We live in a very busy world. We have a wealth of information coming at us all the time – messages regarding parenting, how to be productive at work, how to be a better Christian, and how to have a great marriage. While information can be very helpful, it can also be overwhelming.
As a parent and now a grandparent, I have felt the pull towards trying to be a perfect parent and thereby produce perfect children. Of course, our rational minds know that we and our children cannot be perfect, but we can still buy into the seductive messages that this perfection is somehow possible.
Balancing Family Roles, Demands, and Contentment
How can we wade through all the conflicting messages and craft a life that balances our various roles and demands AND feel content with our choices?
Make your relationship with God your highest priority. Aim to consistently sit in His presence and expose yourself daily to the Word. Let your children see you making this relationship a priority. When appropriate, speak to your child about how God is working in your life.
“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.” – Deuteronomy 28:18-21
The Priority of Marriage
After our relationship with God, our next highest priority is our marriage.We have the greatest potential to influence generations by creating a stable relationship with our spouse. This provides a nurturing environment for our children. Children raised in a home with a stable marriage tend to be more emotionally and financially secure. Our marriage also becomes the primary model for our children about how to do relationship. If our children go on to have stable, happy marriages, then this has a strong impact on their children. I encourage you to focus a lot of energy on having a happy marriage – your children and grandchildren will thank you.
Start early in your child’s life modeling a healthy marriage relationship:
- Have a brief check-in with your partner daily and teach your children to not interrupt during this time.
- Schedule date nights so that you can take a break from parenting and other demands.
- Schedule periodic weekends away with your spouse to recharge and relax. If you don’t have family members that are willing or able to provide childcare, see if you can arrange to swap childcare with another couple who has children.
Set boundaries that protect what you value. This will allow you to be fully present wherever you are. Use technology wisely to be productive and organized. Have tech-free times at home so that you can be present with your children and spouse. Perhaps have a basket where all tech devices must go during dinner or by a certain time in the evening. This allows space for connection with those you love. Being away from technology an hour or two before bedtime will also positively impact your sleep.
Decide with your spouse how many activities a child can be involved in. In our home, we decided that each child could be in one sport and one creative activity at a time. Within those boundaries, each child was free to choose activities that they enjoyed. Over time, our children participated in ballet, soccer, swimming, baseball and softball, biking, tennis, guitar, piano, flute and voice lessons, and martial arts, along with an array of church and volunteer activities. By having clearly defined boundaries, our children knew how many activities they could choose.Tufts University psychologist and author of The Hurried Child notes, “Kids who have been trained to be tennis stars, skating stars, or pianists, and who haven’t been allowed to express other parts of themselves, may feel empty in adolescence – just as a businessman who succeeds in the outside world, to the neglect of his inside world, starts to feel empty.” Elkind strongly encourages parents to not over schedule their children. All children need some down time and even a time to experience boredom.
Boundaries are great for children – when they know what the limits are, they can relax within these limits. This helps children be less anxious.
“Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.” – Proverbs 1: 8-9
Set boundaries with social media. While social media can be both fun and useful, it can also lead to unhealthy comparisons. This can fuel an underlying discontentment and dissatisfaction with ourselves and with our life. Stop comparing your life to someone else’s highlights reel.
Set limits for your children in this area, as well. Talk to them about the appropriate use of social media. Decide with your spouse the guidelines for appropriate contact with others outside the marriage. Share passwords with your spouse and create a climate of transparency. This helps nurture your marriage and build trust.
Set boundaries that allow you to take good care of yourself. Our own self-care often drops to a very low priority. However, you cannot care for others – children or spouse – if you do not care for yourself. Children need to see us taking care of ourselves as we:
- Eat healthy foods
- Spend time alone
- Nurture our relationship with God
- Spend time having fun with friends
- Spend time with our spouse
Although there are seasons where the physical demands of caring for children are very intense, it is still very important to look for small ways to care for yourself.
