This weekend I was asked to share some top tips on parenting, gathered from my years as a parent so far. To be honest I felt like a bit of a fraud, this world still feels very new and I know I’m conditioned by only being a little way along the road. The best bit of the seminar was listening to those far ahead of me in the journey. It was refreshing to hear from another perspective and be comforted by the knowledge that all the phases are different. It was reassuring to know that through all of them surviving and thriving is possible. Children do grow, become independent and come back in some way in a different form of friendship/relationship. I loved the view from up there and it gave me hope in these trenches of the early years.
I decided not to share many top tips, as we are all so different in ourselves and in our approaches. What works for one parent and one child may not work at all for others. We are all stumbling through this land. Instead of dispensing my theories on how parenting should be done (and I have many, ask me, just don’t look at my parenting all that closely.. my theories and reality are still far too far apart) I thought I’d talk a bit about what I’ve experienced of God in these years. I hoped it would be of help to others to know the basic realities of God that have kept me sane so far. I hope it will help you if you have the time to trawl through them now.
Best put the kettle on if you want to read further… (Reading through these notes I can see that a talky thing is obviously different from a writing thing. I could change this into sounding more like a blog post, but it’s not an essay on parenting, these are thoughts that led to a talk. I didn’t parrot this out, it was more of a safety net as I waffled away through some of this material on a sunny day in June to a few people)
I’m not sure when parenting became a verb. A thing to do rather than an unconscious reality of bringing children into the world. I think it’s good that we are thinking more about how we relate to the children we have been entrusted with, but the rise of ‘parenting’ as a thing has also meant we have become divided into different tribes that compare and contrast and judge all too easily those that do things differently to us.
Into that Psalm 131 seems to speak pretty powerfully..
“Lord, my heart is not proud;
I don’t look down on others.
I don’t do great things,and I can’t do miracles.
2 But I am calm and quiet, like a baby with its mother.
I am at peace, like a baby with its mother.
3 People of Israel, put your hope in the Lord now and forever.
I could give you my great ideas about how to parent (well from a particularly good moment…)
I could give you my ideals of what I think parenting should be about.
I could tell you all my failures to make you feel better about your parenting.
But I’m not sure that would be a whole lot of use- I parent as me. I parent together as a team with my husband, who parents as him. We bring our own strengths and weaknesses to it all. We have our own unique weirdos to look after. They will respond differently to your kids, we will deal with them based on our own personalities and values. We muddle through in parenting. Our basic approach has been do what works within the parameters we felt comfortable with.
Aspects of different styles of parenting shaped what we have tried to do but there is a bigger picture that I think we need to talk about before we even begin to think about how we ‘parent’.
I want to talk about the God who parents with us and who parents us.
I’ve found such comfort from some basic realities about God as I’ve struggled to adjust to life with small people and the relentlessness of the preschool years.
I found it incredibly hard to recover after the bomb of Son1’s arrival into the world. I felt like my entire world had come apart, bits of me were lying in pieces and I’ve been recovering and adjusting to who I am now for the last 5 years. I feel like I’ve entered a world that has changed my entire being and there is no going back. It’s been a crazy adjustment but also a wonderful one.
So in no particular order here is what I’ve found out about God along the way and what I’ve clung to in the daily ups and downs of parenting small people.
He’s my good shepherd. He is my children’s good shepherd,
I need someone to guide me through these years, someone else’s footprints to walk in, a guide who will show me what good parenting looks like. We have that in God.
When all is going wrong, and when I get things right, he is the one I look to for example of how to shepherd my boys. No amount of parenting manuals can come close to simply looking at how God treats us and then trying to imitate that.
He gently leads those who have young.
Isaiah 40, a lifeline verse:
“He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.”
He gently leads me, he is not expecting great things from me, he is holding my hand as I fumble through the days, He is my children’s shepherd too. He loves my boys more than I ever could and has them in his hands
Without that fundamental reality I think I would go mad in parenting. This is the bedrock of it all. The gentle goodness of our God helping us through and being an incredible example to follow.
Jesus calls us to a life of sacrifice.
I am slow to this realisation. I want my comforts, I want my holidays back where I get to lie around and read books all day. I want my world to be the way I want it. But Jesus has always said life is about sacrifice, of finding true life when we deny ourselves (not in some morbid self flagellation way but in a way of truly finding the best way to live is in loving the people around us)
Having small people depend on me for life itself has made me realise the reality of that truth. Life is not all about me and my world. God has told me on numerous occasions to trust that the sacrifice is worth it. And strangely when I stop fighting it it kind of works, a life of love is a beautiful one, when I stop demanding and complaining (and generally acting like my youngest son) I find he is right there helping me through the days.
