May 24, 2017

The right kind of love

Earlier this year I was on a long plane ride and met a new friend. We talked for hours about: life, love, children, triumphs, and failures. She shared with me a story about one of her children—the one she had always thought was her “favorite” child. She began, “The hardest part I don’t understand . . . is she was the one child I gave everything to. She never went without; I never once told her no. If she dreamed it—I would make it happen. I put her above everyone . . . including my spouse. And now there is nothing to show for it. She is the most miserable person I know. She is never content . . . and no matter how hard I try, she is never happy. All my other kids respect and love me, but the one I thought I loved the most—she is unkind to me, and everyone around her. It doesn’t make since. I gave her everything . . . all of my love, my time . . . my whole world . . . and she despises me.”

I have heard this scenario a thousand times. And yesterday—as I battled with one of my own entitled children—I realized that in some ways I have done it too: asked a child permission to parent them, made excuses, or forgot to be consistent and follow through. I get stuck somewhere between the boarders of parenting and wanting to be their friend.

But the truth is: our kids don’t need friends . . . they need parents.

What they need from us is love, but not in the way we sometimes think. We believe they want us to let them do whatever they want. We think they want stuff. We assume they want us to always have something “over the top” fun planned for them to do. So we ask our children for permission to parent; we buy them things they don’t need. We get scared they won’t want us around, so we over stimulate them with fun—never slowing down and enjoying the little moments that make up the real parts of their life. We allow them to do things we don’t feel good about, and buy them electronics and movies they aren’t emotionally ready for . . . but not because it is a good idea—because we are scared. Scared they won’t be popular with everyone else, scared they will feel left out; scared they won’t think we are cool . . . but mainly—we are scared we are not enough. We become their friends to avoid the hard parts of parenting . . . the most important part of our role. We avoid being the person in their life who needs to teach them what the real world will one day slap in their face. But we don’t want them to blame us for their pain . . . so instead we cover it up with friendly fluff and more and more stuff.

So really . . . we suck at parenting—to protect ourselves.

Each parent has the responsibility to teach and guide our children in love and patience. Sometimes the patience is for the child . . . sometimes it is for us—patience to watch them suffer consequences of their actions; patience to see them chose the wrong road and find the way back on their own. It is hard to watch them solve a problem we think we already know the answer to, but we cannot bail them out of the very things that will teach them their strength.

Entitling, making excuses, and looking past our children’s mistakes and shortcomings—though the world would tell us this is love—these are the reasons we are failing to love our children in the right way. The most balanced kind of parent loves unconditionally (love not based on perfect performance), gives boundaries (for safety and teaching what is appropriate in all aspects of personal and social life), and uses consistency to help implement these things in daily life circumstances.

I had a friend in high school whose parents never gave her any limits. She would come and go as she pleased. She always had an unlimited amount of money and a wallet full of credit cards. I will never forget one night when she was at my house late. My mom was sticking with curfew and shipping everyone home. My friend turned to me and said, “I wish I had parents who cared where I was. ”

I had always thought she was so lucky. She could do literally whatever she wanted, but at that moment I saw my mom’s love a little differently than I had before. She gave me limits and boundaries . . . because she loved me? I had never seen it so clear.  Now all these years later I realize I was the lucky one. My mom cared; she loved me in the right ways. She gave me curfews and budgets . . . and sometimes she told me no.

It matters. Our kids don’t want parents who treat them like they rule the world—they want to know they have a place in it. They want to know where they are safe. Boundaries and rules show them. Realistic expectations—appropriate for each age group—help them find stability and confidence in themselves and in the world around them.

If we were to throw our kids into a lake full of alligators, and had never taught them how to swim or protect themselves—they would fail. Life is no different. It takes teaching and guiding before they have any clue on where they should be. And that is our job. And it doesn’t end once they can walk . . . it is then that it has just begun. 

What if Heavenly Father would have panicked about what a bad parent he looked like to have His only Begotten Son in pain, and He would have said, “Ok . . . wait. Take it all away. He isn’t strong enough to do this. I cannot watch Him any more . . . because His pain is a reminder of how I cannot protect Him. I need Him to be ok . . . so I can be ok.”