Avoid Over parenting
Over parenting, sometimes referred to as helicopter parenting, is bad for children and for parents. Too much focus on a child can cause them to feel anxious. An extreme focus on children causes other areas of your life to suffer, including your marriage, your relationship with God, and your self-care. It can also lead your child to feel emotionally responsible for you. Your well-being should not depend on how your child is behaving or performing. They will feel more secure and stable if they know they aren’t responsible for how you feel.In his excellent book, Scream free Parenting, author Hal Runkel asks parents to examine who is suffering in a particular situation – the child who has chosen to make a bad choice, or the parents? He encourages parents to allow the natural, logical consequences of the child’s own choices to shape behavior and allow the child to learn. For example, if a child forgets his soccer uniform repeatedly, allow the natural consequences to teach him to remember. His consequence for forgetting the uniform might be that the coach makes him or her run laps, or sit out of a game. Such consequences will do far more to shape better behavior than if the parent drops everything to take the forgotten uniform to the child.
“Good decisions come from experience; experience comes from making bad decisions.” – Anonymous
Another general guideline for parents to keep in mind is to not do anything for a child they can do for themselves. For example, do not clean your child’s room for them if they have not complied with age-appropriate requests for them to do so. If you clean for them, then you have just negatively reinforced the child’s non-compliance. So even if you are telling your child to clean his room, your actions are communicating that he does not need to do so because you have now taught him that if he delays long enough, you will clean the room for him.
In my work with families, I often find parents who are still waking up high school children to go to school. I have even had college freshmen whose parents were calling them to wake them for class. If a child has not learned to get themselves up by high school or college, this is a big problem.
In another instance, a mom was going online to look at her college-age child’s assignments, test schedules, and deadlines. She was then planning out how the child should study and meet deadlines. Due to over parenting, it is unlikely this student will develop to their full potential.
The parent is inadvertently communicating that they do not think the child has what it takes to meet the demands of college-level work. If any of these scenarios sounds familiar to you, I urge you to consider backing off, calming your own anxiety, and allowing your child to do things for themselves. This communicates respect for the child and will allow him or her to mature into a fully-functioning adult.
“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” – Proverbs 22:6
Author Meg Meeker, M.D. identifies five signs of over parenting:
- Your child calls you with every problem she encounters.
- Your child cannot handle disappointment.
- Your child avoids hard work and looks for shortcuts.
- You consistently do homework for your child, call the teacher for her, or advocate on her behalf.
- You spend hours each week scouring the internet to find the perfect preschool, the best vitamins, or source the best organic food.
“Parents, focus on the big things. The rest will fall into place.” – Meg Meeker
One major cause of over parenting is comparison. Stop comparing your child to another child. Stop comparing your parenting to another person’s parenting. All this can lead to tremendous discontent and anxiety. Take a break from Facebook and other social media, which often lead us to compare. Comparison can also lead to parenting guilt. In her recent Business Boutique podcast, Christy Wright spoke of four ways to overcome parenting guilt:
- No one likes a martyr, so don’t act like one. You are not responsible for everything.
- Affirm for yourself that what you are doing is important. The time you spend at work is important. The time you spend with your child and spouse are also important. The time you spend with God is critical.
- Have grace for yourself. Children do not need perfect parents. They need parents that are emotionally and physically present with them. Children also need parents who take time to enjoy their own lives and who build a solid marriage.
- Take care of yourself. Let kids see you enjoying your life. Scripture reminds us: “Children are a blessing from the Lord and the fruit of the womb is His reward.” As parents, are we living in such a way that we reflect this truth?
How Family Counseling Services Can Help
Perhaps you are struggling with leading a balanced life. Maybe your life feels out of balance with too much focus on parenting and not enough time for yourself, your relationship with God, or your spouse. If this is you, professional Christian family counseling services can help you establish balance in your life.
I have been a parent for over 30 years and know how easy it is to get overwhelmed with the demands of life. Seeking professional Christian family counseling services at points in my life has helped me gain perspective and make changes that made me a better mom, a better spouse, and a better friend to myself. It also helped me identify areas of weakness in my walk with God.
Over the past decade, I have assisted many clients with getting on track with marriage and parenting. If you need some help to get your family back on track, I would love to have the opportunity to work with you. Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness – it is a sign of strength, so reach out today.
“My Secret Spot,” courtesy of Jared Sluyter, unsplash.com, Public Domain License; “Family bike ride,” courtesy of tropicofkansas, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); Mother & Daughter, courtesy of Mario Campello, Flickr Creative Commons