Since the calendar has turned to September, I have told no fewer than 12 people that I do not know what I am doing as a parent. I think a lot of us joke about that: “Children don’t come with a set of instructions.” “Parenting doesn’t have a training manual.” But when I said it these past two weeks, I was actually admitting out loud that I do not believe I have what it takes to be a good father.
It was scary to make that confession. Sometimes, I hide behind the jokes because that reality is too difficult, too embarrassing, to say out loud.
But here is the thing: almost every person I spoke to said the same thing. They admitted that they have doubts, concerns, confusion, fear, etc. It wasn’t a surprise. I know all parents wonder if they do the best things and say the best things to their kids all the time.
But it was such a relief for me in three specific ways. It was a relief to speak the words out loud. It was a relief to receive the encouragement from so many. It was a relief to be reminded that I am not alone: others are not sure about what they are doing either.
As I reflect on this, several things come to mind:
Why do we keep silent?
Like I said, when other parents shared their struggles and questions with me, I was not surprised. I just kind of figured anyone that is charged with the responsibility of caring for another life is going to have some hard times. It is not surprising. Yet still I keep silent. Well, guess what: I need help from you! Also, I am willing to help you when I can! But we can’t help each other if we don’t speak our needs to one another.
This makes me think especially of single parents. My wife and I are doing this together and still I struggle. I hate to think what this would be like if I was on my own. So if I know any single parents that aren’t saying anything, maybe I need to be listening a little more closely. Or maybe I need to be approaching them and offering assistance.
Why don’t we call bullshit?
I have written before (here and here) about the dangers of telling people you are “fine.” But why do we let people tell us they are fine without calling them on it? If I use “fine” as a shield against revealing how I am truly feeling, chances are pretty good other people do, too. So not only do we need to stop being silent, we need to step letting other people be silent with us.
How can we break through the silence?
My friend, Terry, is annoying. When he shakes my hand and asks me how I’m doing and I give him an answer, he squeezes my hand tighter, pulls me closer, looks straight into my eyes, and says, “No. HOW are you doing?”
The first way we can break through the silence is to talk to each other. And by talk to each other, I mean actually be interested in talking to one another. Paying attention. Asking questions we really want the answer to. Being honest when people talk to us. When we are at a place where people gather, such as church, actually be attentive to the fact that other people exist and are present around you. (And before you think this is a blast at people on their cell phones, I have seen people use song books and Bibles as little more than excuses to keep their eyes averted from other human beings.)
Second, we can pray for people and then let them know it. This is not a bragging thing, either. Don’t approach someone and say, “I’m so holy that I prayed for you.” That’s missing the point. But pray for the people in your church or in your social circle or in your family. And let them know it. We need to hear that people are praying for us. If you are so led, let the person know how you are praying for them. Let them know what Holy Spirit has revealed to you about them. I just need to know that there are people who are praying for me. And I need to let you know that I have been praying for you.
I don’t know what I am doing. I am not equipped to be a father. I lack the knowledge to deal with all the different issues my kids throw at me.
But my guess is you don’t know, either. Alone, we will never figure it out. Together, we may have the ability to collectively pool our intelligence, our resources, our strength, and our energy to do this together.
Please tell me when you can’t do it. Because I am sure going to be telling you.