I shuffled one toe along the hallway floor carefully feeling my way and trying not to trip over a toy or walk into a wall. At home, I could walk the hallway in my sleep – I practically had sleep-walked it many times when getting up for midnight feedings! I wasn’t afraid of being in the dark in my own home, but my stomach twisted at the sound of my scared child in the dark at this house.
We were staying with friends and I didn’t want my crying child to wake them. I didn’t know their house well enough to find the light switch when I was half asleep, so I felt my way to my daughter by stumbling and bumping into walls.
Although I knew the layout of the house, my best guide was to follow the voice of my child. Until I reached her side, I responded with a reassuring, “I’m coming. Mommy will be right there. It’s OK.” Then finally my reach met hers and she was safe in my arms.
Had my friend been awake, she could have reached my daughter’s side within seconds, but that wouldn’t have solved the problem. My child needed me.
And while my friend’s sense of direction could have guided me through the dark in her own home, her advice wouldn’t be as helpful in different surroundings.
Just imagine my friend giving me directions to navigate through the dark hallway in my own home, “Turn right. Now open the door. Watch out for the toy box. Now the bed is to the right.” No, that wouldn’t work in my house. I would have ended up in the kitchen!
Parenting is so much like this! There seem to be experts all around us, but their advice doesn’t always fit.
The voice of experience is helpful, but doesn’t answer every parenting question.
We can’t simply copy someone else’s parenting style and expect that this will solve or prevent all problems. One thing you can be sure of: there WILL be problems that you can’t solve. There isn’t one “to do” list for good parenting to ensure that each of our children will become ideal adults.
When I was a young mother I listened to a lot of voices to guide my parenting. They weren’t bad voices, but their advice didn’t always fit my unique journey.
Even though others can give helpful advice, there are factors that make each situation unique.
- Our child’s needs
- Our personality
- Our circumstances
Every parent is a newbie at something.
If we are experienced in one area of parenting, we’re new to another. It’s part of life’s natural growing process. We go from one challenge to another. So we’re all “first time parents” really.
Sometimes parenting is predictable and as familiar as walking from one room to another in our own home. And other times we are in unfamiliar territory and it’s DARK!
Right now I’m in both places at once. I find that raising my younger children is comfortable. I’ve already been through these stages before several times when my first few kids were 7 and 12.
But parenting a legal adult feels like walking down that strange hallway in the dark. I don’t know how to get where I’m supposed to go. All I can do is follow the sound of her voice and bump into obstacles along the way.
I’m not new to learning parenting lessons (or relearning them when I forget what I thought I knew). So I’m coaching myself through this unknown, unpredictable phase of motherhood with three important things I share with my younger mom friends and the parents of my students.
Listen to those who have gone before, but be discerning.
Don’t copy them. Try what applies and leave what doesn’t. My mom says, “Eat the meat and spit out the bones.” Not all advice fits, but don’t let that diminish the value of the bits and pieces that do fit your needs.
Listen to your child’s voice.
Don’t let the advice and experience of others drown out what you know about your child’s unique personality and needs. God gave you your child – not theirs.
Don’t compare yourself and your situation to others.
Walk intentionally as you make parenting choices. People can guide you, but they can’t guarantee you won’t hit obstacles. You must do a certain amount of feeling your way through.
You see, God made each of us with strengths that are unique to us. It’s unreasonable to compare your parenting style to someone else’s. Observe, yes! But don’t compare and criticize yourself or your child in the process.
Nobody knows your child as well as you do. You know his faults, strengths, and vulnerabilities. You’ve spent countless hours studying the personality and needs of this kid! You are the most qualified person to make parenting decisions (big and small). That’s why God gave him to you.
If you, like me and pretty much every mom on the planet, second guess yourself in parenting, I encourage you to find a quiet moment to reflect.
Ask yourself, “What strengths, weaknesses, and experiences do I have that contribute to how I interact with my child?”
Identify what is working for you. Write them down and read them often.
Make careful, intentional adjustments where needed. Drastic changes aren’t always sustainable and can be a shock to your parent-child relationship. Instead, make small, gradual adjustments and reflect frequently on their effects.
Weeding through well-intentioned parenting advice can be overwhelming. But with humility, prayer, and careful self-reflection we can slide one foot in front of the other and navigate our way through each unforeseen obstacle.
Prayers for a safe and happy journey, my friends.
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