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I remember the moment so clearly I can visualize where I was. I sat with my head in my hands, grappling with yet another parenting decision. "Why does this have to be so hard, Lord? Please, PLEASE show me which choice is right!"

Of course, there are always going to be difficult decisions in parenting. But before too long, I realized what was making this particular decision harder than it had to be: I expected there to be one clear "right answer".


The One Parenting Trick

I’ve been asking myself and wondering about myself: “Why am I so driven to find the ‘one right way’ to do things?”  And it turns out, there isn’t just one right answer to that question.

The more I thought about it, the more answers – both internal and external – began to unfold.  Thus began the journey of blogging about all of these factors that came spilling out when I started poking around a bit into the question of this drive to find “the one right way”.  So, for all those of you joining, take what is helpful and leave the rest.  (Or rejoice that you don’t have to deal with the hang-ups I have!)

 

Right and Wrong Exist

No matter your worldview or philosophy, you do believe that there is some sort of standard of right and wrong.  There are good-parenting type things and bad-parenting type things.  There are things that tend towards financial stability and things that tend towards financial ruin.  There are such things as unethical business practice and flawed methods of education.  I certainly want to make godly and God-glorifying decisions.

I’m not arguing for moral relativity.  Morality isn’t relative.  But application of those morals often is.

Because we all know – and innately feel – that there are right and wrong choices, certainly we want to make a choice that qualifies as “right,” especially as it comes to the care and raising of our children!  But rather than “right” being a spot in the middle of a bullseye that we are all constantly working towards, “right” is all of the area between the two extremes – the two ditches – on either side.  And in some cases that space encompases a lot of ground!  It isn’t really my purpose in this series to identify any of those ditches, but just to replace one metaphor with another.

Good, Better and Best Exist

OK, so maybe as you read the section above, you were willing to admit that there might not be only one “right” answer, but surely there is one best answer.  Maybe the poor schmuck who chooses door number three isn’t exactly “wrong” … he’s just inferior.  Hey, aren’t we supposed to do our best?  Be our best?  Give it our best shot?  Sure.  Now let’s take a look at what that means in reality.

Here’s the problem.  How do you measure “best”?  At the state fair, the winner of the pumpkin contest is, quite simply, the owner of the pumpkin that weighs in with the largest number on the scale.  But most of life isn’t so straightforward.  Let’s take dinner, for example.  You want to make dinner for your family.  And you want to do your “best”.  But this decision, like many others, is a multi-factor decision.  How do you measure “best”?

It is:

  • The healthiest? (And then you’d have to decide how to define that!)
  • The tastiest? (And what if you have six different palates coming to your table?)
  • The most time-efficient (so you can spend quality time with the kids)?
  • The cheapest (so you can be frugal and save money)?

I could add  more to this list, but you get the idea.  “Best” is not the end of a single spectrum.  “Best” is the balance and intersection of the factors above (and lots more!) in the way that best suites your circumstances.  Anyone who has ever prepared a meal knows that there is no possible way to hit a “10” on all of those items at one time.  Cheaper?  You’ll be making more from scratch and the prep will be longer.  Healthier?  Probably more expensive and maybe not as tasty!  (Don’t shoot me.)

Perception and Reality of Best

And, whether you realize it or not, you are going to subconsciously rank those factors.  Are you a wiz at coupon-cutting and bargain hunting?  Then “cheap” might get up there near the top of your list.  Maybe you’re a lousy cook (me!) and so “time-efficient” sounds like a very noble way to say spend as little time in the kitchen as possible.  Or maybe you love to cook, so making a meal that everyone oohs and aahs over is your mark of success.

Freeing?

Perhaps you are reading this and nodding and feeling the freedom of it all.  Or, perhaps you are like me, feeling a little jittery.  See, I do want the freedom.  I do want to know that there are a variety of choices that are all just fine.  But ack!  How can I be trusted to pick the right one!  Oh, oops.  There I go again!  Even when I know that there isn’t one right answer, my brain still wishes there was.  Why??  We’ll have to talk about that in One Right Answer: Part 2!

You can find Part 2 here.

Fear

You were really looking forward to being a mom.  You read all the books.  You had a pretty good handle on what to do.  You had a plan.  And now you have this real live person.  And you're in charge.   Suddenly everything is your responsibility.  And everywhere you look, you see the possibility for tragedy, chaos and disaster.  And you are freaking out.

You don't have to look far to see kids getting sick and injured, kids having trouble in school or kids rebelling and going and doing crazy things (or adults, for that matter).  And suddenly, your life as a mom is dominated by fear: fear of future regret.  What if something bad happens to my kid and I am somehow responsible - either by my action or my inaction - for that pain or trial?

 

Control

But thankfully, our culture has an answer.  How do you handle fear?  You handle fear with Control.  This wasn't an idea invented by paranoid moms.  If you want to hear a sermon on this message, tune in to the nightly news.  Every news story with a tragedy (especially a kid-tragedy) ends with the remedy: parental preparation and control.

Kid trapped in car?  Buy a belt-cutting device.  Kid has allergic reaction?  Know first-aid and have an epi-pen.  Burglars broke in?  You need a security system.  Kid injured in sports?  Safety equipment.

