I’ve been a parent for just under seven years, not an incredibly long time, but it’s amazing how many mistakes you can make in such a short amount of time. I’m sure that most parents have been there before and maybe will be again. We’re not alone when we feel like we are the last placed candidate for the “Parent of the Year” award.
Misery loves company, so I decided if for no other reason than to give you a laugh, to share my top 5 parenting mistakes of these past seven years.
1. Never say, “Because I’m the parent and I said so.”
Years ago, when I was a new parent, I smiled as I heard my brother (who has no children) talk about having an engaging and in depth conversation and discussion with a 2 year old. It was fictitious, it hadn’t happened, so I left wondering about the ability of a 2 year old to reason. It’s pretty much like trying to preach to a rock, it just doesn’t do anything but get you frustrated if you’re waiting for a response or logical behavior.
While reasoning with children is fairly fruitless, that doesn’t mean you don’t offer them at least something. I cringed the day that those words came out of my mouth. “Because I said so” may be used as a last resort, but it should be the final, final, final, final straw. I think I used it too early. While there’s probably no irreparable harm done, I wish I could go back and at least make the effort to explain things a little better.
2. Be careful little eyes what you see
My boys have seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy. They’ll be 5 and 7 in a matter of weeks. I don’t think my wife is thrilled about that. I watched it with them after having seen it myself about half a dozen times. It’s fantasy, it’s make-believe, but it’s still kind of brutal. There’s no sex or bad language, but there’s plenty of violence.
While I’ve been more cautious about other things that they watch, I felt like the good far outweighed the bad in LOTR. It wasn’t until months later when my wife said something that struck me. She told me that we need to guard their hearts since they aren’t quite sure how to go about doing that for themselves right now. That certainly got a point across to me and I realized that age-appropriate materials for processing were essential.
Of course, there’s the potential for backfiring on this one as they get older. I saw “Flashdance” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” at friends’ houses. Just have to explain why it’s not a good idea to watch it (refer to #1 and don’t say, “Because I said so” here).
I still don’t see LOTR as a big deal, but I could easily see myself being too dismissive or lax in what I allow. Better to be cautious than too liberal in your viewing choices. Still working on this one.
3. Watch what you promise…even if it’s in passing
Boy did I learn this one the hard way! I had mentioned something in passing to my kids like, “Maybe we can go to Sweet Frog/the pool/Toys R Us later.” After saying it, I either forget or realized that we had run out of time. My wife finally asked me after one of these instances what I had told the kids. After I told her what I had said, she told me to never say that since they interpret it as not a possibility but an absolute. So, I’ve taken to just driving places and letting them figure out where we’re going or where we are once we get there regardless of the constant badgering of “where are we going?” questions. If I do say anything, it’s usually VERY SPECIFIC like, “If we have time, we may go to [fill in the blank].” I’ve learned to be explicit in my statements, even to the point of making sure that my children understand beforehand so as to not be disappointed later on. Still not perfect at it, but a work in progress.
4. Sometimes you just have to try harder
This kind of goes with #1, too often, I’ve given up on explaining something because it’s been too hard or it’s going to take me too much time. I gave up always trying to have the right answers, for children and adults alike, a long time ago. Having “canned” answers for things is ineffective for me. At the same time, to have answers to some harder questions isn’t the worst thing to explore.
Last week, my son was trying to understand the Trinity, you know, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I was trying to figure out an explanation for him and in my haste, my mind reached towards Transformers (which, my friend kindly pointed out, is modalism). Thankfully, my son didn’t bite and eventually started asking about something else like comics, superheroes, ice cream, or another thing that captured his brain.
But it’s too easy to come up with quick answers and get frustrated when trying to explain harder and deeper concepts to our children. There have been many times over the past few years where I’ve really had to stop and wrestle to think through just how best to describe something. It’s been a good thing, I think, to force myself to simplify my explanations. If I can explain something to a child, I can explain it to just about anyone, and that’s a good thing! Pat or trite answers or, even worse, dismissive statements won’t lead to a fostering of my children’s desire for knowledge. I want to instill in them a desire to know more and learn more. My parents died when my boys were 2 and 4 and then 4 and 6, that’s an easy way to figure that you can’t give cookie cutter answers. Sometimes the easy thing to do is not the right thing to do.
5. Do as I say AND as I do
Just like the last point was related to an earlier one, so is this. Children (and everyone, for that matter) learn not only by hearing, but by seeing and watching as well. Lately, we have constantly had to tell our sons to be careful what they do because their younger sister will inevitably copy them in whatever it is that they do. Jumping on the couch. She’ll do it. Jumping from the bunk bed. She’ll do it. Climbing up the back of the minivan. She’ll do it. Riding the scooter. She’ll do it. Just about anything that she sees them doing is fair game.
In the same way, just about anything that our kids see us doing is fair game. If we find ourselves on our phones or gadgets a lot, we shouldn’t be surprised when they have their nose stuck in an iPod rather than a book or paying attention to us. If we have a habit of yelling at people in parking lots and on highways, we shouldn’t be surprised when they start doing the same thing. If we do it, whether we think they see us or not, they will most likely pick it up and begin to emulate us. They look up to us, we are examples.
Yes, I’ve made some mistakes (way more than five) in these seven years of being a dad. I am sure that I will make plenty more. The reason that I highlight these is because I feel like I’ve learned from them, and that’s one of the most important things about mistakes. So, if you’re a parent and you feel the same way, give yourself some grace and keep on keeping on. Just keep learning. If you’re a parent that thinks you do things perfectly, either brace yourself for your first mistake, or give me your phone number so that I can call you for some advice.