What other generation of parents has had to navigate the unique challenges of this past two years? Not one. It is no wonder we are exhausted! Everything from schooling and childcare to grocery shopping and family visits has been more complicated. If we are juggling working from home on top of that, you are definitely living in unique times.
Before you crawl under the table to hide, here are three choices it may be helpful to follow to build more resilience. I am a grandmother now, but I remember well the days I said, “I quit” and meant it only to step outside the door and realize I really didn’t.
Amid a culture that values "Pinterest perfect", can we be parents who instead choose to be imperfectly present?
One day a while back, I was watching families in a park. Some families were playing, laughing, and seemed fully present and focused on each other. Others were what I call pretending. They spent most of their time staging photo opps, trying to convince the world of their flourishing. I am sure you have been to a birthday party or two that felt more like the latter. Maybe you have felt pressured to host one yourself! I love a party as much as anyone, and there is no judgment here, but I do wonder:
Might the pressure to be perfect be stealing some of the joy of it all?
And at the end of the day, do you want your family to be a family that plays together or a family that pretends together?
By no means am I suggesting that parenting is all fun and games. Children need external structures and internal self-control to thrive and build resilience. Yet that still doesn’t mean perfectionism, people pleasing (did I hear someone say “Nosy neighbor?”), or constant comparison. Turn off your phone; those pictures of perfect families are all pretending!
There may be countless reasons Jesus told us to become like little children (Matthew 18:3), but perhaps one of them is children's ability to enjoy the moment. We can learn that from our kids.
Especially if you are parenting alone, you understand the social, emotional, and financial costs of caring for kids. A 2019 Pew Research Center study found that of the 130 countries and territories polled, the U.S. had the highest rate of children living in single parent homes. 23% of children under the age of 18 live with a single parent and no other adults. For a variety of systemic barriers in Canada, 30% of single mothers are raising their children in poverty.
Jesus demonstrated concern for women living alone and the early church took their care seriously. Following in their footsteps so can we. That begs a question for each of us to consider:
If you are a parent, on whom can you lean a little for some extra support? If you are not currently parenting kids at home, who are the parents in your circle to whom could provide a bit more support?
Even families with two parents need extra support these days. A phone call might not seem like a big thing but I remember a few that were lifesavers when our kids were young. We could all use the exercise of cutting our neighbor’s lawn as well as our own. These past two years have helped us become masterful at curbside picks ups and porch drop offs. There is probably a parent on your way home from the store that could use a bit of encouragement.
“Numerous studies show that women in heterosexual relationships still do the bulk of housework and childcare. Many couples aim to split responsibilities 50:50, yet for various structural and socio-economic reasons, end up allocating tasks along gendered lines." Women perform far more cognitive and emotional labor than men, according to the BBC. Experts describe this in three overlapping categories. Cognitive labor is the thinking about, planning, organizing of our families lives and schedules. Emotional labor is the worrying about, checking up on, regulating others wellbeing piece. And mental load is the intersection of the two that ensures everything flows as it should.
In Christian families one parent may be shouldering the lions share of the spiritual responsibility too. This is sometimes called "Default Parenting" and it stands in sharp contrast to Parental Partnerships. Yet God calls us to partnership.
And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord's altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth (Malachi 2:13-15).
Malachi links God’s desire to receive our prayers and worship to the way we treat our spouse, calling us partners. The verse refers to promise-keeping between partners, and links this to God’s heart to help us raise godly children. Let that sink in for a minute! What do partners do?
If you are wondering if you might be a default parent here is a question to consider: If I were left alone with the kids for a week how much instruction would I need? If it is a lot more than a simple “have fun,” well, that might tell you something.
A couple of questions you might want to consider together (be gentle; getting defensive won’t help):
God has interwoven us together in community and calls us to live authentically, being present with one another and tending to each others needs.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Deb Koster