Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Game of Parenting

 I don't know how it is for you, but the internet and the connection it provides between individuals can be both a blessing and a negative distraction for me.  Since having Harriet, I tend to gravitate toward blogs, Facebook statuses, and websites that talk about parenting: attachment parenting methods, healthy nutrition for babies and families, cloth diapering, organic living, classic imagination-friendly toys, you name it.  It's fun and an encouragement to follow other mothers in their quest to raise their children.  But sometimes it can be a distraction.  Sometimes I feel a tremendous pressure to never ever let sugar touch Harriet's lips.  Or I think that her imagination will be instantly stunted if she watches a DVD.  Or she will be emotionally distanced from her parents if we adopt a modified spanking style of discipline or make her sleep in her own bed.  And I freak out at the thought of the little monster that I'm accidentally creating.

(A rational evaluation reveals that while Harriet does eat sugary foods at times, she still adores spinach, strawberries, salmon, oatmeal, cucumbers, eggs, avocados, beans, rice, chicken, pork, beef, carrots, cauliflower, the list goes on and on.  While she watches Baby Einstein on some mornings, she also loves to read books, and play creatively with her baby doll, crayons, or new Fisher Price farm set. :-))

But here is an interesting little analogy that I thought about today.  Recently, Steve and I have discovered a liking for board games - you know, the snotty European board games that you can only order from places like and cost around five million dollars.  Steve takes them rather seriously, and I play along, trying to beat him but knowing that I won't.  (BUT, there was the glorious event on Monday morning when I beat him soundly by twenty points...while holding down morning sickness nausea!  I win!)  In any case, we have become rather adept at playing a two-person variation of Puerto Rico.  One thing we have discovered over the past twenty-something times we have played is that in the two-person variation there isn't much room for strategical moves, while there is a heavy emphasis on tactical moves.  You basically just have to keep the overall goal in mind (winning victory point chips) and just react to the other player's moves as they happen.  (An example: I might have the initial strategy of settling lots of plantations on my little island, getting lots of products, shipping lots off to Spain, and getting my victory points that way.  But then Steve decides that he wants to do a mixture of settling and building, so I have to react accordingly and build more than I would have otherwise in order to keep abreast in victory points.  In short, there isn't just one particular strategy that is a sure-fire win each time.)

So anyway, while I was folding laundry this afternoon, I started thinking about how the example of a game of Puerto Rico is a neat picture of parenting.  You see, as far as I can tell, there isn't just one perfect strategy for parenting.  There isn't the Never Feed Sugar or Watch TV Method that always works every time.  Neither is there the Plastic Diaper Baby Food From a Jar Method that works across the board.  Each and every parent has to react to the different children (or even just one child) that God has given them.  Things switch up and methods have to be changed, but parents have to keep the over-arching, long-term goal in mind.  The victory points!

As a believer in Jesus Christ, my over-arching, long-term desire and goal for Harriet Alice (and for her future siblings) is that she knows Christ and follows him and loves him.  Decisions that we make in the practical areas of life like eating and recreation can affect this to a certain degree (I do believe in irresistible grace, but that isn't a topic for discussion right now).  If Harriet eats junk food all of the time and is sick as a result, she can't spend time truly enjoying God and His Word.  If Harriet watches trash on television, she can be tempted to sin and be distracted from leading a holy life.  But I desperately want our practical decisions about her upbringing to be intimately connected to a long-term goal...and not just exist because I feel a need to compete with other parents.  

The bottom line is that each and every parent needs to make decisions that are right and best for his or her children.  It's their role and responsibility.  But this can be a hard thing to keep in mind.  I'm reminded of the passage in John 21 when Peter wonders about John's future ministry and asks Jesus, "Lord, what about this man?"  Jesus replies, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?  You follow me."  Those words "you, follow me" are what I definitely need to bring to the forefront of my mind when the temptation to compare and contrast distracts me from my parenting task at hand.

I know I have a long way to go in this parenting game that I'm playing (my whole life long, I hope!), and I know there is a lot left to learn.  But these are some thoughts that have been impressed on me lately and I hope they can be helpful.

Now my child is whining.  I'd better tend to her....