I’ve made a tradition the last four years out of running the Disney Princess half marathon with my oldest children. Twice I completed the race newly pregnant. The time away with the big kids is priceless and the physical exertion is small compared to the fun we have training together.
But this year, a thought dawned on me that I wanted to share with all of you. I know I have intimated it before but let me be emphatic:
Parenting is not a sprint. It’s an ultra marathon.
Those parents that brag how early their baby is crawling or walking, how many words their baby knows, how many languages their toddler can speak or how fast their middleschooler can run…are all insignificant. Those things are great, and even exciting I will admit. But these small successes pale in comparison to the long term goal of raising an amazing adult. You get the idea from these braggadocios moms and dads that parenting is graded by their kid’s performance. And if your child’s accomplishments don’t rack up to the kinds of hoops their child can jump through, then you stink as a parent… and worse, your kid stinks too.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I don’t exactly know when we can gauge our parenting as a success…but it certainly isn’t by two years old and it definitely isn’t by middle school. Sure, your child at those stages may be “performing well” outwardly…but what’s on the inside may not be so apparent. You will only know if your child’s “performance” is for real when their heart attitudes include serving those around them on their own initiative, loving and empathizing with others, and when they make character choices that are wise, but not always easy. These types of measurements simply cannot be made at such an early age…they can take a decade or two to get inside of the child.
And so back to my ultramarathon analogy:
If you’ve ever competed in a running race of any kind, you’ll instantly get what I am saying. Every runner lines up at the start. The gun goes off and BLAM!…47 people take off like banshees. They’re running the first hundred yards like that’s all there is to the race…and they putter out pretty fast. Those are the parents hung up on all the VERY insignificant parenting details at an early age – judging their success (and everyone else’s too) on things that really don’t matter at all. Things like how long you breastfeed, organic this or that, natural childbirth or even WHERE you give birth. These things PALE in comparison to the moral heart issues and the importance of an education.
Then you have the people that pace themselves based on someone else’s capabilities, racing away constantly comparing themselves to others instead of focusing on THEIR race, their kids and the specific needs of THEIR family. That gets exhausting and these folks generally quit or give up trying altogether. They begin to disqualify themselves from their own finish based on someone else’s ability…ridiculous.
Finally, you have those strong and steady racers. Folks who ran when they could, walked through the waterstops, cruised the downhills, and slowed down for the uphills on the course. These parents just kept their eye on the goal–the finish line. They focused on the character traits they wanted for their children, the type of man or woman they prayed this child would become. They trusted that Jesus– who began this good work in their child– would complete it! Sometimes these racer’s pace might have slowed to almost a crawl, but at least they continually kept moving forward.
And eventually…they finish.
The girls and I completed the race with power still left in our legs. We had fun singing songs almost the whole course. The girls had lots of good laughs and enjoyed encouraging other runners as we clipped along. We walked the water stops, slowed down on the uphills, and took the time to enjoy one another’s company. BUT WE FINISHED…even when we were moving forward slowly.
So remember, parenting is not a sprint. It’s an ultra marathon…with long term goals and far-reaching implications. Don’t get hung up on a sprint-like mentality that focuses on things that have very little to do with the final outcome of the adult you are raising. Don’t focus on how someone else is gauging the race. Fix your eyes on the prize of Christ and the finish line of an adult that loves and serves Him.