Parenting Enough

As a dad, I find myself fairly frequently asking the question: “Am I really reaching my kids? Am I having the impact on them I want, and, more to the point, need to have?”

Exhibit A: My stepson will soon be a college senior, my stepdaughter a college freshman, my oldest blood son, a high school senior.

Exhibit B: My youngest children are on the cusp of their teenage years.

Exhibit C: My wife is talking more and more about how hot the room is.

These are heady times for reflection and self-doubt. I mean, let’s be honest: In all likelihood, I have less life ahead of me than behind. My children are rapidly transitioning toward independence, i.e. making their own life without me. On the one hand, it is such a good and glorious season, and yet I cannot help but wonder, what else could I have done? How could I have better prepared them for the challenges of life? How could I have imparted a greater humility for the times when human praise will stroke their ego and they are flush with success? Likewise, how could I have instilled a more persevering, buoyant spirit for the inevitable valleys of shadow and defeat that every human must face? How could I have more richly ingrained the value of labor, however common, as long as it is honest? What transcendent moments—the boiling sunset sky moments, the honeybee in the garden moments, the little boy with skinned knee, the first roller coaster, the don’t talk to your mother that way moments—truly made their mark and could I have done more? That’s the real kicker: Could I have done more…been more attune…more available…wiser…more deliberate…more truthful…more firm…more daring…more focused…more insightful…more giving…easy-going…stricter…consistent…flexible…etc.

On and on, the chorus of doubt marches. For example, have I been firm enough with my sons to make men out of them, without sacrificing their heart in the process? Or, in the reverse error, have I made too many allowances, thus undercutting the discipline a boy needs to become a strong man, a man of virtue and determination in a crooked, apathetic world? For my daughter, have I drawn out and nourished the deep, sweet, tender beauty in her soul so that she lives in utter confidence, refusing the affection of any man who does not prize her as she has already been prized? Does she know, deep in her knower, that she is loved like that? Have I taught and demonstrated faith in such a way that my children know God for themselves, and are willing to risk everything to follow Him? Do they think about belief…or do they believe?

I think so. I hope so. Oh God, I hope so! But who can say?

I am a firm believer that there will come a day when the only regrets I will possess are the risks I failed to take, the time I failed to make, the words I refused to say. In other words, not so much what I did, but didn’t dare do. But here’s the deal. That’s unwinnable. Perhaps it’s a useful perspective for making my heart aware of each day’s opportunity so that I don’t grow dull or let valuable time with my family pass me by, yet no matter how focused, determined, prayerful and invested I am, I cannot do more than I can do. I can always do more, but I will never be God, and to over-reflect is to take on the burden and guilt of Godlike endeavors that far exceed human capacity. Plus, it spoils the moments I am able to make, if I am perhaps already scheming the next, or regretting the current.

I do not wish to live under the threat of the soon-coming absence of all that I have right here, right now, even as my family slips from my fingers. The absence is coming, it’s real, but there’s no need for me to enlarge it in my heart through fear and self-accusation, vain imaginations and pitiful hand-wringing. No, today, I must release them, that they might fly unbruised—that my fears would not defile the souls of the ones I fear for. I wish my judgment to be clear and my eye to be single. I am a dad, fear me! I have been given treasures times eight. I must guard them, train them, love them, correct them, give them time and add to their value in a way that nobody but me—dad—can do. I desire assurance that my time has been well spent and appropriately impacting, but that will take a lifetime to prove as they transition from the safety of my home to their own place in the world.

Did I do my part well? Honestly, no. I must laugh at such a thought. Never in a million years could I do such a thing! My good intentions far outstrip my time, wisdom, energy and true capacity. Why live in the guilt of what I could never do, simply because I wish I could? And so I must humble myself. I’m just dad, not God, and I’m afraid. Did I do my part well enough to make a difference? That’s the question. To answer it, I must commit the most daring act of faith yet: Believe. Believe that my children are hidden in God more than in me, and also He in them. In the real and deep love I know they have received, which nobody can take from me, because I gave it freely as best as I knew how. I must believe in the strength of the parents they’ve lost, and in the hope of the parents they have. I can do more, but I must not do less. And in between, I must be at peace.

