A parent’s inner sense of love for the child is not in question when it comes to parenting with heart. Parents on the whole love their children deeply, and wish everything good for them. Parenting with heart is about the parent’s ability to live well imperfectly, with an imperfect human child in an imperfect world that is going to remain imperfect this side of heaven. The parent of heart has deep, proven experience as an imperfect person, and has come to struggle truthfully with acceptance of a clear edict about life: it takes a lifetime to learn how to live.
The child desperately needs the parent to be emotionally available to emotional expression, as the child faces the inevitable struggles of life. Children know how to struggle; they cry in sadness when life hands them loss, and they protest in anger when life pushes them into failure. And they laugh in joy when celebration comes their way. However, children need to know that the parent has the emotional capacity to “stay” in the struggle with the child, so the child doesn’t have to become something other than human to have a parent’s assurance of enduring presence.
Children are susceptible to “abandoning” their God-given emotional identity to have parental connection. Parenting with heart, obviously, becomes very important. They need to know that we, the parents, can do it. The child’s question is straightforward. “Will you parent with heart, or will you represent yourself as someone I could never become, someone you yourself cannot become, or someone I really don’t want to become?”
In other words: “Will you be human ‘good enough’ to help me keep the courage of being human, too?”
Two ways, among many, to answer their question are pretty much as straightforward as their frightening question. Children need to witness the parent accepting life as a felt experience as much as a figured experience. They need to see us face and learn from fear. They need to watch us heal from the hurts that life hands anyone who risks living in relationship. They need to know that we can persevere after loss, without minimizing the loss or quitting forever because of it. And they need to see that we can keep caring and find laughter again after life “hits us on the head.” Of course, for a parent to live so courageously, they need faith in God and deep, abiding relationships with some other grownups.
Also, children need to receive the blessing of a paradoxical, and beautifully comforting, message from the parent. A child needs to hear a very relevant confession. They need to know that this time is your first time through life, too. We are all practicing, and we will always struggle to live well in a very challenging place. It takes a lifetime to learn how to live. That living confession offers the child a wonderful opportunity to cooperate in the struggle: they know life is hard, too, and now they have permission through you, the parent, to spend their lives practicing. They grasp imperfection. They cry about it; they rail at it; they laugh in spite of it. And they will try hard to be perfect if we are not imperfect with them.
How amazing that our ability to struggle becomes the path that they can walk into their own fulfillment as human beings?