the second most important thing I do. (First being teach them relationship with Jesus) And here is why. In looking at my children and telling them I am fallible, that I screw up, and that I need to apologize I teach them two things. First of all, that you don't have to be perfect. That you mess up and people love you anyway. In knowing that I mess up and they love me anyway, they are learning it is okay to mess up...and that I will love them regardless. This idea of unconditional love, of grace, should be a message kids who grow up in the church are getting loud and clear...but it isn't. In fact, I believe that the church in general is so busy teaching out kids what we are against, we are forgetting or aren't bothering to teach them what we are for, what God is for and what we are called to do...love. (More on that later) Teaching our kids that our love for them isn't based on their behavior or grades or accomplishments means they are more confident in their identity and less at risk of abusive behaviors (at their own hands or someone else's) and more likely to succeed at whatever they do.
Also, teaching them that it is okay to make mistakes...but we own up to them. We say I'm sorry. We are accountable for our actions and the consequences. This is not only about teaching them about responsibility (which they need) but also how to build healthy relationships.
I have to confess that at 17 and 18, I'd sort of assumed my kids were growing out of their need and desire to spend a lot of time with me. And, to be honest, figured that my summer of unemployment had probably given them more time than they'd ever wanted to be around me. I abandoned the notion of taking my kids on individual "dates" some time ago because we spend so much time together. (We do spend a lot of time together...especially at theatre.) Last week, I found out exactly how wrong I was and had two of the best days with my kids that I'd had in a long time. For Trey, it meant he took me "Walker Stalking." This is a thing. For real. It's a group of people who are huge fans of the Walking Dead and hang out at filming locations in order to meet cast members. This particular group has strict rules and ethics...in other words, no one or nothing is allowed to "spoil" the season so you don't take pictures of walkers, cast in costumes, etc. We didn't get to meet anyone but we did see Carl, Michonne (if I didn't spell that right, Trey is going to kill me) and several walkers (makeup is crazy good on those zombies). And Trey took me to all the sites I needed to see in "Woodbury" (aka Senoia). For Embree, it was hanging out in Little Five Points (specifically Junkman's Daughter because she fell in love with the place....I knew she would!) and seeing a show at Horizon. Something clicked with my kids again and that something that I thought was missing because they were growing up was really missing because they needed me, my time, my attention, my enjoyment of things important to them.
It is universally acknowledged that crisis of faith, identity or crisis in general never occur at "normal" times of the day. And if it isn't universally acknowledged, it should be. Teenagers have them. I'm incredibly lucky/blessed that when mine have them, they usually come to me. They know they can talk to me about anything and that if I'm not okay with everything, I'll try to be so that we can talk through it. That doesn't mean I'm permissive. It means I create a safe atmosphere. And sometimes, creating a safe atmosphere means telling your kids things or admitting things to your kids that you never thought you would...just so they know they are not alone, as weird as they thought they were, or a freak of nature. Use discretion...and they probably don't need details. But be willing to tell your kids some of the things you'd rather they didn't know. Be honest about what you learned from it. But be willing to be imperfect so that they can use that to not only connect with you but use that knowledge in the process of figuring themselves out. You will end up talking about things you are uncomfortable with...sex, questions of faith, drugs...
But I'm telling you that if you aren't talking to your kids about these things in an honest, open way. If you aren't being real with your kids...someone else is...and that someone else might not be telling them things you'd want them to learn. And that someone might be a friend, the internet, or some random guy at the bus stop. You aren't protecting your children when you don't talk to them. You are leaving them vulnerable. And there is a huge difference between lecturing them and talking to them. So, if you are wondering why your kids aren't talking to you...make sure you are talking to them.
Parenting is messy. It's sticky. And sometimes downright perilous. Give yourself some grace. Be willing to talk to your kids, tell them you know you don't always get it right, but that you always love them. It's a pretty safe bet they love you back.