All I am, and all I am not, in God’s grace, is enough. It has to be.

5 thoughts on “Parenting Enough

  1. Whoe! Are you preaching to yourself or to me? I’m not a parent but many days I feel like I am. I’m a teacher, this year, a homeschool teacher who teaches 6 kids in my home. And every day at the end of the day I question if I did enough. Was I too impatient with my ADD boy or was I not strict enough? Should I have made him sound that word out or was it right that I gave in and told him what it was? Should I have made my preschooler get those cards back out and prove that she did them correctly or just accept that she’s not ready for reading yet? Was there something more I could have said to comfort the girl who’s mom is having heart problems and who fears losing her? Should I have sat right next to them during recess so that that one kid wouldn’t have dared mention her private parts, saying things that make the others moms mad when their kids repeat what this one kid says? Oh, I hope that your last statement is true, that I am enough, that God is using me to reach these kids and teach them what they so desperately need to know about Him and His love for them!

  2. Had to read this one. I really messed up as a dad to my two youngest children but our God is more than gracious. I can’t go back and fix what I didn’t do now. But, He can and will redeem the time I let the enemy steal. The enemy would like me to get stuck in those what ifs and the am I doing everything right for my youngest son? Funny how wonderful the Father of lights is, He has gifted me with two young adults who prophetically represent my two oldest children to pour into their lives. He promised me I will get to father my two youngest again and finish well. I can not live in regret but I have to live in faith of Him who just loves to redeem. Redemtion has got to be His favorite hobby.

    I find myself even today analyzing my decisions and getting caught up in those thoughts of I got to do it right. Then I realize again, analysis is a demonic mess. I place my thoughts, my faith, my hope and my love back on Jesus. Guess what, He is not surprised at my screw ups. He planned what He was going to do to redeem them before He created creation. I just need to keep running the race and FINISH well.

  3. Pingback: Reflections…. Revelations | A Beautiful Rainy Day

  4. Thanks for addressing the stepdad perspective. Not often talked about, please allow me to share another perspective for new stepdads.

    Men who marry women with children come to their new responsibilities with a mixed bag of emotions. Your motivations may be far different from those that make a man assume responsibility for his biological children. As a new husband, you might react to your “instant” family with feelings that range from admiration to fright to contempt. You might even see yourself as less effective than a biological father. A new stepfather typically enters a household headed by a mother. When a mother and her children make up a single-parent family, she tends to learn autonomy and self-confidence, and her children do more work around the house and take more responsibility in family decisions than do children in two-parent households. These are good things, but to enter such a family, you must work your way into a closed group. For one thing, mom and kids share a common history, one that does not yet include you.

    Moving into your wife’s house can make you feel like the “odd man out.” It might be months before you feel comfortable and at home. In truth, initially, stepfathers do have less power relative to stepchildren, particular adolescents, when they move into the mother-child home.

    You might feel out of place because of a different background or because you have a different perspective on what family life is all about. After years of living as a single-parent family, for instance, both mom and kids are likely to have evolved a chore allocation system. As a newcomer, especially if you assume the traditional male role in a two-earner remarriage, you may draw complaints that you are not contributing enough. Or, while you think it helpful not to interfere, your behavior might be seen as an unwillingness to contribute.

    The “hidden agenda” is one of the first difficulties a stepfather runs into: The mother, her children, or both, may have expectations about what you will do, but may not give you a clear picture of what those expectations are. You may have a hidden agenda of your own. You may see your new stepchildren as spoiled and unruly and decide they need discipline. Or, you may find that after years of privacy, a bustling house full of children disrupts your routine.

    A part of the stepchildren’s hidden agenda is the extent to which they will let you play the father. Children can be adamant in their distaste for, or jealousy of, their stepfather, or they may be ready and anxious to accept you as a “new daddy.”

    Stepfathers tend to be more distant and detached than stepmothers, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. Some detachment might be just what’s needed in order to have a workable relationship with your stepchildren, especially during the early years of your marriage. Teenagers may be mature enough to think of you primarily as their mother’s husband rather than as a stepfather. Teens, and younger children, may be unwilling to go back to being “children”—that is, dependent on and subject to adult direction. To you, they may seem spoiled and undisciplined rather than mature. Try to keep in mind that as part of a single-parent family, their responsibilities and participation in decisions were probably encouraged. The hidden agendas of mom, children, and you may be over simple matters of everyday living, things like food preferences, personal space, and the division of labor.

