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Parent the Child You Have, Not the Child You Wish You Had

As his wedding day inched closer, Dave seemed to recoil further and further into his cocoon. This got his fiancee Jane baffled. On her part, she was over the moon and couldn't wait to spend the rest of her life with Dave. But Dave was scared stiff of tying the knot because he was not sure Jane would be in the marriage for the long haul.

As a child, Dave suffered rejection from his parents. He didn't measure up to their expectations, and they constantly compared him to his elder brother. This rejection trailed him throughout his life like a shadow. He loved Jane, but he worried that she would soon realize that he was not good enough for her. He had never felt good enough.

Like Dave's parents, many of us have a mental picture of the type of children we desire. Perhaps you envision that your kids will excel academically, dazzle all with their confidence, and exhibit extraordinary gifts and talents. You want them to make you proud.

But what happens when your child exhibits none of the traits you envisioned? Do you parent them as they are, or do you try to change them? It's important to parent the child you have and not the one you wish you had. Here are six ways to do it.

1. Investigate and Embrace Your Child's Personality

The four common personality types, as coined by Hippocrates, the Greek physician, are Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholic, and Phlegmatic. Granted, your child may not be restricted to one temperament. They may exhibit a mix of traits from each temperament group. The onus on you as their parent is to study them and niche down on their personality type. This will help you understand why they act the way they do.

Understanding their personality will help you make peace with their character and snuff out the urge to change them. It will also help you to stop viewing your child as a younger version of yourself (a mini you) where their character is concerned. You may be a social butterfly raising a shy, introverted child, and that's perfectly fine.

2. Be a Faithful Steward

"And the Lord said, 'Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season?' Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes." ( Luke 12:42-43).

Your kids belong to God. He is the one who fashioned their inward parts and wrote down all the days fashioned for them in His book (Psalm 139:13,16). As a parent, you are a steward, and God expects you to nurture them physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Your work, then, is not to try and tweak their identity. God already deemed it fit to fashion them as they are, and rest assured that His ways are higher than your ways (Isaiah 55:9).

God has a specific purpose for each of your kids, and that's why He endowed them with their personalities. A faithful and wise steward (servant) will accept their kids as they are and nurture them joyfully. On the other hand, a reckless and unwise steward will take issue with their child's personality and try to mold them to their liking. Which one are you?

3. Remember You Have a Short Window to Influence Them

Before you know it, your kids will be rushing off to college and carving out their paths in life. You will no longer be around to affirm them, assure them of your love and make them feel accepted. You want to ensure that they sense acceptance and unconditional love by the time they leave your nest.

Parents should remember that they only have a little time to create an impression on their children. It is difficult to convince a teenager that you accept and value them if they sensed rejection in their tender years. Don't squander opportunities of cementing love and acceptance in your child. You have a short window to state your case, after which nothing you may say or do will matter. As such, parent the child God gave you, not the one you wished for.

4. Lay Down Your Ego

"Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself." (Philippians 2:3)

Imagine having the smartest kid in town. Book-smart, intelligent, witty, confident, gifted, with leadership skills. Wouldn't you ooze with pride and be the envy of many? And while we all aspire to raise responsible and well-adjusted kids, parenting should not be a competition. Our parenting goal should not be to have the most brilliant kids but to raise godly kids who will thrive in their uniqueness.

Sadly, many parents use their kids to stroke their egos. When any of their kids do not fit into what they consider successful, they start trying to change them. The last thing God had in mind as he fashioned your child was your ego. He has a purpose for each of your kids; for them to fulfill it, they need to be who they are. As a parent, do not meddle with God's perfect work. Lay down your ego and nurture your kids as they are. Get out of your child's way and allow them to thrive.

5. Don't Compare Them to Their Siblings

"You need to get good grades like your brother," or "You must be courageous like your sister."

These remarks may seem harmless, but comparing a child to their sibling (or other kids) is counterproductive and damaging. Unsuspecting parents compare their kids to propel them to greatness. However, it has the complete opposite effect. Nobody wants to be depicted as inferior to someone else, least of all young children who are trying to get their footing in life,

Child experts warn that comparing children wrecks havoc on their self-esteem. It also erodes their trust as they assume you are against them. It also sparks sibling rivalry and triggers animosity among kids. They may either feel/act superior or inferior to their siblings. Comparing your kids may also breed rebellion when your kids feel that there's nothing they can do to make you happy.

While correcting or steering your kids to greatness, focus on them individually. Do not stack them up against their siblings or other kids. You don't have to make them feel inferior to inspire change.

6. Confront Your Shortcomings/Insecurities

Perhaps you also suffered rejection as a child and struggle with low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, or emotional avoidance. Perhaps you struggle to accept your child as they are because you didn't sense acceptance as a child. Remember, you cannot pour from an empty cup. It's important to face your insecurities head-on and seek healing to be a better parent. Consider reaching out to a therapist to help you navigate your pain.

Someday when you are old and gray, your child will talk about you. Will they exude gratitude because you loved and accepted them wholeheartedly, or will they be contending with the pain of rejection? By all means, parent the child you have, not the one you wish you had.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Drazen Zigic

Crosswalk Writer Keren KanyagoKeren Kanyago is a freelance writer and blogger at Parenting Spring. As a wife and mom, she uses her blog to weigh in on pertinent issues around parenting, marriage, and the Christian Faith. She holds a degree in mass communication with a specialty in print media. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram and/or shoot her an email at [email protected]

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