Please don't misunderstand.  I'm not against epi-pens or bike helmets.  What I am against is the idea that you can control your way out of tragedy and suffering in this life.  There is an entire book of the Bible devoted to the message that "suffering" does not automatically equal "you messed up".  Can you imagine the heat Job would be taking on Facebook today?  Trending topics: #sheepfireinsurance #chaldeanforeignpolicy and especially #tighterbuildingcodes.

But maybe you like finding ways to prevent problems.  Maybe prevention does help to quell your fears.  By all means, research and make healthy choices for your family.  But don't buy into the idea that there is "one right answer" - the "silver bullet" that will save you from your fears.  Don't put your trust there.  Why?  First, it will drive you absolutely crazy as a mom.  Mom-guilt is a thing because of this understanding of life.  Bad things do happen to good moms.  (I highly recommend that you check out this brilliant piece by a mom who is tired of being told she is the problem.)  But secondly, I am also convinced that the control method of handling fear is exactly what fuels what we call the "Mommy Wars".

Competition?

We talk a lot in the parenting world and the homeschooling world about competition.  Why are we always comparing ourselves to others?  Why can't we just love and encourage others?  My friend Jenny White, who is the master of metaphor, wrote a fantastic piece here about Control.

Instead of just focusing on our own lane, the race before us, and the steps we need to take, we often scan the other lanes, sizing up the competition (other moms), trying to see how she does it, trying to figure out how we can be more like her, wondering if the other runners will notice our stained uniform and our imperfect hair. But all of that scanning just distracts you from your goal, your race.

It seems so petty!  Why do we do it?  What is under/behind that tendency?  Why not just keep our eye on our own lane?  Seems simple enough.  Could I share an analogy with you?

Imagine that there is a terrible Disease that runs in your family.  You haven't contracted it yet, and your doctor says you may not have to.  There is a new Drug.  He believes this pill will prevent The Disease.  You do the research.  It sounds good - the benefits outweigh the side-effects.  You put all your fears about The Disease aside because you have The Drug.  Then one day you read in the paper that some scientists are running a clinical trial on The Drug.  Some folks are given The Drug.  Others have The Placebo.

As you watch for the results of the trial, the preliminary findings are good.  Many people who are actually taking The Drug have not contracted The Disease (yet).  But this isn't really enough to confirm the hope you've placed in The Drug.  If you know anything about scientific research, you know what's needed.  In order for the results to be conclusive, there needs to be a statistically significant difference between the two groups.  Not only do people taking The Drug have to avoid The Disease ... but people taking The Placebo have to contract it.  That's right.  If The Drug is going to be your sure thing, you have to hope that people taking The Placebo contract The Disease.

Can you see where this is going?  That is why we look to the other lanes.  If we are going to place our hope in The Drug then we not only need to make sure that it's working for those who use it, but that those who aren't using it actually are (at least in some small way) suffering the effects of The Disease.  Take a good hard look at your heart.  Pick a "drug".  Homeschooling, maybe?  Have you ever felt a little knot in your stomach when you see trouble come to another homeschooling family?  Well, maybe that's just a sympathetic response.  Dig a little deeper.  Have you also felt a little knot in your stomach when you saw a public school kid successful and honored?  (If this didn't get you, try something else.  Natural childbirth.  Breastfeeding.  Parenting approach.  Religious practices.  Organic food.  Vaccinating.  Not vaccinating.  Keep looking; you'll find it.)

And here's another wrinkle.  Only the scientists conducting the study know who is taking The Drug and who is taking The Placebo.  The participants don't know.  And you don't know, either.  So you know what we do in order to cling to our hope in The Drug?  We assume (we frantically hope) that people coming down with The Disease must be taking The Placebo and those who are healthy must be taking The Drug.  Want to know why everyone is so quick to throw a mom to the wolves (or to the gorillas) when something tragic happens to her kid on her watch?  It's because everyone desperately needs to believe that she was a Placebo mom.  We need to know that this bad thing happened to her because she was doing it wrong.  Otherwise, how can we be sure it will never happen to us?  The way we react has nothing to do with her.  It has a whole lot to do with people struggling for air in a sea of fear and grasping for control at any cost - even if it means pushing other people under in the attempt.

  • I’ve never left your house disappointed after sharing a meal with y’all – you are not a lousy cook!

    • Haha! Yea, I can read. And I can measure. That’s about the extent of it. 🙂

  • I’ve found as I’m getting older that I am more willing to admit others ways might be best FOR THEM.

    • I agree completely, though I’m definitely still growing in that way. It takes a certainly amount of self-assurance to be comfortable with others making the choices they make. 🙂

  • You make some great points! Sometimes, when we’re passionate about something we think that we know what is BEST. But best for us isn’t always what is best for others. God has all of us here for different reasons and He is preparing us differently.

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    Lynna Sutherland is the mother of eight kids ages teen to toddler. She hosts the Sibling Relationship Lab podcast and writes about sibling conflict resolution and sibling relationship building. Lynna believes that the gospel transforms sibling conflict from an obstacle to an opportunity and loves to show other parents the freedom and confidence of gospel-centered parenting.

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