The Double-Edged Sword of Being a Purposeful Parent

I sat in a small office, books and loose paper stacked all around me, an old computer humming away behind me.

I stared.

I stared at a page full of questions about current events.

My mind was blank.

Not because I was nervous about this aspect of my job interview. (Well, maybe a little bit because of that.) But mostly because I literally did not know the answers to the questions on the page.

It was my junior year of college, and I’d applied for a job as a copyeditor at a small newspaper. One element of my application was a quiz on current events, and I knew nothing.

I had just gotten married, and I was knee-deep in an internship with a religious publication. Basically, that’s code for “my head was in the sand,” politically speaking.

Sometimes now, more than a decade later, I feel just as stumped—just as lost—as I did that day. Except now, what stumps me is not a few dozen questions about state senators and the winter Olympics but a question in my head about how to handle the latest parenting obstacle I’ve run into.

I imagine that if you subbed out my children’s names and some of the particulars of our situations, the inside of your brain might look a lot like mine:

The screaming. WHAT am I going to do about Quinn’s tantrums?

And the bigger question: How do you raise a girl who knows her mind but also knows how to interpret and handle her emotions?

Trenton’s homework. I don’t want to disregard it, because I want him to respect his teachers and follow through with hard things… But it kills our afternoons, and I wish we could just read to our heart’s content. I should talk to his teacher…

Chase isn’t befriending the new kid like I’d hoped. How do I help my kids internalize kindness? How do I help them get the courage to reach out?

Unrelated: I need to get these kids working more around the house. All the articles say so…

Please tell me this internal script is familiar to you. 😉 Sometimes it gets even scarier, veering off into territory like how to help kids develop faith when I have a lot of questions myself… or how exactly to frame our conversations about modesty and sex and love… BIG stuff, I tell you.

It’s the double-edged sword of being a purposeful parent: the endless course corrections and recalibration, the exhaustive research and reading, and the nagging self-doubt.

I wouldn’t trade it away, because I think in the end this purposefulness will serve our family well. But it can be… tiring.

Do you ever wonder if all your research and deliberation really make a difference or if you’re just stressing yourself out over things you can’t really control?

Do you ever watch other parents and think, This seems to be easier for them… Maybe I’m making parenting much harder than it could be. 

I wish I could answer these questions for you, but I ask them myself all the time.

I will say, though, that not long ago I was turning these questions over in my mind as my hands rinsed dishes and my eyes looked out the window over our neighborhood.

Just be who you are, I thought. And they’ll be who they are. They’re not yours anyway. (They’re His.) 

We can give our children our very best, but in the end, they’ll be who they are.

So I propose that for today, we set aside the self-doubt and the second guessing. Let’s think of our children as people who are unfolding instead of children who need molded. Let go of the pressure to get it right.

Let’s take a breath and remember, they’ll be who they are. 

If you ever watch other parents and think, "This seems EASIER for them. Maybe I'm making parenting harder than it could be..." | The Double-Edged Sword of Being a Purposeful ParentOh and if you ever apply for a job at a newspaper, I suggest you brush up on current events.


  • Reply
    Leigh W.
    September 7, 2016 at 11:26 am

    I identified with this one a lot, Erica! And you are so right–I have always believed (though you said it more eloquently) that children are unfolding, more than in need of being molded. I love that! They need a secure place to unfold, and that is what we provide for them.

    I agree with you on the homework. There is a local public school here that gives NO homework at all in elementary school, because (I think) research has shown it is neither effective nor helpful. Shouldn’t seven hours in school be enough? Amen to that! I’m sorry the homework is ruining your afternoons. I feel it is unnecessary in elementary school, too, though Clara has a little in first grade.

    Good luck with those big questions! I’m asking them, too, and thinking about them. It just shows you are a thoughtful person. Miss you!

    • Reply
      Erica Layne
      September 7, 2016 at 12:34 pm

      I’m glad you identified with this post, and I love how like-minded we are with our parenting, Leigh. I miss you and our long chats!

      And yes, homework can be such a frustration! I could talk for an hour about what we do to try to keep it from getting in the way of our lives and putting a negative strain on our relationship. It’s such a balancing act!

  • Reply
    September 8, 2016 at 3:57 am

    I love that last quote (Just be who you are and let them be who they are, they are His anyway). I sometimes wonder if I am doing this parenting thing right, but the fact that I am trying each day makes me feel like I am doing okay. And this life is not about perfection, the obstacles, and struggles teach us and help us grow and learn. Although some days it is definitely tiring!

  • Reply
    September 8, 2016 at 8:10 pm

    It’s so easy to feel insecure as a mom, and it’s amazing how these insecurities snowball. What I love about this post is the reminder to just relax and let go. We think we have so much control and influence as parents, but you are right- they will be who they are. And, it’s okay if our children’s lives aren’t perfect in every way (probably better for them). Thanks for sharing such a heartfelt post Erica!

    • Reply
      Erica Layne
      September 10, 2016 at 9:35 am

      Thank YOU for your sweet and thoughtful comment, Nicki!

  • Reply
    Why Being a Purposeful Parent Is a Double-Edged Sword
    September 29, 2016 at 6:23 am

    […] following post was originally featured on Let Why Lead and written by Erica Layne, who is part of POPSUGAR Select […]

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