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Don’t be afraid to be a “bad parent”


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Edifa - published on 04/27/21

We become better parents to our children when we have the humility to examine ourselves and trust in God.

When, in a friendly discussion, parents start comparing notes on their experiences of child-rearing, it transpires that they had the most problems with their firstborn. “No doubt that’s because with our firstborn we assume we’re good parents,” explains one dad. “The first child is subjected to all sorts of demands and suffers from our anxieties, but later on, we lose all illusions about ourselves, which makes us more lenient toward the kids that follow.”

Is it true that in order to raise our kids well we must lose all illusions about our “parenting skills”? 

We are not parenting machines, just human beings 

Unless they’re exceptionally immature or carefree, everyone begins parenthood with a lot of great (or sometimes not so great) ideas. These ingenious plans are gradually eroded by the everyday grind of life. This naïveté is, by the way, not only the proper of beginner parents: it can be found among a number of new “converts.” Following a religious retreat, or a powerful spiritual experience, we are full of enthusiasm and generosity, ready to convert the whole world, starting with our own kids.  

When embarking on family life, or starting over after a conversion, we want to be good, to follow through on our resolutions. And then life bids us to be more realistic, to scale down our ambitions. Our children (fortunately so) have not come off the pages of a fairy-tale book. Each of them is unique, with an individual “set of instructions.” And we, the parents, are also unique: we’re not parenting machines, but human beings. This is why there can be no one parenting method that fits all situations.

We also stumble on our limitations. It’s one thing, for example, to declare in spiritual fervor: “We’ll be praying every night as a family”; it’s quite another to actually do it 365 days a year. It’s one thing to swear that you’ll never scream at your kids; it’s another to keep your cool when you’re exhausted and the the kids are coming undone around you.

Don’t hesitate to rely on the help from the Lord

So, there comes a moment when we must take a hard look at ourselves. And this is good news! Because by sticking to our initial plans no matter what it costs, we risk overlooking who our kids really are.  And while necessary, this self-criticism is destructive when it makes us doubt our role as parents and our capacity to fulfill it. To be productive, we must, before God, take a hard look at ourselves, alone (or as a couple), but that can be discouraging: we might focus on our flaws, our mistakes, our faults … or try to reassure ourselves, refuse to see our mistakes, justify ourselves. 

But God sheds light on what we actually are: poor sinners capable of the worst, but also of the best, far beyond anything we dare to hope for. The reason God has made us abandon our illusions is not to plunge us into doubt or discourage us, but to free us, by guiding us on the path of forgiveness and trust.

If there is a motto for all Christian parents, with all their children, in any circumstance, it’s “trust.” First of all, it’s trust in the One who knows better than us what “bad parents” we are, and nevertheless has had the “folly” of entrusting us with our kids. He is our Father and that of our children: He will never let go of our hand.

Christine Ponsard

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