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Tindell Baldwin »

Not feeling like a failure as a parent even when your kids call you the worst

When I was fifteen my dad took me to father daughter camp…. in California. 

I was thinking about that today because he’s in California now and sent me pictures of the JH Ranch camp we went to. I had a sudden rush of memories when I saw the horses grazing, mostly of what a horrible human I was the entire week my dad and I were away. 

Let me set the scene for you…

So at 15 I was caught drinking for the first time. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say like most of the things I do I was all in. My parent’s response was slightly unorthodox. They did the typical restrictions on all my freedoms but also my dad informed me he was taking me to California for a week of father daughter camp. I didn’t realize just how counter intuitive this measure was until I became a parent myself.  He thought my sudden lapse in judgement could have to do with my struggle to find my place in our family. Was he right? A little. Was it his problem? No, but because he loved me, he wanted to build up our relationship and not just punish me (to be clear I was also punished). He bought us plane tickets, rented a white mustang convertible, and we drove a few hours down (or up… I’m not sure) the California coast, top down blaring my favorite music (Avril Lavigne and Michelle branch to be exact). Even as I type it I think what a lucky kid I was to have parents who loved me that much. 

As an adult now, I look back and have a forehead slapping moment because my attitude was salty at best. I was so ungrateful, so unaware of the incredible effort and opportunity my parents had afforded me. The real impressive part is that my dad never once lost it on me. Even when I moped around the camp, complained about the games, and acted less than interested in all the Jesus talk. My heart was hard and no amount of trail rides was going to change that. I was an insecure teenager who didn’t want to spend a week in breathtaking California with my dad. I wanted to party with my friends (so original). I was so wrapped up in my own little world I failed to see the opportunity and joy right in front of me. 

I wish I could go back now and shake 15 year old me. I wish I could tell her what an idiot she was being. I wish I could tell her just how valuable her dad’s love would be in her life and how insanely lucky she was. I can’t though. However, I can feel my dad’s pain a little more these days with 4 kids of my own who don’t seem to respond with the same level of gratefulness that I wish they would. 

Mom I wanted to stay home.

JH Ranch California

Mom I wanted to play with friends.

Mom why can’t we eat out? 

Mom why can’t we get a slushee at the trampoline park?

Mom I wanted something different for dinner.

Mom why can’t I stay up later?

Mom she got a bigger cookie than me.

Or my all time favorite this summer, It’s always dad’s birthday it’s never my birthday!

Summer. Wow. So many opinions.

At the end of the day I have felt like quite a failure based on my children’s loud and often negative reviews of my parenting and decision making. I was telling my counselor recently that it’s hard to feel like I’m making it at the end of the day because all my kids are often unhappy about something. She said something so brilliant: “I think you need a different measure of success at the end of your day.” And she’s right. Just like my dad didn’t measure the success of our trip by my attitude, I can’t measure my day by my kids’ response. I’m not accountable to them. I have started waking up and praying, “I am your servant God, your will be done.” It puts my day in perspective when the service to my family feels less than appreciated. My dad took me to that father daughter camp because he loved me and wanted to spend time with me. He would have been so disappointed if he was judging the trip based on my response. I need to base my success on whether I did my part to love my kids not on whether they received it like I expected them to. 

I was texting him tonight that I do remember one thing from that trip that will forever impact me. There was a girl in my cabin, and her father had a brain injury that caused memory loss. I don’t know more details so I won’t try to fill them in, but I remember her spending most of the week reminding him when things were, and what they were doing next. She was so gracious and kind to him. One of the days we were all going on a trail ride, and I remember her nervously looking around. She turned to me and said “I should have reminded him, I forgot to remind him when it was.” She was panicked waiting for her dad. It came time to saddle up, and we had to go on without him. As the horses were trotting off he ran up, but it was too late. They exchanged this painful look that I will never forget. I could see the feeling of failure on his face. I looked at my dad, trotting on the horse behind me and thought just how lucky I really was. I remember that moment vividly because I knew I took for granted something that wasn’t a guarantee. That dad wanted so desperately to show up for his daughter and couldn’t, and here I was taking it for granted just how much my dad always showed up for me. It was because my dad wasn’t putting some huge pressure on me to learn a lesson that I was able to retain that one small one. We have no idea what our kids are taking in. As my wonderful friend Kelly says, “We are blowing a thousand bubbles a day and hoping that they catch one.” We may not know for almost twenty years the moments that impacted them. 

So if your summer has been like mine, and you find your tiny colleagues have more negative than positive to share: take heart. You can be doing a great work and be right where God wants you and feel like you are making no difference at all. Maybe you need to change your measuring stick. Look up instead of looking around. I have a feeling that you’re doing a better job than you think. 

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  • Anna Etheriedge - Oh how true this is! I remember Billy Grahams wife saying she prayed her children would only remember the good and helpful things and forget the rest… they did, so i began to pray that too! And with 6 grown kids now 18-30, they have the sweetest and funny memories of growing up 🙂 Believe me there were tears and lots of chaos at times, and yet they remember such love and joy. God is amazing!
    It only gets better- love youReplyCancel

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