Focusing on the Parenting Choices That Matter

It’s hard being a parent—and so, so easy to shame ourselves for not doing everything right. Hell, do any of us really even know what “right” means when it comes to raising kids?

We want our children to grow, thrive, be independent, experience everything life has to offer, become strong, capable, confident human beings. At the same time, our desire to protect them from the hurts of the world can lead us to smother and limit them. I feel like I’m constantly fighting this battle in my mind as I raise my son, Spencer.

Am I building a strong work ethic for my son? Or am I turning him into an entitled child? Do I give him enough responsibilities around the house? Should I give him more? Or do I need to let him just be a kid? Should I make him pay for his own gas? Or should I cut him some slack since he’s involved in sports and takes intense academic coursework that requires hours of studying, and doesn’t have time for a job? Or maybe he really does have time for a job, and I’m missing out on an opportunity to help him grow into a capable, hard-working adult.

I want Spencer to learn about productive struggle—after all, he needs this knowledge to truly grow his wings. But how much is too much? When he faces challenges, do I do the difficult thing and let him go it alone because I know it’s for his own good? Or do I step in and help because I want to support my child?

See? A constant battle.

And it’s enough to make a parent lose his or her mind. I know I feel like I’m never sure of the right answer when it comes to making these parenting decisions. It can be draining.

But then … there are those moments when I know I am getting things right.

After my son was born, I sat in my hospital bed overcome with the amazing love I felt for this new life. My pregnancy had been a somewhat scary time, not just because it was a new experience, but because my marriage was on shaky ground and I sensed I was soon going to be a divorced parent.

But then this little human was born, and I immediately and completely fell in love with him. And that’s when I made one of my first “right” decisions as a parent. I decided to write him letters, detailing just how much I loved him.

These letters became a living snapshot of Spencer at various points in his life. The funny things he did as a toddler, his likes (and dislikes) through the years, how his interests changed over time, fun experiences we shared, and glimpses of who he was as a person.

And of course, in every single letter is a message to him about how much he means to me. How lucky I feel that God chose ME to be his mom. How I never want to forget even the tiniest of moments we’ve shared.

When Spencer turned 4, I started putting other things in these yearly letters. I began to share pieces of who I was—not just as his mother, but as a person. My struggles, my successes, my deepest thoughts and feelings about being a parent, a woman, a survivor. I feel like I know Spencer better than anyone in the world; I want him to know me, too.

I just recently finished writing Spencer’s 17th birthday letter. (Where, oh where, has the time gone??) I have one more letter to write for his 18th birthday, and then I’ll send all of these letters to my copy editor and have them turned into a book.

I haven’t decided exactly when I’ll present this book to Spencer. Truth be told, he’s currently a moody, grouchy teenager most days (with fleeting moments of the little boy who used to run to his momma, overflowing with love for her). I’m not sure he’s in a place to truly appreciate the letters right now.

But one day, I will gift him the letters. These letters—these little pieces of my heart and soul—will let him know how much he’s loved. How much he changed my life from the moment he entered it. And how much he continues to change it for the better, every day, just by being who he is.

I’ve turned to these letters time and again over the years. They’ve reminded me that, even when I worry I’m doing everything “wrong” as a parent, there’s one thing I’ve always done right. I’ve loved that kid with every ounce of myself.

Question: What are your most challenging parenting choices—and what are your greatest successes? Share your stories in the comments below.