Parenting Success?

The nurse checked the car seat to make sure she fit safely inside, handed us our discharge papers, and wished us well. Just like that, we were on our own as first-time parents. I panicked a little. “Shouldn’t we have to take a test or something,” I asked my husband. “We don’t know what we’re doing. How do they know we’ll do right by her? How can we possibly have enough knowledge to parent someone else? Are we ready for this?”

MickairportThat was almost nineteen years ago. Today, I watched that baby fly the nest as she boarded a plane bound for the Pacific Northwest. I felt the very same way I did then. Shouldn’t she have to take a test or something? How do we know we did right by her? How could we possibly have had enough knowledge to parent someone else? Is she ready for this?

She is. In spite of us, she is.

I’ve been reflecting on parenting in general a lot in the months leading up to this as we still have seven more children to launch. In some ways, I feel like I know less now than I did all those years ago leaving the hospital with the very first one.

Parenting is humbling. These gifts we’re entrusted with for a season are simply immature people with their own wills, ideas, personalities, and preferences. There is no formula or right way to shape them into perfect grown up versions of our dreams for them. No parenting book gets it right for every child or every family.

As much as we want to cling to the right way to parent, there is no such thing. What works for one heart, fails miserably for another. And as much as we like to plan, and prepare, and control, this is one area that all the research in the world pales to trial and error, and even that fades next to relationship.

We need to redefine our vision for success in parenting.  Everyone assumes if your children turn out okay, you’ve done your job well. On the flip side, there is a lot of judgment for parents whose children take a dark turn. We need to understand how little control we really have in the outcome of our children’s lives.

Our daughter will spend the next year with Serve Seattle, an urban missions institute, working in the inner city and training for urban missions. We are very proud of her. The temptation is great to receive the congratulatory pats on the back from our fellow parents, to revel a bit in a job well done. We are so happy for her and the choices she’s made, but we are under no illusion that our stellar parenting is the impetus for it all.

Because we know better. Based on our parenting alone, it could’ve gone either way. She could’ve just as easily gotten in with the wrong crowd and be heading in a very different direction. Because she has a free will, her choices have so very little to do with us.

We’ve all seen it. Siblings all raised by the same godly parents, but one is “the black sheep”. They loved him well and were faithful to point him to Jesus, but there he is. He’s spoken of in hushed tones by those outside the family. Other parents shake their heads and wonder what his did wrong.

Maybe nothing. Probably everything.

We all have. If we’re honest, we’d recognize and realize that we all do everything wrong. We all make all kinds of terrible mistakes in this parenting gig. We take the wrong approach. We’re harsh when we should give grace. We let things slide when we should take a stand. We’re quick to lecture when we should listen. We’re often selfish and lazy.

No one does it right all the time. Most of the time, we don’t even know what right is.

Parenting success is not evidenced by the people our kids become. Our success in parenting is based on our obedience to love our kids and point them to Jesus. It is not based on what they choose to do with Him. That is a choice only they can make. We can neither glory in their achievements nor wallow in shame over their failures.

Those parents whose adult children are on the wrong track didn’t screw up any more or less than the rest of us.  We all do it terribly wrong and remarkably right. I read recently that if you worry about being a good parent, you probably are.

Moving forward with our kids still in the nest, we’ll continue to love them, to point them to Jesus at every opportunity, to pray for wisdom constantly, to screw up frequently, to apologize often, and to afford them grace to do the same.

Because we want what’s best for them, we hope they choose to follow Jesus passionately and to love others selflessly. We want them to be responsible and productive members of society. But if that is not the course they decide to follow, it will not make us failures as parents. We are successful every time we choose obedience in showing them love and Jesus.

Anything else, regardless the outcome, and there is grace for that.

Go Forth, Guinea Pig

Every mama blogger faces the disappointing times when she has so much material, but alas, it’s all related to her teens and tweens and she must shelve her desires for the greater good. (The greater good being the hope to one day meet her grandchildren.)

MicksittingMy oldest is now an adult, a high school graduate. Our relationship, often tumultuous, has given me some material over the years that I have dutifully shelved. I am beyond certain that she also has tons of material to share with her therapist should she ever take me up my offer to employ one to aid in her recovery from life in this, her childhood home.

