Parenting: The One Skill that Is Impossible to Master

I’m convinced that the only people who have mastered parenting are individuals without kids.

No…. there’s another group that is awesome at parenting: Folks whose kids have grown up and left the house. These folks can forget what it was like when they were deep in the trenches. 

There are also the group who thinks they’ve achieved black belts in parenting, but we all know that their round-house parenting kick looks less like Jason Bourne and more like, well, a 45 year old fantasy football player trying to do a round-house kick.

Parenting is an impossible skill to master.

I write this post because there are times when my levels of incompetence are astonishing even to me.

I was supposed to have been the best parent ever!

It was all pictured in my little idealistic mind: I was going to be the perfect mix of discipline and grace, fun and strictitude, encouragement toward faith with an eye toward an ability to be a little irreverent (within reason).

My little ones would be kind, gentle, yet confident. They would be brilliant, yet humble. They would be honor students and NCAA athletes. They would love God, love others, and cure cancer.

In the back of my mind (although I would never have said it or even consciously have thought it), their successes would have been because I and their mother would have guided them perfectly through their years of tiny-ness through elementary school through high school and off into college where they started conquering their respective worlds.

I would have produced the most perfect offspring. Your welcome.

But…while they are awesome and I have no way to predict which direction each of our three little ones will head over the coming years, one thing is for certain: parenting prowess is elusive.

Even those of us who get complimented on our children or who get called ‘such good parents’ know in our hearts what hacks we are.

Why Parenting Mastery Is Impossible

Before I go on, please do not read this post and assume there’s some kind of self-deprecating, self-critical and blaming thing going on. Sure, I’ve been knocked down a peg or two from my over-confidence through the sheer fact that now I have kids and my pre-kid confidence was shot to pieces.  But this post isn’t about my being hard on myself. It’s about being honest.

The reasons….

Parenting isn’t a skill. It’s a relationship. 

We don’t master relationships. Period. We don’t master the skill of friendship. We are friends to people we love.  Parenting (alongside marriage) is a most mysterious and wonderful relationship.

Our kids don’t want masters of a skill. They want parents who love them, care for them, and who draw them out yet protect them. Even if they don’t seem to appreciate it.

Like any other relationship, the people involved in parenting (you and  your kids) change over time, meaning that the relationship will shift and new information is always coming to light. At one moment, our kids will be brimming with confidence and the relationship calls for healthy, humble pride. Another moment, our kids will have been made fun of at school for some fashion faux pas and need us to hug ’em and love on them and sit with their tears without trying to tell them that those people are dumb and they shouldn’t feel so bad.

The fact that parenting is about developing a relationship might require developing auxiliary skills (listening, communicating, learning how to cook, etc), but parenting itself is about having a heart for our kids… bringing me to reason 2.

Parenting is an Emotional Thing

If we have a heart for our kids, then this very heart for our children will often leave us feeling as if we’re useless.

We simply cannot always make our kids feel better. Our children will go through bouts of emotion that we have no way to ‘fix.’  Just as we ourselves go through moments of deep self-doubt, fear and worry, etc, our children do the same.

We often can’t make those things go away in their hearts and minds anymore than our spouses or friends or parents can make those things go away in our own hearts and minds.

When we can’t give our kids the joy that we want them so desperately to have, it’s easy to feel like we suck at parenting.  But since parenting is a relationship…maybe I (yes, I’m talking to myself) need to worry less about removing the bad emotion and more about sitting with them in the emotion.

We can’t fear the emotions of our kids and feel like they’ll trust us with their more complicated emotions as they grow.

Each Kid Is So Totally Different

We have twin boys. Even our twin boys are so ridiculously different. It’s amazing how the exact same DNA can produce such different personalities.

And don’t even get me started on our daughter. She’s on a different planet.

They all normally get along, but what works from a discipline, encouragement, fun time spent with, and communication standpoint with our daughter is completely useless with either one of our boys – and vice versa.

You’ll be tempted at moments to wonder what you did differently from the womb with one over the other.

Did we breast feed too little or too much with one more than the other? Did we rock them in the rocking chair more or less. Did we expose one to books earlier and more often?

The fact that they are so different will render elements of our parental skillset futile.

But their differences are also what makes each of them so awesome – and what makes each of them so fun to be in relationship with.  And it will come back with learning about them and getting to know them and developing a heart for each.

So What’s the Point?

My point in this post is twofold:

  1. To remind people without kids that they should be very sparing in their advice to those of us who are walking the treacherous yet wonderful path of parenting.
  2. To remind those of us with kids that you don’t have to master anything. Work at it and grow and improve, sure. Master? Be perfect? Fix hurts completely each time? Not possible.

Yes, we need to work at it. We need to get to know each of our kids on deep levels and not fear their emotions and not get skewered by our tendency toward perfectionism.

But we do NOT need to become masters. We need to be their mom or their dad.

We need to love them.

And even if it feels like it takes months and years for them to understand how wonderful we think they are, we need to keep doing it and doing it and doing it.

May God be with you…

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