He didn’t . . . because He knew that pain, that sacrifice, was going to change everything. He saw the bigger picture of what Christ was going to be able to become . . . because of that pain. He saw a Son making sacrifices—willing to suffer—for others. He saw a Son who was fulfilling the mission He was sent here to live. He saw further than the moment.

And that is what we all must do, because it is in consequences and struggles, and learning to accept personal accountability, and sacrificing for others that our children will find their purpose—their strength, and gifts, and truth. For those are the things that money cannot buy. Those are the things we cannot give to those babies that we love. They have to find them with God. 

So maybe being the cool parent has been your objective—I am guilty here too—maybe you have justified entitled or disrespectful behavior because “they have been through so much”. Yup. We have all been there. But by “protecting” our children and asking them for permission to parent—we are hurting them. If they were ready to make grown up decisions . . . then they would be . . . grown up.

Our children need parents. So let's grow up. Let's prepare them for this world by giving them a chance and teaching them how to live in it. Let's love them enough to sacrifice some of our “free time” we get when they are just running free. They need us to be engaged, and encouraging, and present. They need us to hold them accountable, and teach them right from wrong.

We have to put away our phones—and turn off the video games and movies—and see each other. If we spend more time on Facebook or at the gym, than we do with our kids . . . we need to reevaluate our priorities. If we spend more time worried about what to wear or how to get the best looking picture of our kids making cookies—we probably aren’t making them for the right reason.

Our kids need memories of their imperfect lives—not snap shots of a fake perfect virtual reality.

So to all who have made the decision—or maybe the decision was made for you—either way to those who call themselves parents. Let us step up. We don’t need their permission to parent them. We just need the right kind of love. The love that sees the big picture—the lasting kind of love—the love that gives hope, holds accountable, brings light, and sometimes says no. Parenthood.

It says, “I see you are not perfect—I know I am far from it—but I believe in us. I love you no matter what you do or where you go—because I was created to love you. When you make mistakes I will be here to help you—but I cannot take it all away. You are your own person, but what you do will effect others.  Here are the things my life has taught me—you will learn some of the same lessons, but others will be unique to you. I will expect you to respect me. I will expect you to be kind to other people. You will follow the rules: at home, at school, in society—because you are a person of virtue. You are not the exception, but you are exceptional. You are not always going to be the victim of something else . . . sometimes it is going to be your fault. You can make it right, but first you have acknowledged your role. And as your parent . . . I can help you find it. Sometimes I will make mistakes; I hope you will forgive me. It isn’t perfect, but life can be beautiful. When you follow the rules, and live within the safety of the boundaries we set . . . you will find confidence and love for yourself that can’t come in any other way. I was so blessed the day you came into my life and I am so grateful you are mine. Sometimes I will be your friend . . . but when I really want to show you I love you—I will be doing my job with the right kind of love—I will be your parent. It isn’t always easy telling you no, it isn’t always easy watching you chose a choice I wouldn’t chose myself. I struggle when you do . . . but I believe in you. I see how smart you are, and I know you are going to grow up to be an even better parent than I am, because you are a powerful child of God. He will be with you every moment of your life. And He will be able to give you perfect direction on every road you will need to take. So my job as your parent isn’t to teach you to rely on me. My job isn’t to bail you out and cover for you when you make a mistake. My job is to teach you how to become accountable . . . to Him. I am just a tool to help you learn how to find your relationship with your Savior. I believe in Him . . . and I believe in you.”

Someday we will be the one sitting on an airplane evaluating all that we have done in our life. We will look back with regret—that is enviable—but when it comes to our children hopefully we don’t look back with regret of loving them in the wrong way—protecting them from learning how to stand on their own.

If only we knew how our days were numbered—I bet we would all live them a little differently. So for today, we better just live it like it is our last. Love with all our hearts, and cherish the ones we call family.

Parenthood. You got this.


Cristi said...

You are such a good writer. Thank you.

.Ang. said...

Last night I went to bed praying for angels to help me find the peace I was looking for and the knowledge I needed to ge through a certain difficulty we are facing with my oldest. I came on here and this spoke to so many of the thoughts and feelings I've had but haven't know what to do with them. You helped me to make sense of them and see it all from a higher perspective. It doesn't seem as daunting from here.

Thanks for being my angel today! Sure love and appreciate you!

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