Just about four years ago I posted this photo on my (former) personal blog as food for thought in the whole “nature vs. nurture” debate.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge advocate of nurturing. I believe in its inherent powers so strongly I chose to forgo a career and gave up the “getting ahead” two incomes may have afforded us–and pretty much my heart, might, mind, body and soul–to become a stay-at-home mother. Even though it wasn’t–at the time–something I did very well or what came naturally to me.
Just about four months ago I reposted this same photo and a map of the northern half of England on my current blog, asking my readers to imagine the map superimposed over the two bedrooms. The son responsible for the left bedroom was serving in the England Manchester Mission (northwest England) and the son responsible for the right bedroom had just received his call to serve in the England Leeds Mission (northeast England).
As both sons left, almost two years apart, over and over again I heard the words, “You must be such a good mom.”
While I appreciate the sentiment and recognize it was always expressed with love, I’ll be honest. It made me squirm a little.
I’m just not comfortable taking credit for my kids’ being who they are and making their own choices. By that logic, if my sons had chosen differently, would that have negated all my parenting efforts and somehow meant I was a bad mom? And what would it say about me if one had chosen to go and one had chosen not to go?
As the photos of their very different bedroom decors suggest, the truth is that I am no more responsible for their good personal choices than I would be responsible for their bad choices had they taken other paths.
It may seem a contradiction, but while I have devoted my life’s work to parenting and I firmly believe both quantity and quality do matter, I also suspect we, as parents, often forget the importance and effects of divine nature and agency, and fool ourselves into believing we have more control over outcomes than we actually do.
A recent article from the Wall Street Journal seems to bear this out:
The main problem with parenting pessimists, though, is that they assume there’s no acceptable way to make parenting less work and more fun. Parents may feel like their pressure, encouragement, money and time are all that stands between their kids and failure. But decades’ worth of twin and adoption research says the opposite: Parents have a lot more room to safely maneuver than they realize, because the long-run effects of parenting on children’s outcomes are much smaller than they look.
The most meaningful fruit of parenting, however, is simply appreciation—the way your children perceive and remember you… If you create a loving and harmonious home for your children, they’ll probably remember it for as long as they live.
If you think that your kids’ future rests in your hands, you’ll probably make many painful “investments”—and feel guilty that you didn’t do more. Once you realize that your kids’ future largely rests in their own hands, you can give yourself a guilt-free break.
If you enjoy reading with your children, wonderful. But if you skip the nightly book, you’re not stunting their intelligence, ruining their chances for college or dooming them to a dead-end job. The same goes for the other dilemmas that weigh on parents’ consciences. Watching television, playing sports, eating vegetables, living in the right neighborhood: Your choices have little effect on your kids’ development, so it’s OK to relax. In fact, relaxing is better for the whole family.
I don’t believe everything I read, and you probably shouldn’t either. And this doesn’t in any way mean parenting–particularly mothering–doesn’t matter. But perhaps we would be wise to lay down the guilt trips–both the ones we take ourselves and probably even some of those we try to impose on our kids–and relax.
Enjoy the ride.
Why are we so afraid of our kids’ agency? Do you measure the quality of your parenting by the successes of your children? How do you avoid beating yourself up when your kids choose differently than you would have chosen for them? What helps you worry less and enjoy the ride more?