Parenting Isn’t a Competitive Sport
Parenting isn’t a competitive sport
I know, right?
Wait, what is it that we know again? Oh yah – parenting isn’t a competitive sport. Let me admit this about that statement, I intrinsically know it to be true but I have to remind myself of it often. I’m not sure what it is exactly but there is a feeling that we are always being judged as parents: by our families, by teachers, by other parents, by people around us… and really – when we are honest – by ourselves. (In fact I do wonder sometimes if we actually aren’t being judged nearly as much as we think by those other groups but we are prepared to feel that way because in our hearts we are actually judging ourselves all the time… or maybe that is just me – it is something of a personal curse.)
There are certain truths I value in my life, and almost without exception they are truths I have to constantly remind myself to be true. That is to say, I know them to be true but have a hard time really FEELING them to be true and living them out:
God loves me. Broken and falling short, I am nevertheless worthy of love (this one gets me when people say we aren’t worthy… of course we are, I hope I get around to saying more about that later). Community is essential to life. I am not alone. Rest and self-care are not selfish but make me a more loving person. Life is about serving, not about being served. That means we live outward and not just taking in and holding onto. My value doesn’t lie in what I produce, but what I produce speaks of what I value…
And while this list isn’t complete at some point it comes: Parenting isn’t a competition. I have four kids. This doesn’t make me an expert on parenting. In fact, there isn’t such a thing. I wouldn’t say I’m good at parenting and I refuse to say I’m bad at it: that’s the point! My mother once told me something very profound (okay she told me many profound things, this just happens to be the one most appropriate at the moment). She said basically that we grow up and we find ourselves in need of therapy because of some strange things our parents did in raising us. We decide we will never do those things when we are parents. And you know what, she said, the very things we did as corrections to our parent’s parenting will cause our own kids to need therapy. There isn’t a perfect way. Almost every message causes another unintended message. It’s a reality – don’t get crippled by it.
So back to the point, parenting isn’t a competitive sport. I think I want to speak to this (to myself as much as anyone else) for two big reasons on top of what I’ve already mentioned.
First – our kids aren’t products. Our children are not things we created. Achievements. Productions… with value added. But we sure can try to make them so can’t we? What is the right school, the right sport, the right extra-curricular activity that will make our kids into the most complete… package. It reminds me of Neo in the matrix having “programs” downloaded into him to make him able to do more and more, better and better, until he is the “one.” Our kids are organic, living, growing, learning, and… self-actualizing people. (Yes did you get that self part? We don’t actually do that for them… in fact we can probably do more to hinder that activity than help it.) I’m sure you have heard someone say at a wedding that this is a time when the mother of the bride gets to have the wedding she wanted. But how often is this true in our parenting? So let me tell myself right now: Andrew – do not live the life you wanted through your children! Its theirs, give it to them.
Second – I can fall trap to the game of best. I want my child to be a great student, a great thinker (not always the same thing), incredibly creative, and a phenomenal athlete. I’m not sure why I want it exactly. It would probably take a psychologist a lot of hours of digging to get at all the reasons. I have to tell myself, remind myself, over and over again, that doesn’t really matter, and that isn’t the point. No-one can really be the best. And what is the point anyway? What creates fulfillment, joy, and purpose? If it is the drive to be the best, than we are bound to fail. We will never be able to hit that mark. And my child’s value is not in his or her ability. I love my children. Period.
I find much of parenting to be frustrating. I love it. Don’t get me wrong. But I’m beset by constant concerns that this or that thing I’m doing as a parent (or allowing them to do as children) will make them grow up selfish, or girly, or misogynistic, or lazy, or mean, or… or… or… and society at large does a fair amount to reinforce that constantly trying to assess the gifts and liabilities of a generation of children all at once by looking at the decisions of their parents. So while I’m interested in some of it, and I agree we need to think about how we parent and the messages we are sending… let me be quite clear. There are no trophies for perfect parent… and perfect parent doesn’t make a perfect kid. The drive for perfection is a demon in itself. And while I don’t have any wish for a drive for mediocrity either I will admit: My kids haven’t cleaned their rooms in months. I feed them McDonalds – yah I know right!? Frankly I’m okay with that. My kindergartner doesn’t know how to read yet, my third grade son likes soccer but not as much as playing with his arms inside the jersey while zoning out in the middle of a game (gee – like father, like son – how does he know?). My three year old is clearly more in charge of me than I am of her, and our 9 month old spends more time sleeping in our bed then her crib.
I’ve given them PLENTY of reason for therapy. But you know what else? My therapist once told me (while Caroline and me were in the roller coaster of trying to get pregnant with our first child and I was already beset with many of these doubts about my ability to parent), “At the end of the day all that matters is that they know that you love them.” BOOM!
“God is love.”
“Anyone who abides in love, abides in God.”
“And the greatest of these is love.”
If there is a place to think about being great in… wow that one is it. Because here is the wonder of people who are great at love. When someone is incredibly loving… their go to move (love, care, support) lifts people up. They make people feel better about themselves, not worse. When you are great in love you don’t make people who struggle with it feel worse about themselves… you just love them. And love tends to beget love.
So, Andrew, parenting isn’t a competitive sport. There is not trophy and God forbid I ever think of my kids AS the trophy. Parenting is the process of bringing people up in love. (And screwing with their heads more than a little along the way!)
Thanks be to God.