“You need to stop reading those magazines.”
Once again, the patient husband had come home from work to find me in a puddle of panic over some detail in the life of our firstborn. Some days I was convinced that I was a failure as a mother; other days I was sure that I had already done irreparable damage to our son’s development — all based on the opinions of the “experts” I was consulting. (Thanks be to God that there was no internet access in those days!)
Based on that experience, I’m obviously a little suspicious of parenting books. Everyone seems to have a handy list of guidelines, an opinion about what’s “normal” or “enough,” a foolproof checklist, or a guaranteed plan for successful parenting — often with advice that is contradictory, confusing, or impossible for normal people to follow! What would happen if parents decided that instead of doing more and enjoying their children less, that they would do less and enjoy their children more?
In The Low-Pressure Guide to Parenting Your Preschooler, Tim Sanford, licensed counselor and member of the Focus on the Family counseling staff, has offered his Big Four, over-arching, low-pressure principles to help young parents shrug off the pressure:
1. Shrink your job description
The way I understood parenting in my early days was this: (1) Make sure the boy turns out “right;” (2) Do everything perfectly. (No wonder I was stressed!) By contrast, Tim’s first rule of parenting preschoolers is: Relax! It is the role of mothers and fathers to nurture and to validate their children. In actual practice, this will look different in every home, but the message children need to hear sounds like this:
- “You’re good enough!”
- “You belong in this family!”
- “I love you!”
Nurturers and validaters (i.e. parents) take time to hold and play with their little people; their voices are gentle and playful; they are focused on enjoying their child rather than rating their own performance or worrying about the “what-ifs” of the future or the stress of fixing their own past and living chained to by-gone resentments. Naturally, parents who love the gospel will also introduce the sober truth regarding the havoc that sin has wreaked on our relationship with God, along with the off-setting joy that “good enough” is attainable only through the righteousness of Christ.
2. Make friends with free will.
One of my sons was born with the conviction that life is a multiple choice test — and all the answers are none of the above. He and I used to lock horns every day over choices. Many of them needed to be worked out, but honestly? Some of them could have been avoided if I had been more comfortable with this concept. It boils down to sound theology: God made humans to be choosers, and sometimes we make dumb choices. It is not a parent’s job to make everything in life turn out perfectly, and, as frightening as it is for a parent, it is important that a child be allowed to experience age-appropriate life lessons, and to be given a voice, even as a toddler, in life’s little choices.
3. Step away from the power struggle.
As a new mum, I think I truly believed that I was responsible for controlling every stray atom in our family’s universe. Here’s Tim’s wisdom on that:
“Trying to control what you can’t equals HIGH pressure when it comes to parenting.”
“Accepting the truth that you can’t control all you’d like, and focusing on how to best influence, equals LOW-pressure parenting.”
For example, we are responsible to see to it that our children cannot put a paperclip into an electrical outlet. This we can control.
We are not responsible for the look on our mother-in-law’s face when our son throws a temper tantrum. This we cannot control.
4. Reduce the rules.
Rules that are developed ad hoc and on the fly are usually ineffective. Because they are so critical for keeping safety in and chaos out, it’s important that rules be few, specific, enforceable, relevant, and — most importantly of all — worth the effort! If a rule is actually keeping safety in and chaos out, then it’s worth the battle. If it’s not, then it can be relegated to the category of good advice, but not mandatory, (see Big Four Principle #3).
Cynthia Tobias predicts that Low-Pressure Parenting will have this effect: “You can replace worry with joy as you learn to celebrate and delight in the earliest years of your child’s life!” I wish this book had been among the piles (and piles) of parenting books (and magazines) that I read when my boys were small. Certainly, I will be passing this gem along to my beautiful daughter-in-law, because Tim Sanford’s parenting advice really comes down to some extremely astute theology: God is sovereign. He is bigger than any of the hurts that my grandson will face in his dear little life. My son and daughter-in-love cannot control every outcome or circumstance of their son’s days, but the relationship they form with him now will have huge sway over the amount of influence they have with him in the future. So, in these days of parenting their preschooler, I have begun praying for them that they will find grace to do what they can — and NOT what they can’t.
This book was provided by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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