Not long ago, I was asked by a neighbor friend of mine to watch her 4 year old for a couple of hours. It was no problem; her kids are great and get along with my daughter just fine. It also helps that my husband and I own a Nintendo 64, and the kids love to play our old ‘90’s and late 2000’s games. And I’m not going to lie, I love reminiscing as they play.
As we started the game on this particular day, I tried to let the little boy take the reigns and choose his characters. He was our guest after all, and knowing how competitive I can be, I tried to take a step back. My frustration set in as soon as I saw the characters he chose. There was no winning with his picks. As he continued to play, it was very clear that he had no clue what he was doing, and I tried to coach him through his best options.
“If I were you, I would do this.”
“I definitely would NOT do that.”
“Well you could do that, but then you would definitely lose.”
At some point I got up to change a diaper, which left our 4-year old friend to his own devices. When I came back, he announced, “Oh well, I lost! Let’s play again!” I was stunned. The game for him was just that- a game.
How often do we take a “winning” mindset in our parenthood? With the rise of social media, it is so easy to compare our kids. We look at what other parents are doing, what milestones our kids should be reaching, the amount of activities we should be putting them in, and think that these “goals” make us a good parent. It makes sense, because when our kids do something great, we naturally want to share that with everyone because we’re proud of them.
How did we get to this point? It’s so easy to say, “I don’t care what anyone thinks”, but deep down, many of us do take a mental tally. How different that mindset is from our children who are actually doing these activities! A child learning how to walk doesn’t care if her friend at daycare started walking 2 months earlier. She is just excited to try! A 2nd grader doesn’t care that he isn’t the best artist in his class; he’s just excited to draw a picture for his favorite teacher. A middle school boy trying out for football may not ever get picked as a starter, but that doesn’t stop him from wanting to be a part of the team. Unfortunately, as our kids get older, they take their cues from us and from the world around them. By the time our kids are in high school, many of them will begin to equate self-worth with performance and results; something many of them will hold on to their entire lives.
As parents, we often put more pressure on our kids to “win” at life, especially when we look at what other kids are doing, or what we did when we were kids. Yes, let’s encourage our kids to be the best they can be and show them the way, but we need to check our motivation and constantly re-evaluate our intentions as we steer our kids in the right direction.
Some good questions to ask ourselves might be,
“Is my behavior placing my child’s self worth in something other than God?”
“Am I pushing too hard to encourage a milestone that will eventually come?”
“Am I doing this for them, or for me?”
“Who benefits the most from this?”
“Does this activity bring joy to my child, or are they constantly feeling defeated?”
“Am I giving more value to this activity than to my child’s faith life?”
“Is my teenager sacrificing time at youth group/bible study/Mass for the sake of this activity?”
“Is this something that my child is doing just to make me happy?”
“If this doesn’t work out (or even if it does), how negatively will this affect my child?”
“Will it negatively affect our family dynamics?”
“Do the benefits outweigh the sacrifices?”
“What is my attitude as I coach and guide? Do I get easily frustrated and focus on results, or am I patient and focus on my child?”
God knows you and He knows your child. He has not given you your kids at random. God has entrusted each child to you, because He knows that you will sanctify each other, and He will give you what you need to parent them in the best way possible. God also knows that you are not meant to do this with your own abilities. Spend time in prayer for your kids, and ask God for wisdom for yourself. God loves to give wisdom to those who ask for it! Every child and parent is unique, and God intended it that way. Pray that God will help you to see your kids through His eyes. To help your children to grow and have joy, and to put aside our desired growth rate. And don’t beat yourself up when you mess up.