As a parent, I know full-well what it feels like to tangle with the throes of guilt over things I wonder if I could’ve done better with my children. It’s easy to get caught up in all of the shoulda, woulda, coulda’s that descend upon us when we’re second-guessing our parenting choices.
Sometimes these feelings of guilt are, in fact, warranted because nobody’s perfect and, as a result, everybody does something they regret from time to time. This is when an apology and a reversal of behavior are in order.
But then there are the times when parents beat themselves up for unwarranted reasons, such as for not “measuring up” to a standard that’s impossible to begin with, or for not volunteering for the umpteenth time at their child’s school, or for simply being human and losing their cool during a stressful situation.
The next time you feel gripped by guilt for a particular parenting choice, consider these 6 ways that you’re actually a better parent than you think you are.
1. You Bring Your Family Together
You remember every family member’s birthday and anniversary, and attend every relative’s graduation and wedding. You host holidays with a smile for family members you love as well as family members you’d rather love from afar.
You’re the bridge between generations of family members who don’t always make an effort to keep in touch, and the glue between relatives who—but for your devoted reminders—wouldn’t keep in touch at all.
In the stress of all of that planning, hosting, and encouraging of connections, you’re bringing your family together and helping to maintain family bonds. More significantly, you’re teaching the transformative lesson that love is something that you do, not merely something that you wait to feel.
Whether you know it or not, you’re living your life heeding Scripture’s caution that, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).
2. You Make Your Child Feel Loved
Depending on your child’s age, you may spend your day kissing your toddler’s booboos, helping your middle-schooler with homework, or giving your teen advice on how to handle the pitfalls of peer pressure. You make sure your child gets to every basketball game, art class, and dance recital on time, and that’s on top of making sure your child has clean laundry in his closet and good food on his plate.
In caring for your child and honoring his feelings and interests, you’re making your child feel valued, which nourishes his self-esteem and confidence. You’re also conveying the message that love is about consideration and sacrifice by putting the needs of others before your own.
Even on days when you lose your temper and speak words you immediately regret saying, you always go back to doing what’s right for your kid. Considering that the way you spend your days is the way you live your life, you’re doing a good job of being a good shepherd to “God’s flock that is under your care” (1 Peter 5:2-3).
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3. You Hand Down Your Faith to Your Child
There is wisdom in the saying that the family that prays together stays together. Handing down your faith gives your child a sense of security by showing her that she’s part of a community in which God, the Almighty Father, is the head.
Moreover, studies show that being involved in a faith-based community increases a person’s sense of purpose and belonging, which will serve to boost your child’s sense of self-esteem.
In raising your child to know the Word of God, you’re following the Biblical command to start your child off on the way she should go in life (Proverbs 22:6). Further, your child benefits from knowing that, although we are all one body in Christ, she has her own unique gifts according to the grace given to each of us (Romans 12:5-6).
Importantly, the faith you introduce to your child also gives her a lifelong source of comfort when she struggles with fear (2 Timothy 1:7), anxiety about the unknown (Matthew 6:25-34), peer pressure (1 Corinthians 15:33), loneliness (James 4:8), and heartbreak (Psalm 147:3).
4. You Prioritize Your Marriage
All relationships must be nurtured in order to thrive, and nurturing your marriage is one of the best gifts you can give your child. Marriages that are “child-centered” focus on meeting the child’s every need at every possible moment, often at the expense of the husband’s or wife’s needs.
When the couple’s identity is defined solely by the couple’s role as parents, the couple risks diminishing their connection as husband and wife, which can become painfully evident when their child grows up and leaves home.
In turn, if the marital partnership breaks down, it’s the child—no matter the age—who often feels the greatest pain.
While there will certainly be times when parenting is all-consuming, you understand how vital it is to maintain a loving connection with your spouse by remaining affectionate and making time to share common interests as a couple.
Finding this balanced family dynamic teaches your child that he doesn’t require all of your attention all of the time, and that your life is defined by relationships in addition to your relationship with him.
In prioritizing your marriage, you’re not only modeling a healthy family dynamic for your child, but you’re also honoring God’s plan for married couples to be united to each other as if one flesh (Genesis 2:24).
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5. You Make Time for Yourself
The message that we can “do it all” is a false one that sets us up for disappointment at best. In making time for yourself, you recognize that you cannot—and should not—be all things to all people because that leads to a people-pleasing mentality which leaves you feeling like it’s your job to make everybody else happy.
You avoid the “people-pleasing” trap by finding the time to spend with God, your friends, and yourself.
In making time to spend with God, you’re learning how to better reflect God’s will in your actions because, “All Scripture is God-breathed…so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
In making time to spend with friends, you’re showing your kid the significance of maintaining your emotional health, as research shows that people with good social connections are happier and healthier than people who are socially isolated. Last, in making time to spend by yourself, you’re showing your child how you can feel revitalized by taking up a hobby, completing a to-do list, or simply enjoying a relaxing activity alone.
6. You Forgive People, Including Yourself
We all feel slighted at one point or another, whether the slight is due to a misunderstanding or whether the slight was sharpened, aimed, and flung directly at us. Making forgiveness a habit isn’t easy.
Despite its difficulties, forgiveness is so vital to our Christian way of life that Jesus warned us in the Lord’s Prayer that we’ll be judged in the next life by the standard of forgiveness we practice in this one (Matthew 6:12).
In addition to the spiritual benefits of forgiveness, forgiveness can reap a bounty of physical and mental health benefits such as:
- Lower blood pressure
- A stronger immune system
- Decreased anxiety, stress, and feelings of hostility
- Fewer symptoms of depression
- Improved self-esteem
In practicing forgiveness in your life, you see the value of choosing to let go of resentment toward someone who hurt you. If you exercise forgiveness on a regular basis, then you’ve likely learned that forgiveness is something you do for yourself to step out of the role of victim, whether or not you received an apology from the offender.
Modeling forgiveness for your child demonstrates the virtues of showing others patience and grace. Modeling forgiveness of self teaches your child that we should apply this patience and grace to ourselves as well.
As part of your lesson on forgiveness, be sure to also inform your child that forgiving someone does not require continuing to associate with anyone who continues to engage in the hurtful behavior at issue.
Parenting is one of the toughest jobs out there. Parents often double as chauffeurs, referees, tutors, and short-order cooks. Daily. There are times when you’ll celebrate a parenting triumph, and then times when you’ll wring your hands over a parenting flub.
What’s key is to not model punishing behavior by being excessively hard on yourself after each parenting slip and fall. Moreover, the fact that you’re reasonably questioning your choices to ensure better future responses shows that you’re committed to being the best parent you can be.
It also shows that you’re likely already doing more things right than you’re giving yourself credit for.
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Dolores Smyth is a nationally published faith and parenting writer. She draws inspiration for her writing from everyday life. Connect with her over Twitter @byDoloresSmyth.