Updated: Sep 18, 2021
What is the difference between an awesome parent and a mediocre one? And why on earth does it seem like many parents struggle when for some moms and dads the whole enterprise seems to come quite naturally?
Well, the answer is actually simpler than you might think, and more often than not, it has a lot more to do with what awesome parents are not doing than with what they are doing.
I’ve compiled a quick list of the six things holding you back from being an awesome parent. Take a look! I think you’ll see that everything here is definitely within your grasp.
1. You Are Worried about What Others Think
Even though I am quickly approaching forty, I have to admit that there is still a little bit of a highschooler in me. What I mean is that when I set goals, when I think about what I should do, and certainly how to do it, there is a part of me that still worries—even if only for a moment—about what others will think of me because of it.
I know that this is silly. In fact, if I think about it I can actually get quite angry with myself for returning to this same thought process at all. But you know what? Most of us on the planet, maybe even you, experience this as well.
The problem of course is when the worry about others’ opinions begins to influence and even alter the course that we know is best for our children. It is when we say, “I definitely need to read the Bible to my kids” or, “I need to pray with them over every meal, even those we have in the restaurant or that little snack we bring to the park,” but I don’t because others might be watching.
It takes little imagination to understand the negative and possibly long lasting consequences this kind of decision making might have on our children. If they see mom or dad not doing something in public (that is normally done at home) because it might not sit well with others, then how can we expect our kids to do what they too might feel uncomfortable doing in front of others or what our culture disapproves of?
So hey, let’s be a little kinder to ourselves. Don’t worry about what others think.
2. You Refuse to Learn about Parenting
In the hundreds of hours I have spent conversing with like-minded moms and dads, one of the things I have noticed about successful parents is that they all wish that there had been some kind of manual for when they were just starting out. But more than that, these same successful parents look on the whole enterprise of child-rearing as something that we need to continually learn from and grow in.
Conversely, a common theme I have encountered among parents who really struggle is the belief that one is either a “good fit” for parenting or one is not. In other words, there is no room for growth. Obviously, nothing could be further from the truth.
As parents, we need to continually be intentional about our vocation and about how we approach the gift of children that God has given us. Every day we need to reflect on where we are and take a serious look at the best practices that others are sharing so that we can make adjustments along the way. This might mean taking a whole course on parenting—we have a great one here at Me & My House—or it might mean perusing group chats where your most burning questions can be asked and discussed.
However you do it, know that awesome parents don’t simply drop out of the sky. They learn about the task God has given them and, slowly but surely, they get better at it.
3. You Allow Your Wounds to Define You
Sometimes it is not so much our unwillingness to learn about parenting or even our concern with the opinions of others that stop us from being the amazing moms and dads that we want to be. Sometimes it is about the wounds we carry around from our own childhood: feelings of disappointment, neglect, unworthiness, rejection, abandonment …
In a conversation I had with Catholic evangelist Alexandra Kubebatu on her podcast, The Catholic Servant, we discussed this in greater detail. And though the conversation was quite emotional at times because we both acknowledged childhood wounds that we needed to work through even now as adults, we realized that every one of us carries wounds of varying degrees. How could we not? Our parents weren’t perfect because we live in a fallen world.
And yet, we discerned that if we were going to be the kind of parents that we wanted to be for our kids, then we couldn’t allow these wounds to define who we are as parents. Through the grace of God, your kids can help you to heal your own childhood wounds, and with time, you can become the intentional and awesome mom or dad you desire to be.
Of course, some wounds can be much more grave in nature and we need to seek healing and professional help beyond the scope of what our families can provide, but even then, don’t discount the amazing grace that God gives each of us in calling us to the vocation of parenthood.
4. You Have Allowed Your Child to Become Your Excuse
“Life without a child is freedom. Life with a child is bondage.” Most parents don’t intend to think this way. Unfortunately, this is the way the media and culture of our time encourage us to look at life. And because we have been trained to see children this way, even if unconsciously, when things don’t go our way, when we are tired, or when we are simply not having a great day, the tendency to blame our children becomes a kind of knee-jerk response.
Now, let’s just pause for a moment and put this under a microscope. We know that each and every child that God gives us is a gift; this is what our Faith teaches. The child is not only a beautiful link (in this world and the next), communicating that my wife and I are one, but they are a reminder that God trusts us parents. Not only does He put into our care what is most defenceless, but the child itself lives out this same divine attitude when he or she turns to us with complete trust.
My children look to me to protect them. They look to me to tell them that everything is going to be okay. And they should! For just as our kids are a gift to each and every one of us, we parents are also a gift to them. But if we start using them as excuses, as reasons why we can’t be happy, I dare say, not only will we never be awesome parents, but we will miss out on the best that God has prepared for us.
5. You Haven’t Dreamed with Your Kids
One of the best ways to get away from the “excuse culture” that many parents find themselves in is to begin dreaming with your kids and not only for your kids. Certainly, dream for your children and think about what they can be, what they can experience, and how they can change the world for the better, but do more than that.
Before we were married, and definitely before we had children, we started to put together a picture for ourselves about how our lives might look. We thought about our careers, where we might travel, and who we would hang out with. We thought about our older selves and how we would be inspiring people, the kind of people that we, right now, would admire. Then we had children and most of us gave up on our dreams. But it doesn’t have to be that way!
Having children should fill in some of the missing pieces of that picture we dreamed of, and parenthood should clarify that dream, not eject it. So get out that notebook, lie back and stare at the clouds again, and come up with a dream that includes your kids. You’ll be glad that you did.
6. You Are Allowing Guilt To Influence Your Decisions
Unlike most people, I don’t automatically think guilt is a bad thing. After all, guilt is what we feel when we violate our conscience, that internal “muscle” that navigates our approach or retreat from God’s presence.
Sadly though, there is another kind of guilt that is at play in many parents’ lives and I do believe that it is stopping most moms and dads from being the awesome parents that they could be.
This is the guilt that says, “I need to do more for them” or, “I am not teaching them enough” or, “I am not giving them enough opportunities.” It should go without saying that sometimes this feeling is correct, but when you are already doing these things and that same annoying voice persists, influencing your decisions on how best to respond to your child’s requests or demands, then it is time to let this kind of guilt go.
An awesome parent will make the best decisions they can with the information that they have at a given moment and they will let the rest go. Of course, they will reflect, revise, and may even decide to take a completely different course of action if they’re in the same situation again in the future, but what they will not do is punish themselves for things that they have little or no control over.
Bringing It all Together
So what does an awesome parent look like?
It’s someone who tries not to worry about what others think about them, someone who is willing to learn how to become a better parent, someone who acknowledges their own childhood wounds but doesn’t let them define who they are, someone who doesn’t use their kids as the reason why they can’t be happy, and certainly, someone who doesn’t let their guilt guide their parenting decisions.
Awesome parents see life as an adventure and they are excited to share that vision with their kids. In fact, they dream about it and they go about making that dream a reality.
Patrick Sullivan is a Catholic Speaker and the President of Evango, a Catholic Media Organization that seeks to build a culture of Catholic evangelization and missionary discipleship. Patrick travels internationally to speak at Catholic events, parenting conferences, and to lead retreats and parish renewal missions. He is the creator and host of Me & My House, the Catholic parenting program that is transforming how we minister to parents in our dioceses, parishes, and communities. Patrick lives in beautiful Barry’s Bay, Ontario with his loving wife, Kyla, and their nine children.