We hear it from friends and family. We hear it on social media. We hear it in the news. The idea that what kids do is based on how they were raised. When kids make bad decisions, we look condescendingly upon the parents figuring it is the parent’s fault for not teaching them right. When kids make good decisions, we praise the parents saying things like “he must have a great mom” or “her parents did a great job of raising her.”
But this kind of thinking makes it seem like we are in control and like our kids are our report card. And that adds a whole new level of stress to the already stressful job of parenting. When we are out, and our kids say something awful we cringe wondering what other people are thinking of us. When people comment on how well our kids behaved, we puff up with pride and pat ourselves on the back.
But if we stop to think about it, that is a crazy, emotional rollercoaster ride to put ourselves on. I have had my kids sit quietly for an hour while I watched a dog training class I was thinking of joining. And the very next day my kids couldn’t handle a five-minute run into Walmart to grab a couple items and were fighting with each other in the check-out line while people stared at me like I was the worst parent in the world. Because at that time they were not toddlers. I think my oldest was 12 at the time of this incident. Sigh. I promise you I have broken up at least a thousand fights and talked a million times about getting along and being kind to one another.
I think it is time to start to change the dialog that we use. Instead of saying “he must have a great mom” what if we said, “he did a great job embracing the teachings of his mom” or “she chose to follow what she was taught.” That puts the responsibility back on the kids where it belongs.
Because let’s be honest. We spend hours teaching our kids to be kind, we read them books on being kind, and we make sure they watch tv shows that promote kindness, but then at a playdate at the park our kid shoves another kid down the slide because they were taking too long to go down. Is that really our fault? Or it is our child’s?
I firmly believe that their bad choices are NOT our fault. It is simply a bad choice that our child made. Now, that doesn’t mean we just throw our hands up in the air and do nothing. We do what we can. We teach them, we surround them with good things, we implement consequences when they mess up, we love them unconditionally, and we pray until the knees are worn out on every pair of pants we own. We do all we can. But we cannot choose for them. That is why good Christian parents can have kids that rebel and make bad decisions. And there are really, terrible parents whose kids go on to succeed and do great in life. Because it all comes down to what the kids choose.
Raising kids is not like baking cookies. You can’t whip up the right recipe to make sure you get great kids every time. There is no sure-fire way to make sure your kids turn out right. No formula for the perfect child. They are not like animals that can be trained by punishing or ignoring bad behavior and rewarding good behavior. They are people with free will. And we need to put the responsibility for the choices they make squarely on their shoulders.
We have to stop believing the myth that we are responsible for raising them right and for how they turn out. We are simply responsible to do our part. We are responsible to teach them, coach them, and give them the tools to succeed. It is their choice to embrace our teachings or reject them.
So, let’s start to change the dialog. Let’s stop blaming ourselves for our kid’s mistakes and stop taking so much pride in their successes. Let’s put the responsibility back on the individual where it belongs. And by doing this we will find freedom. For then we are no longer under the impossible task of making our kids turn out right, but instead we are free to do what we can and love them even when they mess up. Because the mistake they made is no longer a mark against us. Instead of focusing on what we could have done differently, which makes us focus on ourselves, we can focus on loving our kids unconditionally and helping them navigate the consequences of their actions.
I will never stop teaching my kids to be responsible, honest, caring individuals who give back to the world, but if they chose to be something different than that I will not blame myself. I will rest in the knowledge that I did what I could. They have a choice. And if they choose to make bad decisions, I will still love them, pray for them, and be there for them. NO matter what choices they make.
Because that is my choice.