Dec 19, 2012

on intentional parenting

I don't think anyone will argue with me when I say that parenting is a really tough job.  It's a rewarding job, but far tougher than anyone realizes.  There are so many decisions, conscious and unconscious, that parents must make on an almost minute-to-minute basis.  I'm afraid that most of my parenting decisions lately have been of the unconscious variety, and that's not because life has been easy-breezy.  I guess there are golden periods when the unconscious decisionmaking works.  The twos were a golden period for Cara.  Granted, I stressed through some of the decisions we had to make (like potty training and transitioning to a big girl bed), but for the most part, I was able to follow my gut and do what felt right in the moment.  I have to give a lot of credit to Cara too--she was an easy two-year-old.  She was spunky and sweet, brave but not too brave.  She helped me build my parenting confidence, and I'm so grateful for that.

Since Colin was born, I feel like I have been in parenting survival mode.  Working plus a baby plus a preschooler has made life so very busy, and busy is the enemy of intentional parenting.  Busy makes me blind to the little things because I become so focused on the what-must-be-done-right-now-and-also-what-comes-next.  Soon, those little things that were overlooked grow into major issues.  We're not there yet, thank the Lord, but we were on the way.

I realized how blind I have been on Saturday during Cara's Christmas performance for her school.  Cara's free spirited nature sort of took over, and she goofed off on stage instead of singing and standing with her classmates.  It wasn't really a major thing, but I was almost paralyzed with indecision.  Should I go get her off the stage and risk a screaming tantrum?  Just leave her there like it's no big deal?  I hated that I couldn't make a decision about what to do, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the whole situation was really more my fault than hers.

It is true that at three and a half years old, Cara knows full well what is expected of her and how to behave.  She has many more good days at school than bad days, and I am confident that when I take her out in public, she will behave appropriately.  However, I remembered that back in her two-year-old toddler days, I almost always needed to talk her through an outing before we got there.  If we were going to the grocery store together, I had to prepare her to ride in the cart or I knew she would refuse to get in. By now, going to the grocery store is routine, just like going to school.  She is comfortable with what she's doing and where she's going.  I don't think Cara was comfortable on that stage Saturday morning, and I had not prepared her for what was going to happen and how she needed to behave.  It's like I forgot what I was doing.

In most situations of misbehavior, I tend to think that, while we should hold children accountable for their behavior, there is also some responsibility on the parent.  I've been through this process of reflection several times when Cara has been disobedient or naughty, and I usually realize that there is somewhere that I dropped the ball.  My survival mode parenting has meant that I have not been deliberate and intentional.  Taking care of Colin is definitely a top priority, and babies are a needy bunch, but that doesn't mean that Cara doesn't deserve my best and my full attention too.  It's the splitting of myself, evenly and fairly, that's so tough.  Oh, and the guilt when I fall short. 

Fortunately, I don't have to be perfect, but I still want to do the best job I can with these kiddos.  I want them to learn compassion and empathy and gratitude (oh my goodness, read this post from Jami Nato), and I don't want them to just "be good" because Santa or some Elf on a Shelf is watching (not that Santa and Elf on the Shelf are bad; I think they can be a fun part of the Christmas tradition, but I don't want to use them as external motivators).  I want them to love God and love people and desire to do the right thing because it's the right thing.  I want them to understand the nature of sinful hearts and offer grace to others and to themselves.  But also to me.  Because no matter how hard I try, I will drop the ball, I will fail, I will fall short.  I will need love and grace and forgiveness from them just as much as they will need it from me.



  1. Just reading this post lets me know that you are a fantastic mom. You have such awareness of what your children need and that is an absolutely beautiful thing. I am in awe of the love that you have for your children. They are two lucky kiddos to have you!

  2. Thanks for sharing. We are having parallel experiences I think! I thought what you said about preparing your child for new experiences was really insightful. We're having some challenges right now too that I definitely think call for intentional parenting. The challenge there of course if figuring out exactly WHAT to do!

  3. Jess, YOU are a fantastic Mother (and PJ is a great Father), take it from someone who has seen it first hand, you do everything you need to do, and then some. Because you are good people. That's what it takes, a good heart! Dad

  4. My heart just melted while reading this post because it's almost like you wrote it just for me. I've been there. I'M THERE NOW. And I still have the one child.

    Clearly you are a great mother -- you're aware of your parenting (and that's something many people don't have).

    Continue to do the best you can (like our parents did), and your children will turn out just fine (like we did). They'll see you (their mama) being a good person, and they will think that's how it's SUPPOSED to be.

    So continue doing what you're doing. You're a fantastic mom!


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