By Dr. James Dobson
There is hardly a parent alive who does not have some regrets and painful memories of their failures as a mother or a father. Children are infinitely complex, and we can no more be perfect parents than we can be perfect human beings. The pressures of living are often enormous. We get tired and irritated; we are influenced by our physical bodies and our emotions, which sometimes prevent us from saying the right things and being the models we should be. We do not always handle our children as unemotionally as we wish we had, and it is very common to look back a year or two later and see how wrong we were in the way we approached a problem.
Fortunately we are permitted to make some mistakes with our children. They are resilient, and they usually survive most of our errors in judgment. It is a good thing they do, because none of us can be a perfect parent. Besides, it is not the occasional mistakes that hurt a child – it is the consistent influence of destructive conditions throughout childhood that does the damage.
All of us experience these failures! No one does the job perfectly! Even if you implement a flawless system of parenting, (which no one in history has done), your children will still be children. At times they will be silly, lazy, selfish, and yes, disrespectful. Such is the nature of the human species. We as adults have the same weaknesses.
Furthermore, when it comes to children, that is how it should be. Boys and girls are like clocks; you have to let them run. The point and purpose of parental discipline is not to produce obedient little robots who can sit with their hands folded in the parlor thinking patriotic and noble thoughts! Even if we could pull that off, it would not be wise to try.
You can teach new attitudes and modify some behavioral patterns, but you will not be able to redesign the basic personality with which your child was born with. Some characteristics are genetically programmed, and they will always be there. For example, some children appear to be born leaders, and others seem to be made to follow. One of your most astounding experiences as a parent is to watch a distinct personality emerge in each of your children. As they mature, traits that make them individuals become increasingly apparent. It is part of God’s plan for who they will become.
My advice to you is to accept, appreciate, and cultivate the personality with which your little child is born. He or she does not need to fit a preconceived mold. That youngster is, thankfully, one of a kind.
Are there times when good, loving parents do not like their own children very much? Yes, just as there are times in a good marriages when husbands and wives do not like each other for a while.
What you should do in both situations is hang tough. Look for ways to make the relationship better, but never give up your commitment to one another. That is especially true during the teen years, when the person we see will be very different in a few years. Wait patiently for him or her to grow up. You will be glad you did.
Let me give you what I consider to be the key to good parenting. It is to learn how to get behind the eyes of your child, seeing what he sees and feeling what he feels. When you know his frame of mind, your response becomes obvious. For example, when he is lonely, he needs your company. When he is defiant, he needs your help in controlling his impulses. When he is afraid, he needs the security of your embrace. When he is happy, he needs to share his laughter and joy with those he loves. Raising healthy children, then, is not so much a science as it is a highly developed art, and most of us have the natural intuitive faculties to learn it.
Take the time to observe those children who live in your house. If you tune in closely to what they say and do, the feelings behind those behaviors will soon become apparent. Then your reaction to what you have seen will lead to more confident parenthood.
You cannot buy your way out of parenting responsibilities, though many have tried. Busy and exhausted mothers and fathers, especially those who are affluent, sometimes attempt to “pay off” their deprived kids with toys, cars and expensive experiences. It rarely works. What boys and girls want most is time spent with their parents – building things in the garden or singing in the car or cycling in a part.
Many families have forgotten how to have fun in everyday experiences. The things they do together can become hallmarks of their years together. No toy to be played with alone can ever compete with the enjoyment of such moment. And they will be remembered for a lifetime.
The task of procreation was never intended to be so burdensome. Of course it is demanding. And children are challenging, to be sure. But the guilt and self-doubt that often encumber the parenting responsibility are not part of the divine plan. And today, it remains one of the greatest privileges in living to bring a baby into the world to love and care for. What a wonderful opportunity it is to teach these little ones to revere God with all their hearts and to serve others throughout their lives. There is no higher calling than that!
(Published in the focus on the family Malaysia 2007 newsletter, Issue 7)
This article has encouraged me much. Hope that parents / parents-to-be will be blessed too.