The other night at supper, my four year old son suddenly burst into extemporaneous song, and with a big grin on his face sang: "Are youuuuuu a caterpillar or a milkshake? Caterpillars and milkshakes are very good things."
We were all laughing. He loved it. I loved it. It was pure fun. It can make anyone feel like a good parent to see our kids that happy.
Last night, on the other hand, I had him in tears, inconsolably, because of a questionable decision I made to discipline him. I still haven't made up my mind whether I did the right thing or not, but seeing our kids that sad can make anyone feel like a poor excuse for a parent. We do our best to try to have the best idea we can about how to raise our kids well, but parenthood seems to be a constant adventure in pure, unadulterated guessing. Once we feel like we're getting the hang of it and figure out how to parent one of our children better, they grow into a whole new stage and it's a different ballgame.
I certainly want to keep trying to learn. I learn a lot by watching my wife. And surely the best education of all was being raised by good parents. I read parenting books now and then, and I can always find awful parents on television to compare myself to who make me feel better. Still, I'm never going to have it all figured out. So, instead of dwelling on how much I don't know about being a good dad, perhaps it's a better idea to come up with a list of non-negotiables for myself as a parent, and realize that as long as I'm fulfilling these (or moving in their direction), I'm mostly being the kind of person I want to be for my kids, which in the long run will hopefully matter more to them than whether or not I made the perfect parenting decision on this particular issue last night.
- I want to ingrain it in my kids that they are loved- loved like crazy- both on the occasions when they do something great and when they do things that disappoint us. The things they do and don't do definitely matter and I've got to continue in the guessing game as to how to address those, but I've also got to communicate that my love for them is never at risk.
- I want to control my tongue around them, not speaking negatively of others and not insulting them.
- Though every one of us have patience muscles that inevitably wear out at some point, I want to act toward and around my kids in such a way that there will be many more examples of patience to remember than examples of when it ran out.
- I want to show my kids how much I treasure their mom, and how much I hope they always will too.
- I want to talk about God often enough with my kids that it will never be awkward to them when I do, but I also want the way that they think about God as children to primarily be shaped in positive ways by the way they see me live. In other words, my kids don't yet need to hear the kinds of things I try to say to adults about God in the things I write or say at church. They just need to see it in me and the other adults around them.
I'm sure this list is a work in progress. Perhaps one of you knows where I can find the complete parenting list...