No one has children because it’s easy.
Quite the contrary, really. Raising children – especially nowadays – is hard work. That’s probably why parents want to know if they’re doing an acceptable job.
And if we’re being honest, we would admit we want to be doing more than just “OK.” Most of us want to measure up to some sort of perceived ideal. We want to be the perfect parent and have the perfect family.
So we read books by all the “right” experts, and we try to follow a formula, and yes … we might even listen to the Focus on the Family Daily Broadcast.
And while these are all good things to do, don’t get me wrong, the fact is they’ll never get you to perfect.
Because nothing can.
And that’s why you need grace. That’s why you need God.
I explore this tendency to pursue perfection (especially, perhaps, among Christian moms and dads) in my upcoming book, “When Parenting Isn’t Perfect.”
I wrote this book because, while it’s admirable for us to try to be the very best moms and dads we can be for our kids, the danger is that, when doing so, we might be tempted to leave grace behind.
And one thing I’ve learned during my time as president of a Christian family help organization is that family strength isn’t found in Pharisaical rules and impossible standards – but in grace, love, and relationship.
That’s why I want to encourage moms and dads to let go of the idea of perfection… and embrace the messiness of parenting. How to do that… well, that’s what “When Parenting Isn’t Perfect” explores.
Today I want to give you a free excerpt of my book, which is published by Zondervan and will be out on June 27. But before I leave you with the book’s prologue, I want to ask you: Do you ever struggle with wanting to be the “perfect” mom or dad, or have the “perfect” family? How do you balance the tension between holding your kids to common-sense standards, and giving them grace to be kids and make mistakes? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section, below.
I learned about family between commercials.
My mother was hardly ever around when I got home from school. As a single mom keeping five kids fed and clothed, she worked a lot—often from ten in the morning to eleven at night. My dad wasn’t around. And my brothers and sisters, all older than me, were off doing other stuff. I was a latchkey kid before anyone had a name for it.
Most days, then, I came home to an empty house. Just me and the TV.
And so television became my childhood companion. After returning home from school, I’d close the door, pull a Cactus Cooler out of the fridge, flip on the television, and plop down on the floor—tummy on the carpet, feet banging against the couch, my hand within easy reach of the dial. And for an hour or two, I’d join another, better family. A family where parents hugged and advised and gently scolded their kids, where even the biggest problems could get solved before bedtime.
Great, loving families filled the television screen back when I grew up in the 1960s and ’70s. Bill Davis and his butler, Giles French, raised his orphaned nieces and nephew in CBS’s Family Affair. Widower Steven Douglas gently taught his trio of boys in My Three Sons. In The Brady Bunch (an avant-garde creation, since it depicted a blended family), architect and widower Mike Brady marries widow Carol Ann Martin, combining their collective brood of three daughters and three sons into one of television’s most beloved families.
These were the most “normal” families I knew—nearly the only constants I had for much of my childhood. Yes, I joined Marcia Brady’s fan club. These shows gave me a healthier perspective of what families should look like. I found elements in them I could relate to and take comfort from. We became a blended family for a while, just like The Brady Bunch. Then when I lost my mom, I took solace in the fact that the boys in My Three Sons had no mother either.
These families resembled mine, but seemed better. More reassuring. Mike and Carol Brady always had the right answers. Steven Douglas never got drunk. Bill Davis cared for his nieces and nephews as if they were his very own children. Amazing. On television, it seemed like the families on the small screen always did things well. They did things the right way.
And sometimes, I wondered why my own family didn’t.
Today, I wonder how many other families back then might’ve looked at those perfect TV moms and dads and thought the same thing. How many moms listened to their screaming kids and asked themselves, “Where did I go wrong?” How many dads left for work feeling guilty, and yet with a sense of relief? How many kids wished their parents would solve the family’s problems with a knowing smile and a laugh track instead of through yelling and spanking and maybe worse?
The Brady clan vanished from television a long time ago, of course. No father on TV knows best anymore. But we still chase that telegenic ideal. We know what a perfect family looks like. We know what ours looks like. And we wonder why we see such a difference between the two.
Do you know the easy answer to this question of why? It’s because. Because we’re different. We’re flawed. We’re human. No one scripts our family lives for us. No director yells “cut!” if we say the wrong thing. To ask why your family is no better than it is—why my family isn’t better—is maybe the entirely wrong question to ask.
So instead of asking why, let’s ask how. How can our families be better? How can we fix our broken relationships and make them whole again? How can we overcome our inevitable mistakes and create healthy, safe environments for our kids—and for us parents too?
I haven’t written a book about finding perfection. I’ve written one about finding the beauty in imperfection—and how that beauty reflects God’s own relationship with us. I write about avoiding dysfunction while embracing the occasional family mess.
This book won’t turn your family into the Brady Bunch! But it will help you deal with truth and reality. If you’re already doing family well, this book will help you embrace your blessings and build empathy for those families who struggle with love, grace, and truth.