It’s crazy hard all the way around, but I happen to believe that one of the most difficult things about parenting is that you cannot see how you’re doing as you go. I mean, sure, you get smiles, giggles, and some cuddles and big hugs along the way. Sometimes you’ll even get a “you’re the best mom ever” thrown your way, which is like parenting gold. But other times, not so much. You don’t get confirmation that the decisions you’re making right this minute are the best ones in the long run. You just don’t.
When I was in elementary school I loved it when the teacher graded the test papers while we waited. That meant no going home wondering if you had aced it or even failed. You found out then, and you could sit down, review what you missed, and learn from your mistakes. Well, parenting is the exact opposite of that.
In parenthood, sometimes it feels like you’re clueless, flying by the seat of your pants, holding on for dear life while putting your foot down on the big issues, and just praying to God that you’re not scarring them forever. It’s not fair at all, and even if you’re on your second or third kid it’s no better because they insist on all being completely different. Sigh.
I woke up this morning an hour before my alarm, and my mind was consumed with thoughts of the day. I knew she didn’t want to go back. She had told me so, and she had cried to her daddy after I went to bed.
I thought back on the previous day, my four year old at her first swimming lesson. What I had hoped to be exciting and rewarding had instead been a disaster. A traumatizing disaster. On the first day when forced to sink or swim, she had sunk. Then she had cried. A lot. She screamed for me, and through her tears I could hear, “help me, I’m dying!” and “you let me drown!”
And in my bed this morning I didn’t know what to do anymore then than I had the day before when she had cried for me in the pool. Did I go rescue her, hold her, and soothe her fears? Or was it best to make her buck up and deal with it? I had pondered it for some time, and had come to the conclusion that we shouldn’t quit.
She had always been a sensitive child, clingy, yet loving. Wasn’t it about time she faced her fears head on? Even though she was only four, wasn’t it high time she stretched herself for her own good? That’s what I was doing, right?
It was settled then. We’d go, even though she didn’t want to, and if she still hated it I wouldn’t make her go back. Problem solved.
Later that morning as we got ready to go, I walked into the living room and found her silent on the sofa. She turned to me and her face collapsed. More tears fell on her already wet cheeks, and she choked through her stuffy nose, “I don’t want to go. I’m scared!”
I held her, I comforted her, and I tried to talk some reason into my little girl, but all she saw was fear. She didn’t want to go, and I wondered what would come of me making her. Would it help her or would it hurt her? I didn’t know the answer, but I couldn’t stand to cause her any more distress.
“I won’t make you go if you really don’t want to.” I whispered. And she drew in closer to my side, her body still racked by slowing sobs.
Then I spoke out loud to no one in particular, “it’s not easy being a mom. It’s not easy to know what’s the right thing to do.”
My husband, in earshot, came around the corner, and he softly replied, “you know there’s no such thing. There’s no such thing as being right when it comes to being a parent. You just do what you can, and then you move on.”
Some parents co-sleep with their kids for years. Some parents insist on their babies “crying it out.”
Some parents do time-out, and some are spankers.
Some moms breastfeed exclusively, and some moms decide the stress of breastfeeding is harming their relationship with their baby. So they formula-feed instead.
Some dads stay home. Some moms stay home. Some parents both work full-time.
Some parents say “no” to make-up, social media, and sleepovers all together, while others say it’s all acceptable within reason, with guidelines and rules.
Some parents throw their kids in the deep end of the pool, or rip the training wheels off by a certain age. Others wait until the child seems ready.
But do you want to know which way is right? Do you want to know the right way to parent?
The answer is there is no right way; there’s just your way. And even then there’s no guarantee it’s right. Plus it can change quickly.
There’s no right way to do this parenting thing. You just do it. You take it one day at a time, one issue at a time, and you do what your heart tells you to do. You listen to God, you listen to your child, and you listen to yourself. There’s no right way. There’s just the way you decide to go, and then you move on from there to the next issue.
Because that’s the other thing about parenting. There’s always something else down the line. And even as you go from one decision to the next you may not know if you’re getting all the answers correct.
There’s no score sheet available. It’s the ultimate test of blind perseverance, and the only reward is that sometimes along the way, as they get older, they make comments and decisions that let you know you must be doing something right. Plus there’s smiles, giggles, and some cuddles and big hugs along the way. And occasionally there’s even a “you’re the best mom ever” thrown in there, which is always, still, parenting gold.