By BARBARA MARTIN, LPC, LMFT
How your parenting can be ‘good enough’
Question: I am concerned because, over the last few months, extending patience with my children has become much more difficult. I feel guilty in this and would like to know how to move forward in a positive way.
Here is a truth to remember: Failure isn’t an option in parenting. It is inevitable.
The truth is that harsh words, unkind thoughts and rash actions have happened to all of us as parents. Our mistakes will hurt and create sadness in our children, and at times, this will break our hearts and theirs. We don’t want to celebrate our mistakes, but at the same time we need to keep in mind that we are sinners tasked with parenting sinners. The truth of sin impacts every relationship we have.
I remember with great relief a lecture I heard at Reformed Theological Seminary when I was getting my master’s in counseling degree; the professor introduced the concept of “good enough parenting.” I had lived under the false premise that, in order to have perfect children, I needed to be a perfect parent. If I was an imperfect parent, then my children would grow up to be imperfect people, and I simply could not have that happen. I believed that if I was going to have extraordinary children, then I needed to be an extraordinary parent.
The premise behind “good enough parenting” is this: If our children see mistakes that we make, and they will, and we acknowledge these to our children, they will learn a good life lesson, which is that people don’t do right all the time. It is when they do wrong, honestly acknowledge it, ask for forgiveness, and then get on with life that it is actually an opportunity for our children to learn how to handle life and see that people do make mistakes, can learn from them, and move on. We need to remember that it is harder to ruin our kids than we think, and harder to stamp them for success than we would like.
It is pretty arrogant to think that our good parenting accounts for the best of what we see in our children; and it is a lie to assume that our imperfect parenting is the only reason our children have made some poor choices.
Here is some great advice: You don’t have to be a perfect parent to be a blessing to your children. One of the very best things you can do as a parent is to know how to fail in front of your children, repent and apologize to them, then live a life of ongoing repentance before their eyes, knowing that you as well as they are in need of the grace of Christ at all times.
Often in our parenting, we will feel shame. Shame is the subjective feeling of being worthless because of who we are, and it can lead to the paralyzing conviction that one is worthless and of no value to others and to God. Shame will keep us preoccupied with ourselves and inattentive to the needs of others. Its message is that we need to get our act together before we can focus on others, including our family. When this happens, there is a vague sense that we need to hide, blame, and run for cover. This can be paralyzing and keep us stuck.
If you find yourself over and over rehearsing the mistakes you have made, you can begin to tell yourself a more complete story: God has forgiven me, Christ has redeemed me, and the past is full of His wonderful deeds. We need to keep looking through the truth that, if you belong to Christ, He has not and will not withhold His mercy from you.
C.S. Lewis says, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” How? These four things are taken from “Shame-Free Parenting” by Sandra Wilson:
1. Parents don’t expect to be perfect, so they can live free from the shame of perfection.
2. Parents are consistently adequate, since they admit personal problems and seek help to resolve them.
3. Parents expect family problems, so when the problems come, they focus on problem solving.
4. Parents consistently tell the truth about what is happening in and around the family to accurately represent reality.
Barbara Martin, LPC, LMFT, is an adjunct professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson and the emotional care consultant for Mission to North America, a branch of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). She has a private practice in Ridgeland, has been married to Hal for 45 years, and has three sons and five grandchildren.