The idea of unlearning keeps coming up for me during this season. Unlearning involves so much: letting go of old and comfortable ideas and stepping into something new. That involves relinquishing control. Well, I don’t really relinquish control. I relinquish my illusion of control.

Unlearning parenting is one of the hardest for me for two main reasons. First, my notions of parenting are as old as I am. I am the product of my parents’ parenting, and I grew up assuming that what they did was the “right” way. After all, everyone else seemed to admire my parents. As the pastor and his wife, they appeared to have it all together. So I assumed they had read and memorized the manual that had the appropriate responses to all matters of child rearing. I was a gullible child.

I did not seriously question their parenting until long after I had left home. Only then did I realize they were making it up as they went, drawing from the parenting they had received, which was far from perfect, and from what they had learned or failed to learn from their own mistakes.

The other reason it is so hard to unlearn is that there is so much at stake. My children are to some degree a product of my parenting, and I frankly have some ego at stake in who they are and what they do, even now that they are young adults. Nothing convinced me of the wisdom as well as the poor judgment of my parents more than having kids of my own. Damn.

Here are just a few things I am unlearning about parenting:

There is no “right way” to do it. Parenting is like a high wire act where the breeze is always shifting. You can never get completely comfortable, because everything can change quickly. Yet, even though there is no right way, we must always come at it with our best intentions and best efforts. Children deserve the very best we have to offer in love, support, boundaries, and instruction.

Sometimes my best is not very good. It may have been my best at the moment, but at that moment my attention was divided, I was conflicted, distracted, tired, or generally oblivious. But that’s parenting.

About 30 years ago my daughter was throwing a fit in the front yard about something. She was 4 or 5. I was at the end of a bad day myself. I tried my best to console her with patience and understanding. She was having nothing of it. I was getting frustrated and realized others were watching. Nothing puts pressure on a parent more than having their parenting skills on display. Finally, I knelt down so my eyes were level with hers and said sternly, “Hey, I’m not having such a great day myself.” It wasn’t my best moment, but it was my best at that moment. Interestingly, she stopped crying, looked at me curiously, and then gave me a big hug.

Nothing demands being still, being mindful, and “doing what you’re doing” more than parenting. Nothing gets in the way of being still, being mindful, and “doing what you’re doing” more than parenting.

More unlearning about parenting tomorrow.