Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Myth of the Perfect Parent

Over the past few months I've been thinking a lot about mothering, guilt, failure and success.  A few months ago a friend passed me a magazine article titled "The Myth of the Perfect Parent" by Leslie Leyland Fields. You can read the whole article here. As I read it, I felt a sense of relief flow over me.  Finally, something about parenting that made sense to me.

"We are responsible to teach our children the fear of the Lord, to impress his laws on them                            when we "sit at home and when we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we get up" -  meaning all the time (Deut 6:7).  And we are commanded to not exasperate our children, but to "bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4).  But we must be clear about our own limits.  We are not capable of producing perfect followers of Christ, as if we were perfect ourselves.  Our work cannot purchase anyone else's salvation or sanctification. ... We will parent imperfectly, our children will make their own choices, and God will mysteriously and wondrously use it all to advance his kingdom."

"Parenting like all tasks under the sun, is intended as an endeavor of love, risk, perseverance, and, above all faith.  It is faith rather than formula, grace rather than guarantees, steadfastness rather than success that bridges the gap between our own parenting efforts, and what, by God's grace, our children grow up to become." (p.27 Christianity Today, Jan 2010)

Leslie Fields is a mother of six children (ages 5 up to 20) and lives in Alaska. Fields has also written a book (pictured) which I chased up after reading the article. In her book she aims to help parents take the focus off what we're doing (or not doing) as parents and focus it back on God.  When we are assessing ourselves as successes or failures then the focus is firmly on us - not what/who our children are in God's purposes for the world.  Fields argues that we need to have God in first priority.  If God is in first place then our life becomes about living to glorify him and relying on him as we care for the children he has given us.  

In her conclusion she writes:
"God is here with me in this beautiful everyday riot of my house and my heart.  He is with me as my redeemer, my sovereign, ... I know now that parenting is not meant to paralyze me with guilt but to send me running freely to God.  Parenting is not meant to cripple me with insufficiency but to lead me to God's sufficiency.  Parenting is so much less about me and so much more about God!  This is God's holy enterprise - and wondrously, joyously, I get to be a part of it"  (p 212, Parenting is your highest calling : and 8 other myths that trap us in worry and guilt, by Leslie Leyland Fields (2008))

Fields is very real about her struggles with parenting - especially the reality of parenting teenage children, multiple children and boys.  Five out of her six children are boys.  Most of her children are either in high school or college and I appreciated this aspect of her writing.  There are many books written for parents about toddlers or younger children but her perspective was broader than that.

By the way her nine myths are:

Myth 1:  Having children Makes you Happy and Fulfilled (Discovering God's real purpose in giving us children
Myth 2:  Nurturing Your Children is Natural and Instinctive (Why biblical love is so hard to live out)
Myth 3:  Parenting is your highest calling (How pursuing God first frees us to love our children more)
Myth 4:  Good Parenting Leads to Happy Children (Exchanging shallow hopes for God's deeper purposes)
Myth 5:  If you find parenting difficult, You must not be following the Right Plan (Learning to rely on God rather than formulas)
Myth 6:  You represent Jesus to your children (How we trap ourselves in a role we weren't meant to play)
Myth 7: You will always feel unconditional love for your children (How our false ideas of love burden us with guilt)
Myth 8:  Successful parents produce godly children (The danger of making too much of ourselves and too little of God)
Myth 9:  God approves of only one family design (Why God is not limited by imperfect families)

Some of these issues are particularly related to the Christian context in North America.  But I still found many of these myths applicable to myself and helpful to consider and think through.  

6 comments:

Pip said...

Very interesting. I have stuggled with guilt over many of those myths, and recognise the taboo it is in some christian circles to even talk about them or acknowlege that they exist. I will be finding a copy of that book to read!

Gina said...

Thanks for the book review. I'd like to chase this one down. So far I think I cut myself a decent amount of slack as a sinner/parent but can see my desire for perfection increasing with the age of the kids.

Sarah Condie said...

Jenny, thanks for this book review. I think I will have to add it to the pile on the top of my bookcase! I had just started to clear it, but I like the sound of this author!

Nicole said...

Sounds like a good book to read - I'll have to get my hands on a copy!

Jennie Lawson said...

Happy Easter Kemp Family.Thanks for the book review sounds like just the right book for me to read. How clever of God to remind me of your blog while I was wasting time on facebook.

Jenny said...

Hi - if you do read this book can you tell me what you think. I haven't spent ages analysing it and there are probably weaknesses with some of her arguments. It would be interesting to hear how others respond.