Parenting, for me, is complicated by two races, two cultures, one step kid, two adopted foster kids, two birth kids…and a partridge in a pear tree. Modern blended and mixed families like mine know that all too often conventional parenting wisdom just doesn’t apply to our complicated real-world situations. Honestly, I’ve found that that most “Parenting 101” adages fit just about as well as my pre-pregnancy jeans.
You see, as a white mom with a black husband, raising four bi-racial children and one black child, I’ve been misunderstood and gotten some downright dirty looks. Adopting foster children has had unexpected challenges from extreme behaviors to attachment issues. I have gifted kids, special needs kids and hyperactive kids who never sleep. Then there’s my step-son, he’s a handful, but I’m pretty sure he’s taught me more than I’ve taught him.
Despite my best efforts, my parenting journey has had a lot more “fall flat on your face” moments than Kodak moments. Fortunately, through many trials and errors, I’ve stumbled on a few real-world parenting truths that I would like to share with you.
It’s okay to be misunderstood
My bi-racial daughter, Kayla, has a beautiful head of curly brown hair. In kindergarten Kayla’s classmates would not play with her and would make fun of her “ugly” hair. Sadly, because of this cruel treatment, she came to hate her hair, and herself. As this deterioration of her self-worth caused major issues in her progress in school, by the end of the year, Kayla still couldn’t read and was going to be retained.
That summer I had Kayla’s hair straightened, much to the chagrin of the African American beauty shops that refused to wait on us, suggesting that I was trying to “make her white.” Finally, I found a hairstylist who agreed to straighten Kayla’s hair. I do not exaggerate when I say that, along with the new hairstyle, Kayla came home that afternoon with beaming new confidence. By the end of the week she was sounding out “blends”—well on her way to reading—and was promoted to first grade.
When I straightened Kayla’s hair, I was accused of trying to deny her racial heritage. But, with Kayla’s self-esteem in free-fall, I knew it was the right decision for us. Kayla’s now in 4th grade, is an advanced reader and has gone back to her natural hair! In situations like this, sometimes risks need to be taken and misunderstandings need to occur along the way in order for our children to experience long-term peace and joy.
It’s okay to embrace the grey areas
My step-son, Keimo, has always been very boisterous, loud and outgoing. I spent several years trying to shush him, teach him to be more modest, and, well, make him more like me. I’m an introvert. I don’t laugh loudly, play charades or sing karaoke. Keimo, on the other hand, loves to be the center of attention. One time when I was embarrassed by Keimo’s overexcited antics someone said to me, “That’s just his personality.” It was so true. Keimo didn’t need to be reeled in. He needed me to nurture his personality and to accept him for who he is.
Our kids often have different personalities, fashion sense and interests than ours. As Max Lucado says, “…view each child as a book, not to be written, but to be read.” Parents who choose to embrace the shades of gray in life, instead of insisting that everything is black or white, allow their children to grow into the unique individuals God made them to be.
It’s okay to get help
When we adopted three-year-old Denzel he was already kicking his little legs, spitting and screaming longer than I thought humanly possible. I was sure that once he settled into our family, things would get better. Unfortunately, Denzel’s behaviors only escalated. I’m sure his emotions were intensified because I struggled to bond with him. By the time Denzel turned nine, the tantrums had turned into rages. We needed help!
I’ll be honest and tell you, getting help has been painful, even embarrassing. Therapists ask me why my child is behaving this way. Then they point out my shortcomings as a parent—stuff I’m already all too aware of. Sometimes I secretly wonder why he can’t just be “normal.”
I once heard T.D. Jakes say that the farther you pull back an arrow, the farther it goes when it’s shot. I can’t say that Denzel has stopped raging or that we have bonded, but sometimes you have to take a step back, pull that arrow back, to go forward. I’m confident that in the end, Denzel will be like an arrow shot into the world to make a real difference for Christ.
It’s okay that’s you’re not perfect
I’m one of those moms that adores the baby and toddler years. That’s probably why I still refer to my 5-year-old son Brandon as “the baby.” He just started kindergarten and he’s already walking to class by himself. My baby is growing up. Sure, right now, I’m still the only girl he wants to marry, but he won’t always feel that way. As I watch his childhood whiz past, I sometimes torture myself for not being a perfect parent.
What a waste of time! Being an imperfect parent won’t ruin my kids. With love and hard work, imperfect parents can raise fantastic kids. As I recently told Keimo, “Someday you’ll look back and say ‘My mom made mistakes and could’ve done things better.’ But, you’ll always know that I love you and tried really hard.”
Keimo’s tongue-in-cheek response: “Yeah, Mom. That’s the problem. I think you love me just a little too much…” Okay, so Keimo doesn’t yet appreciate my curfews, Facebook monitoring and cameos when he’s at the mall with friends. However, I’m confident that God is working everything together for his good, even my parenting mistakes.
Godly parenting is a counterculture where imperfect parents are welcome. After all, we don’t succeed as parents by giving our children larger than life childhoods. We don’t succeed as parents by raising pro athletes, doctors or lawyers. We succeed as parents by raising children who know and love God and pursue their calling—and that’s something imperfect parents can do!