My ugly parenting days were accidental at one point but have become more deliberate as my boys grow up. I have become more accepting, even proud, of the moments of parenting that aren’t so pretty. Why? Because when I reflect on my own experiences, I have learned a lot more from the ugly than from the beautiful. Because I see children every day enjoying seemingly idyllic childhoods while the toolboxes that they will need to be equipped for adulthood sit forgotten and empty. (Their scrapbooks, however, will be AMAZING, and that does make me a bit jealous.)
The reality is that we aren’t raising children here, friends. We are raising men at our house. Men who will be fathers and husbands. Men who will be your co-workers and your neighbors. And, although we don’t like to think about it, we know that our children will face heartbreaking challenges in life – because we all do at some point. The reality is that all of us parents are raising adults who will need to have the emotional and critical thinking tools to handle difficult situations with grace and, hopefully, come out stronger on the other side. But many of us are working double time to prevent our children from having the very experiences that will prepare them for adversity later. I, for one, am tired of working so hard to create a force field around my children while still feeling like my efforts never quite stack up to the efforts of my neighbors . . . or my Facebook friends . . . or the characters (because there really is no reality) on the television.
The truth is that good parenting isn’t always beautiful. Every day cannot be a parade with my child as the grand marshal. Children need to experience discomfort – loss, disappointment, pain, sadness, and frustration – to grow. We aren’t doing our children any favors when we don’t let life happen to them. We aren’t helping them succeed when we create an illusion (because it is always an illusion) of perfection. We aren’t doing right by them when we intervene every time they encounter a normal life challenge. And what kind of messed up kids are we raising if they never see that mistakes and weeds and failure and messy houses are just a part of REAL LIFE?
There’s a good chance that parenting that looks beautiful will create adults with ugly attitudes; I’m banking on the idea that the ugly side of parenting will pay off in beautiful outcomes, while also saving me some grief and, hopefully, taking me out of the competition. Enough with the myth that every day should be sunshine and rainbows, and that if, God forbid, it should rain on my child’s parade, I should sweep in to create an artificial happiness with sweet treats, unwarranted praise, and meaningless (and often expensive) activities. Enough with the idea that a child who has not tried EVERY sport and hobby has probably been robbed of all future joy. Enough of the fear that if we don’t entertain a child 24/7 then we have failed at parenting on an epic scale. It’s time to get real.
“No, I am not doing this assignment for you. Lucky for me, I graduated from third grade a few years ago.”
“Yes, I do find cleaning up dog poop to be disgusting. But if you love the dog, you scoop the poop.”
“No, I am not buying you the shirt that says that you are the best basketball player ever. If an adult wore a shirt that said “BEST THING EVER,” everyone would assume he is a jerk. And he probably is.”
“Yes, I do realize that your brother got a donut at school today, and you did not. No, we are not running to Tim Horton’s to make it right. I am feeling confident that you will survive. But if your vitals start to fade, we will make a trip to the ER.”
“No, you cannot quit because you are frustrated. You made a commitment, and quitting is not an option. Your dad and I are still married. Consider this an excellent example of perseverance.”
“Yes, I do have enough money to buy that, but I will never ever EVER spend that much money on a t-shirt. No, not even if we win the lottery.”
“No, I don’t enjoy grocery shopping either, but it is necessary for our survival, and if we had lived a hundred years ago, you would be hunting right now. Be grateful.”
“Yes, I know that some kids your age play video games rated Mature. Unfortunately, you came from this womb, and it’s not happening.”
Don’t get me wrong; we love our boys dearly, and we work hard to foster close relationships and to establish a home that provides a soft place to fall. But I am trying hard to escape the parenting rat race by reminding myself that we are not here to protect them from reality but to support them as they actually face it. Life is not perfect. Children are not perfect. Parents are not perfect. It’s okay if our family doesn’t look perfect, because it isn’t. But maybe, just maybe, allowing our kids to face the ugly realities of life will yield some beautiful results.