I enjoy systems and stability. I like to learn how to do something, experiment to find the most efficient process, and then implement that process repeatedly to complete a task. I have 90 minutes to work in the morning before Benedict gets up. On weekdays, I spend that time working on web design for clients, on Saturday mornings I write, and on Sunday mornings, I play. I’ve tried many variations of my schedule, but that one works, so I stick with it. There’s little need to review or make course corrections in how I lay out my week because the work is already done. It’s set, I move on. There is, however, one area of my life where this type of plan and repeat process doesn’t work: parenting.
I’ve written about how parenting requires daily adjustment
and how the nature of parenting is change. Each day brings a new skill, new successes, and new failures. All of this change and progress means that each morning, we start over. Our children wake up different people, and we need to adapt. This rapid change in events and circumstances necessitates that in order to be a good parent, you must be a reflective parent.
Much of my writing on reflection has been focused on self-evaluation
. I want to explore adapting those same principles to evaluate how I’m doing as a parent. Evaluating yourself as a parent has an added component in that your children are able to give you feedback.
The evaluation should start with your parental goals. What is it that you’re trying to accomplish? The answer should include educational milestones, exploration, freedom, play, faith, and family growth. That means you’re teaching your child daily, exposing them to new things, giving them the latitude to fail and get hurt, ensuring that they spend ample time having fun, have daily time for prayer, and are exposed to positive family interactions. These elements make up our daily baseline.
When you consider all that you need to do for your children on a daily basis, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. In fact, the time required to both care for them and manage work and domestic tasks usually add up to more hours than you have in a day. Here’s an excellent challenge: incorporate your children into your daily to-do list. This was a big transition for me to make, and one that I’m still working on now that Benedict is awake most of the day, mobile, and capable of helping. I don’t have to just use nap times to get things done. He’ll be perfectly happy playing in the bedroom while I fold laundry, or reading a book nearby while I clean the bathroom. He also goes with me on all of my errands, which can really break up the day.
The second source of feedback comes from your child’s behavior. Generally, behavior that we think of as “bad” is a result of boredom, hunger, or lack of sleep. It’s unfair to demand that you keep your child satisfied 100% of the time, but certainly they should not be bored all that often. Varied play, differing activities, and changing the scenery is usually enough to prevent most boredom in children. At the end of the day, all you can do is provide opportunity and if they are short on sleep, give them a chance to catch up.
The last part of this parental self-evaluation needs to come from reality. While your child depends solely on you, it’s important to cut yourself some slack. When you’re sick, it’s okay to be less involved so that you recover sooner. It’s ok if there are phases when they refuse to eat good things. It’s ok if you’ve provided ample opportunity for play and they’re still fussy. There is no perfect parent, and your best efforts will suffice.
Completing this parental self-evaluation on a regular basis can give you the confidence and peace of mind that you need in order to continue to be a great parent. By incorporating your children into your to-do list, reading feedback from your child’s behavior, and respecting reality, you can be the kind of parent that your children deserve.