We all enjoy certain stages and aspects of parenting more than others. Some parents love the baby years. Therefore as their kids get older they keep looking back with fondness to when they were cute, cuddly, and contained. Other parents are not so fond of diapers and constant noises that are indecipherable. They look forward to the years when their kids will be able to drive, do big chores, and talk in complete sentences.
Therefore one of the temptations in parenting is to be constantly looking back or forward. Maybe your child is very young and requires constant attention. You spend your days waiting until they can do chores and read. Or maybe you have an awkward, acne-faced teenager who tends to be independent. You look back to the days when he was on your hip and always around. But as parents our goal is to focus on the present. What do my children need from me right? What delight and joys can I find right now? Remember God has you at this phase of parenting. You can’t go back and you can’t speed up time. The Lord wants you right where you are. When you live in the present with your children a couple of good things happen.
First, we meet our child’s current needs, whether those are physical, emotional, or spiritual. One problem with constantly look back or forward is that the child in front of us is often ignored. We are a waiting on the fifteen year old to show up and ignoring the ten year old in front of us. Instead of meeting the child’s needs we get irritated. Parenting the child in front of you will give you greater sensitivity to their needs.
Second, it is easier to be grateful. All stages of parenting are hard, but the one you are in is the only one that feels hard. The game you won five years ago or the game you think you will win in five years is always seen in more a rosy light than the game you are trying to win right now. Often our longing for the past we had or the future we want is a not so subtle complaint about the present God has given. When we accept the present stage we are in as God’s gift to us, no matter how difficult, then we learn to be thankful. How would you feel if your employer was always looking for a better version of you? “Well you know one day you will be the type of employee I really want?” Or if your husband was always looking back to the early years of marriage? “Well maybe honey one day you will be the wife you were when we first got married.” Too often our children feel that way. We are not harsh or mean normally. But our actions and attitudes say to our children I wish you were different. Until we learn to focus on the present we will not love our children as we ought. We must learn to be grateful for our children as they are, not as they were or as they will be.
Finally, a focus on the present creates dependence on the Lord. It is impossible to depend upon the Lord for the past. And, while there is a sense in which we do, it is also difficult to depend on the Lord of the future. But in the present, when we are dealing with the child right in front of our eyes, we learn to lean on the Lord. How do we deal with a sullen teenager? Not how will we, though that isn’t a terrible question. But how do we deal with a sullen sixteen year old. When we parent in the present it is easier and more natural to pray, look to the Word, and rely upon our brothers and sisters in Christ. In my experience a constant longing for the future leads only to anxiety and complaining.
Parents be all there in your parenting. There are stages you will like better than others. That is natural. But, if your kids are older, don’t spend your time looking back to how it was. If your kids are young don’t sit there longing for the day when they will finally be able to talk in a way you understand and there won’t be poop on everything. Be grateful, even (especially?) when it is hard. Perhaps most importantly make sure the children you have right now are your delight. Don’t let them grow up always sensing that they come up short.