We call her the guinea pig child. Let’s face it. It’s not like she came with a manual or anything and clearly we’d never done any parenting before, although before she came on the scene we did fashion ourselves parenting experts as most childless couples are wont to do. But really, we did not know what we were doing. Parenting was a grand experiment and she was the unfortunate guinea pig.

I read loads of books and did my best to implement the advice of the expert dujour. Unfortunately, I’m a fast reader and there are a lot of books. Poor kid probably thought she had whiplash from how quickly I changed the rules and my parenting style in those early years. I relaxed as more kids came along. Probably too much.

It can’t have been easy for the child who is a typical first born, type A, organized temperament to be raised by a creative, spontaneous, hippy mom like me. She picked up my slack, a lot. I can’t remember at what age she started taking the lead when we were out in public, but I remember admonishing many times over the years, “Stop leading when you don’t even know where we’re going.” I knew early that she would never be a follower. All we could do was pray without ceasing that she would be a follower of Christ and learn to be a servant leader of others. As the oldest of many, the leader (aka, bossy) part came easy. The servant part required much training over the years.

Until she has her own guinea pig child, she’ll never fully know how much we prayed for her or agonized over every decision related to her growth and development. From schooling choices, to television viewing habits, to diet, to the appropriateness of church youth group (Yes, really. Parents of first borns can be really uptight!).

And, although she was very vocal in her displeasure of many of our parenting choices, I never really knew where she stood in matters of faith or deep things of the heart. While we play, and joke, and tease, and shop, ours is not a relationship of midnight soul baring. Unlike her free-spirited, always wordy mother, this one holds things close to the vest.

knowbyloveAnd so I watched her life.  In her teen years, a picture began to emerge and I began to hope that maybe she’d blossom in spite of us.

Asked what she wanted for her sixteenth birthday and she was very specific. She wanted to get a group of friends together to complete sixteen random acts of kindness she had already written out. And so we went downtown and passed out gloves and sandwiches to the homeless, distributed cups of hot coffee to parking lot attendants, dropped off previously collected donations to the food bank, gave candy to workers waiting at the bus stops, and so much more. It was amazing, exhilarating, and totally outside my comfort zone. Once again, my child was leading me.

When we first brought Bo home from Serbia, Michaela was sixteen. Just two years shy of graduating, we all knew she wouldn’t be living in our home much longer. It would be nice if she cultivated a relationship with her new brother, but she really didn’t have to. He came to us a tough nut to crack, full of behaviors, and difficult to love. He painted with poop at every opportunity, threw food at the dinner table, broke everything he could, and pinched, hit, and kicked.

She dove right in. It wasn’t long before they shared a special bond and she became one of his trusted few.Mick&Bo

So, even though we’ve not talked about this for hours on end, it’s no surprise to me that she has chosen to serve as her life’s work. Specifically, that she is taking a gap year before attending college and leaving instead for a year in Seattle, WA. She will be working with Serve Seattle, a ministry of Urban Missions Institute, which trains young people through hands on internships, Bible study, and coursework for urban ministry. It is a boots on the ground experience and, we believe, will well prepare her for the ministry she feels called to do.

While she will serve in all areas of urban ministry, she has chosen to specifically focus her attention on homelessness, human trafficking, and prison ministry.

Like all missionaries, even those in training must raise their own support. She has been selling off all she owns, and working hard all summer, and still she is coming up short. If you are willing to invest in the future, not just for our girl, but for our world, please give directly to Serve Seattle (tax deductible) here. Be sure and find her name, Michaela Lakes, by clicking the “I would like to support” box so it will fund her training specifically. Or, you can give directly to her gofundme account here.

I look at all the social justice arenas that break my heart for which I feel powerless to make real change, and I am filled with hope. There are young people like my girl with drive, passion,  strength, and smarts who are willing to be led only by the One who matters into the heart of it all to make a difference. Change will be made through them.

mickmeMostly, I am filled with humility and gratitude that He took all our mistakes and failures, covered them with grace and mercy and allowed our daughter to find Him in spite of us. Her presence will be keenly missed in our home. My heart, quite frankly, will be ripped in two when she gets on that plane. But, as true with the last eighteen years, I know with certainty, there is grace for that.