Most complex pieces of machinery come with a comprehensive instruction manual.
But not children!
This is odd, considering how enormously important is the task of raising them.
You would think someone would have gone to great lengths to ensure that we get it right.
I have a lot of Christian friends who will immediately point to the Bible as “the be-all-and-end- all manual for all of life, not just parenting.”
The Bible is so incredibly complex in its multiple layers of meaning and both implicit and explicit instructions that I despair of this kind of one-dimensional response.
All too often it results in a refusal to acknowledge any personal responsibility in just about anything that happens in life.
In truth, the Bible is full of examples of parenting shortcomings : Solomon, Moses, Cain and Abel, to name just a few, were all products of pretty dysfunctional families.
When you think about it, today’s parenting successes and failures affect not just the family today, but the community, the country and the continent for generations to come.
How do you suppose Hitler’s mama felt when it first dawned on her that she had created a monster?
And I’m sure I’m not the only parent who finally relaxed when I read Obama’s Dreams From My Father and realised that the previous prerequisites of stability in schooling, social situation, racial identity, were not absolutely essential for success.
Obama’s story told us all that simply by doing your best with whatever the situations, it is still possible to produce a president.
My point is: parenting is one of the biggest challenges you will ever have to face in life, and no matter what your belief system is, you can still get it horribly wrong.
I rank it right up there with learning to make winning decisions, and managing relationships.
In fact, parenting is almost entirely a process of learning to make winning decisions, and managing complex relationships at the same time!
Throw in the odd cuddle here and there, a flush of pride every four years or so, and there is the story of raising children.
Sometimes my children’s performance perplexes me so much that I wonder out loud: “Where did you come from?”
More often than not, I get the kind of answer that only the sweeping logic of a three-year-old can deliver:
“I come from over there!”
I’ve decided, and I reserve the right to hold on to this decision for at least 24 hours, that I will be quite candid with my children in terms of how I present them to themselves.
A typical conversation in my household would go like this:
“Mummy, do you think one day we’ll be normal?”
“What do you mean my child. What’s so abnormal about us?”
“Well, mummy for one thing, you’re always laughing at us. . .”
“Oh, but my darling that’s what children are for.
People have kids so they can have someone to laugh at!
Did you not know this?”
“Oh, mummy, sometimes you make me very sad.
I wish you could be a nicer mom.”
“Well, what did you think this was, a multi-party democracy?”
And so it goes on.
I hope not.
I hope my children will grow up thinking it’s OK if someone laughs at them once in a while and understanding that the hand one is dealt doesn’t always seem fair, but one can in fact learn to live with it, and have fun doing so.
I hope they will learn not to take life or even themselves too seriously because they will remember that the first person who loved them, was also the first person who laughed at them, with them and through them.
My parenting model may not be orthodox, but at least it’s fun.
My husband and I have been at this parenting gig for almost a decade, but I tell you it feels like I am still in the Parenting 101 class, and likely to stay there for the rest of my life!
One of the best models of parenting I have seen (not counting my own incredible parents, of course!) is that of a friend who runs a series of parenting programmes called Growing Families God’s Way.
Her children are outgoing, well-behaved, funny, down to earth, smart, successful, polite, interesting and entirely lovable.
I have never figured out whether her success with these kids (there are four of them, and each one is a delight) is related more to her putting into practice the principles of the courses she runs, or just because she has made a conscious, deliberate decision to make good parenting a priority.
To invest in the time and resources that are required for children to have healthy levels of security, significance and self worth requires hard work and sacrifice.
What’s obscene about her situation is that even in all of that beauty and the splendour, there is tragedy, and I thank God that this family has their faith and each other to carry them through.
Beyond the laughter, tears, tantrums, teens, pooh, persuasion, pampers, prayer and other parenting paraphernalia, I hope your children grow up to love and respect themselves and one another, and to appreciate that mom, dad or whoever raised them, did the best job they knew how, with the resources available to them, and that this in fact turns out to be true.
The final and poetic justice of parenting is that it makes one appreciate one’s parents so much more.
So, thank you mom and dad, and yes, you were right all along!