Parenting: The Ultimate in Relaxation?
During a recent conversation with my two oldest children, my 11-year old daughter asked, “Do you need a degree from the university to do what mom does?”
“No,” I smiled. “A housewife or homemaker doesn’t have to have a college degree.”
Wanting to put in his two cents worth, my 10-year old son quickly asserted, “I don’t want my wife to have to go to college or work…I’m going to let her stay home with the kids so she can relax.”
While being a father may have its relaxing moments, I’m not sure many mothers know the feeling. In raising children, most mothers and fathers can relate to the following feelings a couple recently shared with me:
“My life is a roller coaster: one minute I’m running my son to piano lessons, the next I’m trying to mediate a fight between my other son and a neighbor boy, and the next I’m washing my daughter’s coat (for the third time in two weeks).” The mother of three seemed eager to be heard.
“I can be giggling with my four-year old one minute, then be in a major power struggle with him the next. When I step back and look at all the things I could do better, I just feel like giving up. I see things that I could do better on, yet see myself making the same mistakes over and over. It all wears on me, and the guilt is the worst part.”
“I agree – the guilt’s the worst,” the woman’s husband interrupted. “Sometimes I feel like I’m on top of things with my children, but then I get caught up in work or some hobby and I forget about the kids. Or I’ll yell at one of them, even while I’m remembering my vow (Made just two days earlier) to work through problems with them rather than scream at them and banish them to their bedroom.”
“There’s just no feeling like looking in on your sleeping child at the end of the day, and realizing that they’re growing up without you spending the time you should with them. I’m suddenly flooded with promises I have made to help Timmy fix his racetrack, or to talk with Jessica about an argument we’ve had. Sometimes the feeling’s so strong that I’m tempted to awaken the kids right then and there and make up for my inattentiveness as a father. I hate the regret.”
Poignant comments like these are the common experience of conscientious parents everywhere. Like this couple, most mothers and fathers are aware of a number of their shortcomings as parents. For most of us, the guilt we feel motivates us to take action, to do better as parents.
Most parents recognize that their children get a lot of mileage out of parental attention and effort (of which, by the way, few parents have an endless supply). Quite simply, nothing seems to be more critical to effective parenting than time and patience, yet with life whirling all about us, nothing seems as challenging for us to give.
So we must make the time. And we must manufacture the patience. As parents we are continually beckoned by growing minds and bodies, and if we are honest, we must admit that we find ourselves falling short at times.
For some, “falling short” produces a momentary discomfort that nudges at their conscience and prompts them to make necessary adjustments. Others have become dulled to “falling short,” and thus fail to give their children more than a meager dose of emotional sustenance. Then there are those who live under the oppressive tyranny of guilt, a guilt that once motivated but has become so constant that it creates feelings of helplessness, frustration, and despair.
The fact is, most parents do a whale of a job with their kids. Most parents are intent on giving their children the best they have…and this means their very best time, and their most undivided attention. Parents simply need to balance out their self-criticisms with a recognition that they do many good things, and with a commitment to continue to strive to do better. As long as feelings of guilt do not become overwhelming and smothering, they serve a productive function.
When we heed the promptings of conscience to take the time to reach and train our children, or to apologize to them, or to play or interact with them, we become more effective parents.
While good parenting doesn’t require a college degree, it does require the equivalent in time, dedication, and (according to some juvenile sources) the willingness to put up with considerable relaxation.
Steven M. Gentry, PhD., is a Child & Family Psychologist and the Executive Director of
Psychological Assessment & Treatment Specialists in American Fork, Utah