“I’ll admit that with five children, there have been times when I’ve simply parented ‘the herd,’ says Jill in No More Perfect Kids. “I’ve seen them as a group rather than the individuals they are.”
I struggle with this too. Sometimes it takes all I’ve got just to plow through laundry, dinner prep, homework help for the older kids, and bedtime routines for the younger kids.
But co-author Kathy’s words remind me that “children are desperate to be known. They’re discovering themselves and wanting others to discover them too.”
Thankfully, we’ve had a string of birthdays lately which have helped me stop, think about each child, and ask, “What do they enjoy?”
For my 16-year-old, this meant foregoing my obsession with decorating the dining room, telling birth stories and looking at baby pictures. I was thinking, “This is a milestone birthday! Let’s do something big!” However, every time I suggested a fun activity my son could do with his friends, his response always came back, “I dunno. Maybe.”
When I finally recognized my son’s desire to keep it low key, I was able to show him love in a way he could receive. This looked like: cookies instead of cake; inviting one friend over to tinker in the shed; and taking him to the DMV to get his drivers’ license.
Kathy calls parenting an “eighteen-year research project” that involves paying attention to your kids’ interests and abilities as well as recognizing ways they’ve grown and matured. It also requires showing them that you don’t just “love” them, but you actually “like” them too.
This has been especially helpful in my relationship with my teenage daughter. I’ve felt disappointed in recent years at how little we seem to have in common. I enjoy movies like Anne of Green Gables, while she prefers Guardians of the Galaxy. While I choose to write and scrapbook, she likes to run and lift weights.
Once again, the authors’ words encouraged me to look deeper.
“Rather than disagreeing with your child’s interests or even ignoring them if they aren’t your interests, embrace what they love in the moment.”
An honest prayer on my part about this very topic revealed an opportunity for me to join my daughter in her pursuit of fitness. When our treadmill suddenly broke and she was searching for alternative form of exercise, I reminded her that I belonged to a competitive rope skipping team when I was her age. We dug some jump ropes out of the garage, and started skipping together. It was fun to show her some tricks I can still do while getting my heart pumping at the same time.
Through this process, I’ve experienced firsthand the reality that kids’ interests can change as they grow. Just last winter I was frustrated with this same child’s sedentary lifestyle – frequently sitting indoors with her nose in a book. Now I tend to get annoyed by the amount of time she spends working out. Ironic, huh?
In either case, I’ve found the following admonition very convicting: “Embrace what is in your kids rather than lament what isn’t.”
With God’s grace, I’m trying to move in this direction…to celebrate my daughter’s desire to try something new and to recognize her determination to work hard and achieve personal goals.
And when I fail to do so? No More Perfect Kids has an antidote for parental mistakes as well.
“Every one of us will give our kids some reason to sit across from Dr. Phil,” the authors write. “When this happens, it’s important for us to take off our masks… ‘I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?’ can go a long way in the parent-child relationship.”
Amen to that.