On a podcast I listened to recently, a woman was sharing some of her parenting regrets. She lamented about how she had ‘handed’ God to her girls rather than allowing them space to explore God on their own terms. I thought that’s what I should have done, she uttered, disappointedly.
She continued to talk about how parenting is a lot like looking in a mirror. In our attempt to mold our kids, we unknowingly project our fears and insecurities onto them. More often than not, we parent from a place of SHOULD rather than a place of curiosity and openness. “Shoulds” can feel a lot like love, but most of the time, they are just fear and control wearing a mask.
As a mother of small children, her words clicked with me. For one thing, I completely understand the “should” mentality. And secondly, as I have found myself in religious deconstruction mode for quite some time, I’ve constantly been puzzled about how to navigate it with young kids who are looking to me for direction and guidance. See, I too was handed a very specific version of God by well-intentioned parents. Consequently, I’m always feeling like I SHOULD pass that version of God onto them. But, to be frank, I don’t want to…
So Many ‘Shoulds’…
So this got me thinking. It occurred to me how I have brought so many “shoulds” to my roles and tasks. I SHOULD put my kids in X amount of sports. I SHOULD volunteer at the school carnival. I SHOULD make a side dish with every main course, even though I don’t particularly enjoy cooking. I SHOULD believe in the God I was handed as a child and offer that same God to my children (if I want to honor my religion and upbringing).
At various points in our lives, we gather up these “shoulds” and collect them in little baskets labeled “good wife”/ “good mother”/ “good woman.” We don’t really ask ourselves if they make sense or whether they actually align with our values and evolving worldviews. We inherit a lot of these shoulds from our parents, institutions, and society at large, not realizing there are different (and maybe even better) ways to approach life and parenting.
I Make the Rules
The other night, I made enchiladas for my family, plopped them on paper plates and called it good. The “should” in the back of my mind kept harassing me to make a side dish. Somewhere in my upbringing, I must have unconsciously inherited the idea that a good woman/good wife/good mom makes a balanced meal for her family, complete with veggies and jello. Well guess what: nobody said a word. It made me realize that there are probably tons more “constructs” I’ve internalized that I put pressure on myself to believe and adhere to when, in reality, they don’t matter too much.
Funny enough, all it really took for me to let that “should” go was acknowledging its hold on me and being honest about the fact that there are no dinner police. I make the rules. And the rule-maker can also be the rule-breaker. What other rules can I “break”? What other “shoulds” can I release? Sometimes all it takes is looking at our choices with a magnifying glass and asking ourselves some simple questions. Why do I believe this? Why is this a habit I have? Why am I passing this idea onto my children? Does this even make sense to me?
“Next time you feel like you’re breaking a rule, ask yourself who made it.”
Unlearning & Rerouting
A HUGE part of adulting (and definitely a big part of parenting) is unlearning and re-routing ourselves. We are not extensions of our parents or defined by our upbringing, just as our children are not extensions of us. We are people in our own right with unique beliefs about the world. Yes, it is true that our parents and environment help shape us, but we are not art projects. So when we are tempted to mold and shape our kids in the way WE want them to be shaped, rather than stepping back and watching their “becoming” unfold organically, we find ourselves in control territory. Should we teach our kids values and provide safe spaces for their little hearts to both break and expand? Absolutely. But can we afford to loosen our grasp on the wheel a bit? Definitely.
Similarly, we can and should give ourselves permission to eliminate the constructs that have directed our lives for so long. I love the quote, “Next time you think you’re breaking a rule, ask yourself who made it.” That little thought exercise is such a logical way to start living (and parenting) from a place of freedom and authenticity, rather than “should.”
Trusting Our Children
Like the daughters of the woman on the podcast, I too was provided with a very specific worldview and religion that I was expected to adopt. And maybe that’s what I needed when I was younger. But that is no longer what I need and it’s not what I want for my children. I do not believe that it’s my job to give them capital T-truth (because what is truth anyway?) It’s my job to trust them to find their truth. It is their God-given right to build their OWN beliefs, and I most certainly don’t need or expect them to perfectly align with mine.
If I could pack up all the “shoulds,” I would place them in a box and drive them straight to the dump. Just as I regularly clean out the rooms and closets in my home, I plan to periodically do the same with my brain, taking inventory and being intentional about clearing out the so-called rules that are tripping me up and holding me back from true freedom. I know I will have plenty of regrets in this life, but living from a place of fear and control doesn’t have to be one of them.
We only have one life; let’s live it well and allow our kids to do the same.
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