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After reading my sixth parenting article on a specific topic from Google’s top hit list, my head starts reeling. Will I ever be able to do enough? How do I help my kids navigate the crazy world we live in, a world that I often struggle to navigate myself? Is anything I am trying to teach them working?
I shared all of my doubts and frustrations about parenting with a friend over dinner the other night. We were having a mom date, and it was God-send. As she burped her infant, and I worried about how my youngest at home was doing without me, she helped me to get grounded and she settled some of my fears.
“Cecilia, just focus on two things,” she said. “I’ve read a lot about this, and studies show that the most important factors in good parenting are unconditional love and clear boundaries. Figure out those first and foremost.”
It was such a helpful way to put my parenting fears into perspective, and gave me some ways to concretely assess my efforts and where I need to grow. I found I struggle more with one factor than the other at the moment, and chances are, you struggle more with one than the other right now as well.
Here’s how to examine your parenting to find which of these you can improve on starting today.
We all love our kids, but what that love looks like in action is healthier at some times than at other times. God loves us unconditionally, no matter what we do. He doesn’t love us less when we fail or when we hurt other people or Him. His love for us should be our guide for how we love our children. If our children grow up thinking that they have to impress us to win our love, it will have lasting negative consequences in their lives.
Perhaps you have experienced this yourself in a relationship … If you’ve ever felt like you are never good enough around someone, and always have to prove yourself, then you know what conditional love looks like.
Consider this—your love might seem conditional if you ask your child to do something and then you’re not happy with them until they’ve completed the task you gave them. Or if you notice that you avoid showing affection or encouraging your kids when you’re in a bad mood. Think about what conditions you put (consciously or unconsciously) on showing love, and then work to remove those conditions slowly.
Children look for limits, and often push and test their parents to find out where the line is. This is a normal part of growing and maturing. It’s important to have those boundaries and to keep them consistent. Ask yourself: are you struggling to keep boundaries the same? Do the limits you set change depending on the time of day or the environment you are in? If that is the case, work on it.
Another question to ask yourself, “Is my main goal to get my child to like me?” If you want your children to be your close friends, and you crave their affirmation and affection, then it will be hard to help them learn and grow at a pace that is good for them. If you realize this is where you are, think about the longer term consequences of relying on your child for friendship. Your parenting then becomes much more focused on what you need instead of what your child needs.
It is hard to change habits overnight, but recognizing where we need to grow is a key first step. I will never be a perfect parent. But I can be a better parent today than I was yesterday. God the Father, please show us how to lead our children. Amen.