I’m sure you have heard someone say “You have to pick your battles” when it comes to parenting. It’s true. Sometimes it’s not worth the battle to make our children wear matching socks and tie their shoes when we have to wage battle to make them wear modest clothes. We do not want to force a victory in the small battles only to harm our parent-child relationship and lose the greater battle for maturity. Some battles just aren’t worth fighting. Of course, other battles are definitely worth the fight. Some battles must be won if we are to help our children become mature adults. Ironically, the most essential and difficult battle that successful parents wage has nothing to do with our children’s behavior. No, the most difficult battle we encounter as parents involves a far more alarming enemy—ourselves. That’s right. Successful parents battle with an internal enemy. We come face to face with the enemy of our own impatience. We battle to overcome our impatience while repeatedly addressing the same problem behaviors over and over again (wait a second, was that repetitive?). We battle our impatience early in our parenting career by watching the same shows and movies time after time after time during our children’s preschool years. We continue to battle impatience by changing our expectations to match our child’s developmental abilities and accepting that part of our duty as parents is to continually repeat requests, household expectations, and simple routines.
We also wage war with our self-centered desires. Our self-centeredness raises its ugly head when we demand everyone watch “my TV show” or when we demand that our children enjoy the activities “we” enjoy. Perhaps the most dangerous attack of self-centeredness comes when we expect our children to promote our status as a “good parent” who has a “good kid,” a “sport’s star,” a “smart kid,” or an “excellent musician” and got into a “good college” with a “good scholarship” as a result. In our self-centeredness, we might expect our children to promote our status by “never throwing a tantrum,” “never getting in trouble,” always being the “perfect child” with multiple talents and an excellent academic standing. But, our children do not have the role of making us look good. Their job is not to make us feel good. Thinking they have that role is the epitome of self-centeredness. We battle our self-centeredness by allowing our children to be children, misbehavior and all. We continue the battle by allowing our children to discover their own interests (even if they are different than our own) and accepting the joy of having wonderfully average children.
Successful parents also look directly into the monstrous eyes of worry and anxiety. We battle to not let our anxieties rule our parenting decisions. If worry informs our parenting and anxiety guides our decisions, we will create a legalistic prison of rules and demands for our children. The rules and demands we develop in response to fear will push grace out of our relationship. Our children will eventually rebel against our rules to assert their independence. So, successful parents look squarely into the eyes of worry and respond with confident grace. We battle against anxieties by nurturing interactive relationships filled with trust. We conquer fears by giving our children meaningful roles in the family and responsibilities to complete various duties independent of us…duties like chores around the house and “age appropriate self-management tasks” like waking up and getting dressed for school independently…from an early age.
Successful parents also battle against the strong pull of self-doubt. Nothing will raise self-doubt like becoming a parent. Every decision seems to raise doubts about our adequacy and wisdom. We battle those doubts by seeking the counsel of others who have already raised children successfully. We surround ourselves with wise counsel and loving support.
We will also find ourselves standing on the edge of awkward situations, thrown into moments of embarrassment while raising our children. You know the times I speak of—times when your child throws a tantrum at the mall or, worse yet, in front of your parents; times when your child stands up in the middle of a crowd and begins to do something inappropriate, even though they do so in innocence; times when your child blurts out an embarrassing comment. The list goes on. We battle that embarrassment with the realization that our children are their own person. Our worth does not rest upon our children’s childish moments…after all, they are children. We need not lose the battle to embarrassment; we simply use those moments of immature behavior as opportunities to calmly and patiently teach our children more appropriately behavior.
Yes, as parents we must pick our battles. And, the most important battle for us to pick is the battle with our selves—our impatience, our self-centeredness, our worry, our self-doubt, and our embarrassment. As our children witness our victory in these battles, they too will grow more mature.