Performance-based Parenting

24 Dec

I serve a perfect, all-knowing Saviour, but I am a work in progress and will be one until the day I depart this earth.

One thing I am struggling with right now is the idea that an attitude of gratitude is hard to teach to one’s offspring.  

I don’t necessarily think that is an issue restricted to special needs offspring.  I have seen enough examples of the “most entitled generation ever” to say that many of us have not been able to teach the concept of “attitude of gratitude.”  Or maybe not all of my generation even tried . . .  

I know that my special needs son needs to catch this as an attitude of the heart, not as an externally imposed rule from me.  I also know his college, which is a Christian school for special needs people, is aware of the need to convey this concept in a heart-to-heart way.  So we all keep plugging away at teaching it . . .

Where I think I have failed in the past is in not realizing that if I accept dismissive behavior directed toward me by my son, I am disobeying the part of God’s Word that says children need to be taught to respect their parents, and actually to treat every human being with dignity.  

It is subtle, this whole issue.  I certainly imposed consequences for blatantly disrespectful language or actions.  

What I didn’t see coming until it was in my rearview mirror was the tendency to hand me a “to do list” for which appreciation is never shown, but with a new list of demands being issued when the old list is finished.  

I spent my childhood trying to find one minute in which I felt I had completed enough actions to be considered a good daughter.  I now find myself spending my motherhood doing the same, in relation to my child.  I am measuring my parenting by whether I can ever get to the point where I have completed the “to do list” of things my kid wants done for him.  And the answer is . . . I cannot.  

There is so much wrong there, at so many levels.  Relationships should not be defined by what others do for us.  We all know that.  Or rather, the only relationship that should be defined by what others do for us is that of employer and employee.

But what makes me saddest is that I have not conveyed the idea of an attitude of gratitude.  I don’t often hear “thank you” when we cross one thing off the “to do list.”  Actually, I usually just hear that one thing being replaced by two more requirements.  And I know they are only requirements because I allow them to be.

I know that getting mad and pushing back will not solve this.  We cannot legislate an attitude of gratitude.  Sitting down like a mule and saying I won’t do anything more for my family won’t cut it either.  Nothing that is being asked of me is abnormal for family life.  It is just all being asked in a way that takes me totally for granted.  

I did just declare a moratorium for Christmas Eve and Christmas.  I will not acknowledge any requests till the 26th.  I am exhausted, ten days after my son arrived home from college.  We have been to two malls, the Navy Exchange twice, a thrift store, three special restaurants, the doctor, a beauty parlor (for haircut), and the grocery store that has six packs of Coke.  That is not factoring in all of the requests to jump up and find things for him at home or to do things for him that he has not yet mastered for himself (that is probably the special needs part–and, in all fairness, he is working on self-help skills and is making great progress).  

So, for those of you who have never lived with a special needs person, that may be an eye-opening rant, although I know we all have our own responsibilities in life and many, many of us live in a sacrificial way within our families.  

I just realize that it is a two-way street.  If we are nothing but sacrifice, then our children become nothing but takers.  

And, if my parenting is to be performance-based at all, I should at least take God’s view of my performance, which is that I should convey righteous standards to my child, not teach him to be a taker all life long.  

I take the point and . . . I run to my Saviour once again, to be found fully sufficient in Him and in His righteousness, while I walk this earth in fear and trembling, living and learning and growing and always knowing I fall short, but that in Him I have everything.     

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2 Responses to “Performance-based Parenting”

  1. Justin December 26, 2013 at 12:56 PM #

    I happen to know you and have for many many years and i can say without a shadow of a doubt you are a “good” mother. You have provided many opportunities which otherwise would have been nothing more than a fantasy. We try to find the ballance between give and take, but in the end i have noticed it is nice to be needed, while still making sure to say I need a break. Great article and hopefully this will lead to more discussions 🙂

    • Mary Gardner Martin December 26, 2013 at 1:00 PM #

      Awwww, thanks, Justin. This first college year has produced a lot of self-questioning in me. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but can get out of balance . . .

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