I always loved math in school. (I even minored in it in college.) It might have been because I am analytical by nature. Or because I love a good puzzle. It certainly helped that my mom was a math teacher. But I think what I really loved about math was that it was very black and white. You were either right, or you were wrong, and if you did all the right steps in the right order, you were guaranteed to arrive at the correct answer.
I have often approached my life like a math problem. If I just learn the right formula, then I will arrive at the desired destination. Or so I think.
However, I am learning more and more that most of life is actually not as cut-and-dry as a math problem. And nowhere has this been more true than in my parenting.
No, as much as I wish it were, parenting is NOT math. And as much as it unsettles and frustrates me, I am learning a major lesson in faith that I would miss out on if it were.
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My Expectations Before I Became a Parent
Before I had kids, I was convinced that if you just did all the “right” things, your kids would do what you wanted them to do. Tantrums, defiance, rebellion, naughtiness … all those things could be avoided with the right discipline.
When I had kids, I thought, they would be obedient. They would do as they were told, meltdowns would be addressed and corrected immediately, and I would never allow my kids to get away with some of the things I watched other kids do.
Oh, how I shake my head in shame at the way I judged some parents before I had kids. Apparently, I thought I would be raising puppets.
I also believed that the secret to effective parenting could be found in books and expert opinions. If I found the most knowledgeable and experienced expert in child psychology, then all I had to do was follow his/her advice to the “T,” and the end result would be a perfectly well-behaved child and a satisfied momma.
Like a math problem. Take X, add a little Y, and get Z. It might take a little work to get there, but apply the same basic rules to any variables, and you’ll arrive at the correct answer every time.
What Parenting is Actually Like
I absolutely believe in the need for discipline. “Children, obey your parents” is a mandate from the Lord, and He has given me the responsibility of teaching and training my children to follow it. It is important for them to learn to obey me, not just so I can have the pleasure of well-behaved children, but also so they learn to obey their Heavenly Father. It is a charge I do not take lightly.
I also believe in wise and Godly counsel. The men and women who are experts in the fields of child psychology, child development, and parenting are considered experts for a reason. Their years of experience and research does count for something. A great deal, actually. And I am both grateful for their work and eager to learn as much as I can from them.
So don’t think that I have completely abandoned my preconceived notions that good parenting practices and learning from others is important. I haven’t.
What I am learning, however, is that it isn’t all as black and white as I had once imagined. There is no secret formula. If there was, it would be the most complicated formula in the history of formulas because the variables in life, kids, and parenting are enormous, and they are constantly changing.
While there are certainly some best practices and rules of thumb that can serve as guidelines and foundations, they cannot be relied on as a foolproof guarantee for perfect kids. Mostly because … there are no perfect kids! Or perfect moms! So we cannot expect to find a perfect formula.
A Perfect Father
One of the biggest lessons I am learning as a mom is that my kids have a mind of their own. They aren’t puppets to control, and they aren’t puppies to train. It sounds ridiculous, a bit of a “duh” statement, but isn’t that what we’re expecting when we search for those magic formulas in parenting? “If I just do the right thing as a parent, then my kids will have to exhibit the appropriate response” doesn’t take into account the fact that kids make their own decisions!
While we certainly can, and should, influence their behavior and mold their characters, ultimately, it is their choice whether to respond wisely and appropriately. And sometimes they choose poorly. Unlike in math, it is possible to do all the right things and get the wrong result when it comes to raising kids. It’s called human nature and free will.
That leads me to think about my Heavenly Father. Unlike us mortal parents, God is perfect. He is omniscient and omnipotent, and everything He does is good. And yet we, His children, still make mistakes. Sometimes terrible, awful, heart-wrenching mistakes. We act in ways that are horribly unbecoming of our Father’s teachings. We have the perfect Father who instructs us perfectly through His Word, and yet we choose to exert our free will and disobey.
A Lesson in Faith
This struggle to find and carry out the “right” discipline drives me crazy sometimes. I’m a perfectionist and a people-pleaser, and this often fuels my quest for that magic parenting formula. I want so badly to be a perfect parent, and I quickly grow frustrated when the results are not what I expected or desired.
Then one day this question came to my mind – What if I could be the perfect parent? What would that look like, and how would it change my life?
I had many answers to that question, but the one that struck me the most was that I wouldn’t need God in my parenting.
I have had the tendency my whole life to try to be self-sufficient when it comes to God. To achieve my own goals, take credit for my success, and reduce the need for faith. Because let’s face it, faith is scary. Faith means giving up control and stepping into the unknown, two things that make me very uncomfortable.
Throughout my life, when the going got tough, that’s when I reached out for help. But when the waters were smooth, it was “Okay, I’m good now, God. I’ll let you know when I need you again.”
So the fact that the magic parenting formula continues to elude me is actually very much a blessing in disguise. Because it brings me to my knees in sweet surrender and dependence on God. I pray on a DAILY basis, “Lord, give me wisdom! Show me how to get through to him, to raise him right, and to lead him to you. I can’t do this without you!” As frustrating as it is for me to not have all the answers, it has led me to a greater level of faith and dependence on the Lord than ever before.
No, Parenting Isn’t Math
Math has always been a comfortable subject for me. The rules and formulas are safe and predictable – they can be trusted and relied upon. Sure, it might be complex, frustrating, even confusing at times. But there is a “right” way, and if you can just find it, it will always carry you to your desired end result.
However, as much as I have wished otherwise and tried to make it true, life – and parenting – are not math. There are no formulas, and there is no guarantee that X and Y will give you Z. In my search for the “right” ways to raise children, I’m starting to see that there is no foolproof blueprint for the perfect child. And I’m learning to embrace what is unknown and unsettling about parenting because it forces me beyond my own self-sufficiency and into the arms of God. And that’s the most comfortable place to be.
Even more comfortable than math. 😉
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