God doesn’t slumber or sleep.
“I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.”
Psalm 121 was of great comfort in the long sleepless nights with the boys. They didn’t sleep either and some of my best connection moments with God have come in the middle of the night, when I’ve stopped swearing and accepted that I’m here to care for which ever small one it is who needs me. I’ve known that there is one who is up all night with me.
God really loves me and you
Way more than I love my insanely cute strange boys. I sometimes get so caught up in the pure strength of love I have for them. It’s like the cliches. It’s like you’ve birthed your heart and it’s walking out there in the world unprotected. Argh. It’s insane how much I love them. And every time I feel those feelings (and lots of the time I don’t) I sense a small still voice whispering in my ear. That’s how I feel about you. (Mental)
God knows how it feels to be a breastfeeding mother.
Isaiah 49 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.”15 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! 16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.
God can’t forget us as much as I can’t forget my kids. I remember one of the first times I left Son1 when he was tiny. I only went to the pub for a couple of hours but his face was etched in my mind. I couldn’t forget him. I couldn’t get him out of my head. God is like that with us.
God is gentle, calm and patient in his love and mercy and discipline of me. (maybe I could learn from that..)
He doesn’t shout at me (except maybe when I’m in danger). I don’t need to shout at my kids to make them do what I want them to or so they will learn. (I mean I do shout at them cos I am human and full of anger at times) but I am trying to learn that God’s patient ways of showing us grace and love are also the best ways to treat my boys.
New mercies are needed each morning and given. Phew.
“22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
I had not realised how much I was full of anger before I had kids. I need unfailing love each day. I need the new compassion waiting for me each morning and thankfully I have it daily over and over again. Lamentations 3, 22-23 is a lifeline I need to make more use of.
God is a redeeming God who brings good out of the crappiest of situations.
I know this is true in my friends lives and mine. It is all I have to cling to when I freak out about the future and want to lock the boys in cupboards so they will never see any porn or be hurt by anyone or be able to hurt others. But God redeems and restores and loves my boys more than me. Sometimes that hope is the only thing that keeps me believing in all this Christian stuff.
It’s never the end of the story.
However crap things are right now. However hopeless we feel for our parenting or kids lives. It is not the end of the story. God knows. He is here. He is at work. Cry out to him.
“38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8)
And now for some more generic advice…
There is no value in the comparison game…
There is no point in comparing or contrasting or judging others. I’m called to be faithful and to love. Not to try and score points. If I’m worrying about what others think about my parenting, or feeling inferior or superior it’s cos I’m not feeling secure. I need to go back to the reality that God is my point of security. Not how well or badly I’m doing in comparison with others.
Our kids aren’t going to be perfect.
We are called to love them anyway. I struggle with this so much. I long for them to be wise lovely men of god who are tender and caring and like Jesus in how they treat women. They may well be like that some of the time but they will also not be perfect. I need to love them anyway. Whatever they are like. I long that they will always know they are loved and that will point them to the bigger love that holds this world together.
If you have a co-parent- Remember you are a team
Communicate with each other, and if you are able to do that kind of thing – pray for your kids together, delight in them together. If you don’t have a co-parent, and even if you do, grab a trusted friend and share the ups and downs together.
Get advice when you need to:
Having said it’s what we need to know about God that matters in our parenting… it can be helpful to get advice from others on the journey. Talk to couples ahead of you in it, find people you respect and hang out with them to see how they do it, remember that you are different and be ok with being different 🙂
Read a few parenting books to see if they fit. We are reading ‘Calmer, Happier and Easier Parenting’ at the moment which so far is brilliant and fits well with where we are at in parenting and seems to fit well with the values of the kingdom of God too. Take all advice with a pinch of salt though. No-one else is you parenting your children. It’s a unique situation. Some stuff from each book will work, some won’t. It’s ok.
Everything is a phase even the good stuff.
Time moves on. Kids change and develop. The struggles of now will not be here next month or next year. It’s a rollercoaster of joys and sorrows, pain and wonder.
The hands of God are holding you tight even if it’s all you can do to keep breathing.
I’ve, and others of my friends have found the preschool early years to be a parched desert of faith. But good work is being done here. There are water supplies and there is one who holds on tight to us.
Finally- Galatians 5:22-23 are verses I keep coming back to in my prayers for us as a family.
“22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law”
I still think these are the best list of characteristics we need to live out as we parent and the best things we can pray for our kids to develop.
There is no law against these things and they are beautiful ways to treat each other and to treat our children as we stumble through this journey of parenting.