There is a certain kinship parents feel with each other. It comes with a specific kind of vernacular, shared experiences, and common difficulties and pain. As a result, when you meet another parent, especially one that happens to have children around the same age as yours, there can be, many times, a very quick connection.
And I would imagine that most of these parents also share something else – a dirty little secret. One that we don’t like to talk about, and yet one that is never too far from mind. True enough, it can fade into the background somewhat, but with every changing season in the lives of growing children it once again pops up. Here’s the secret:
None of us know what we’re doing.
That’s despite all the books, all the seminars, all the podcasts – we still don’t know what we’re doing. We don’t know what we’re doing with babies, with toddlers, with pre-teens, or with teenagers. Most days, we are muddling our way through it all, wondering if today is the day when our secret is finally going to be exposed, and the best we can do is just try and keep these little people safe and teach them at least how to minimally live in the world.
So there it is. It’s out in the open. None of us are experts. We are all novices. The question is what to do about it. Let me offer three basic suggestions:
1. Keep studying.
Commit to being a student of your children. Now there are a couple of ways you might interpret that last statement. The first way is that you might take it to mean that you need to scrutinize your kids. You need to take everything they say, do, and even feel and put it on the microscope and dissect it. That is NOT what it means.
It means that you choose to take an active interest in your children and recognize that no matter how long you have been a parent, you still have more to know of and from them. You adopt a general posture of loving curiosity, and that posture leads to do things like ask genuine questions about what happened to them during the day, how they are feeling, and what they are thinking. And it means you do so without distraction – you ask, and then you listen without other things drawing you away from that conversation. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you keep learning.
2. Keep praying.
Nothing in the world has ever put me in a greater posture of prayerful dependence than being a parent. That’s because at some point you not only realize you don’t know what you’re doing; you realize that you can teach them, love them, provide for them – but ultimately you can’t keep them safe. Not really. These are human beings who will make their own decisions. And that realization can either paralyze you with fear or it can push you to your knees.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray. Ask for wisdom. Ask for help. And then demonstrate your faith in a God who answers the prayers of his children by doing the very best you can for and with your kids.
3. Keep sharing.
One of the great things about telling secrets like these is you generally find out that others around you are holding onto the same secret. Chances are that if you start talking about how inadequate and dumb and ill-equipped you feel as a parent, you will find a multitude of other moms and dads around you who feel the same way. And those people? The ones who also don’t know what they’re doing? They can help. And you can help them.
When you come together around your shared need, you won’t necessarily find the answers you’re looking for, but you will likely get a lot closer to that wisdom you so desperately need. These other moms and dads in our lives are a gift from God, and if we never share with them, then we are spurning the gift of community at our disposal.
It’s true, parents – we don’t know what we’re doing. But we press on. We press on not because we are confident we are going to get everything right, but we press on because our highest aim is NOT to get everything right. Our highest aim as parents is to introduce our children to the concept of a greater parent that does actually get everything right.