One of the most common challenges among parents is wrestling with feeling that we could do better. Sometimes that wrestling spurs us to be the best possible parents to our children. Too often though it’s a weight of guilt that just robs us of the joy of family life.
Some of you will already know our experience of being parents has been a little “back to front”. We started with teenagers as foster parents and gradually our family has got younger and younger and included our birth children.
This unconventional route into parenthood has really given us, early on, the valuable lesson of the importance of the little things. A recent short message from one of our foster children was a reminder of this. He’s not so much a child now – actually a man in his 20s. He messaged to let us know he isn’t going to be around for Christmas, but could we arrange a time to talk.
For us this means so much and this is why:
Parenthood is without a doubt hard work – physically, mentally and emotionally. For anyone who has had to wash PE kit, attempt to pair endless amounts of socks, regularly soothed a baby to sleep, cleaned up ALL manner of bodily fluids (baby or teenager ones), done homework with a reluctant child, dealt with raging tantrums, done the school run, made a million or two lunchboxes and meals, challenged difficult behaviour, encouraged confidence, stood on the edge of a cold football pitch, played all manner of imaginary games, listened to monologues on topics you have little interest in outside of the fact they matter to your child, battled to get out of the house on time with everyone wearing shoes and coats, etc etc you know that there is a side to this role that is can often be unglamorous, uncomfortable and inconvenient. This service to another human being(s) is, however, an act of huge love.
To regularly ensure that another’s needs are met is a massive feat. Whether you are able to do all of this single-handed or like most of us you are part of the village that is contributing to raising your child it is not a role you undertake for an easy life.
The thing is these little things all matter. They are like sowing seeds into someone’s life and one day – probably not for many years – they recognise this person loved me so much that they did all of that for me. For us it comes in the form of a young man with a difficult past wanted to connect at the time of year when family is heavily emphasised. In those moments all of the hard work is totally worth it – they have contributed towards building a most treasured relationship. These little seeds when consistently tended help create an environment of safety and security and nurture that tells another person they are precious and valued.
It’s too easy to belittle these acts of service and focus on what we haven’t done or our mistakes (we’ve got a whole list of those, small and large). It’s also far too easy to get bogged down in the detail. Little things do matter, but only as much as they are a reflection of the big picture. How often do we feel bad because rather than regularly producing home made, organic hand picked dinners , Captain Birdseye is chief chef? If you’re regularly putting food on the table then well done you. Too many children don’t have that. If your children have clothes that fit and are clean(ish) then fantastic. Bonus points if you iron them – we gave up that when we went to 3 children and learned that ironing had to fall into the realms of luxury along with sleep and going to the toilet alone! Whilst we’re now back to 2 children the ironing hasn’t ever properly resumed!
When we strive so hard to get it “right” we can get lost in the detail. It’s great to think, analyse and consider, but the reality is this CAN YOUR CHILD RELY ON YOU?.
When the pull between the demands of your life leaves you feeling guilty then ask yourself this – when I promise to be there for my child how much can they trust this and what tells them this is true? Remember the old adage actions speak louder than words (or intentions).
Can your child trust that you are their greatest advocate and that when the storms of life hit you will walk by their side no matter what? If this is the case then pause for a moment. Set aside the list of the things you feel you should have done or didn’t get right and instead give yourself a massive pat on the back (in between pairing socks)!