    Discipline is likely to be particularly tricky for everyone. Two parents rather than one now establish house rules and influence the children’s behavior, but you and your spouse may not agree. A second problem can be the influence of the biological father. To you, there may sometimes seem to be three parents instead of two—especially if the non-custodial father sees the children regularly—with the biological father wielding more influence than you, the stepfather. The key is for everyone to work together.

    You might react to all of this in one of four ways. First, you might be driven away. Second, you might take control, establishing yourself as undisputed head of the household, and force the former single-parent family to accommodate your preferences. Third, you might assimilate into a family headed by a mother and have relatively little influence on the way things are done. And fourth, you, your new wife, your stepchildren, and their non-custodial biological father can all negotiate new ways of doing things by taking to heart and incorporating the information you are about to learn—the most positive alternative for everyone.

    Okay. Now you have a pretty good feel for what everyone is going through. How do you start to make it better? How can you give yourself breathing space—time to catch your breath while your new family begins to come together emotionally and learns how to work together, a process that can take years? First you must be very clear about what you want and expect from this marriage and the individuals involved, including yourself. What are you willing to do? What do you need from your spouse in order to feel supported physically and emotionally? In a loving and positive way, now is the time to articulate, negotiate, and come to an agreement on your expectations and about how you and your partner will behave.

    The best marriages are flexible marriages. But how can you be flexible if you do not know where you, your spouse, and the children stand and what everyone needs right now? Needs will change over time. There must be room for change. People change and promises will not prevent change. People who vow never to change often try to hide their personal growth from each other, and the result, of course, is lost intimacy. People who are not flexible, who cannot change, may be left with a permanent, but stale, relationship.

    In flexible marriages, partners are freer to reveal their changing selves and the parts of themselves that no longer fit into their old established patterns. You and your partner must continue to be in touch at a deep emotional level even when the outer framework of your lives changes. The more you know, the more you grow. You couldn’t possibly have known at the beginning of your new family what you know now and will learn later. Flexibility in your relationships will enable growth rather than tearing them apart.

    Get in touch with your expectations and encourage every family member to do the same so you can compare and negotiate the differences. Your goal, and your partner’s, are to actively begin to define and built a healthy, supportive relationship. Talk over specific problems. Just because you were unable to predict some of the problems, don’t let that stand in the way of dealing with them now.

    It is not uncommon for people who marry again to feel reluctant to fully commit themselves emotionally, even though they want the marriage to work. The struggles of your first marriage and divorce can leave scars. When not openly acknowledged and healed, past failure, rejection, loss, and guilt can undermine a new intimate relationship without either of you understanding what is happening. One way to release these feelings is to share them, and to make it safe for your partner to do the same. Each of you needs to feel secure, respected, positive about yourself, and as comfortable as possible in your new family unit.

    You may feel the “conflict taboo” even more than in your first marriage. It is understandable that you want to make this marriage work. You might feel too “battle-scarred” to open “a can of worms.” And so, you gloss over differences that need airing and resolution—differences over which you may not have hesitated to wage war in your first marriage. Avoiding airing your differences is a serious mistake. It is important for you to understand your own and your partner’s needs because society hasn’t a clue how stepfamilies should work. Unless you talk about your expectations, they are likely to be unrealistic.

    Gloria Lintermans is the author of THE SECRETS TO STEPFAMILY SUCCESS: Revolutionary Tools to Create a Blended Family of Support and Respect (Llumina Press).

  5. I love your post! I’m a new stepmom and it’s been a transition full of friction and stress and all of us trying to figure out just how this is supposed to work. We do have the ultimate faith in the Lord, but it’s still an intimidating situation, especially with me wanting to do so right by my stepchildren. In a world that can sometimes be so anti-stepparent, its encouraging to read that its ok to put in that extra effort, spend that extra time, and say the things you question whether you should say. I hope in a few years when my stepkids leave the nest, I’ll have few regrets about what I wish I would have done!

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