Nothing to Prove, Lots to Learn

Updated: May 1, 2020

In quarantine, I feel the posts I see on social media are trying to force me into a false dichotomy. Am I a Productive/Something to Prove Parent? Or am I a Give Grace/Give Up parent?

Here's how I read the two camps:

The Productive/Something-to-Prove Parent decides to use the quarantine time to kill it in all aspects of life and prove that she can rise above the anxiety and boredom. Concerned about the kids falling behind in school, she makes it her mission to work on their math facts, reading time, spelling lists. She cleans out drawers and closets. She teaches kids better manners and gives chores. The Productive/Something to Prove parents see this time as an opportunity to bring back family dinners, learn to bake bread (if she can find flour) and come out of this crisis better and stronger than she was before. She starts doing Beach Body online. She’s grateful and has a positive attitude every day and feels guilty if she doesn't.

The Grace/Give-Up Parent thinks the productive parents is crackers. She reads and posts articles about the effects of trauma on the brain, reminding us not to push our kids too hard, hoping that the Productive/Something to Prove Parent sees them and backs off. She says having her kids do schoolwork is too much on their sad, stressed little brains. She thinks goal-setting during a pandemic is capitalist and shallow. She says “forget it” to limiting screen time for her or the kids. She posts memes about day drinking and that she now has Daytime PJs and Nighttime PJs. Though she says she's practicing empathy for herself and others, she's actually feeling defeated.

I don't want to look like either of these pictures. One seems to be without a heart, and one seems to have lost her head. I fall a little more into the first category, behavior-wise, but thanks to a lot of therapy, now when I bake bread, wear real pants and get all the beds made, it's not because I feel like I loser if I don't; it's because I find joy when I do. I've learned that being the Something to Prove Parent will eventually cycle to the Give Up Parent if I don't allow grace, flexibility and real emotions to exist. I want my daughters to learn to live in the healthy mindset that doesn't choose between two perfectionist extremes. I want them to know that they can receive rest and comfort when they need it, but also, they can do hard things, and I’m going to make them do hard things, because it will make them stronger.

I believe goal-setting is a spiritual discipline and making my kids do things they would rather not do is part of preparing them for life; even in a pandemic, helping them push through bad days and still try to clean their rooms and learn something is good preparation for life as an adult. I also believe in self-care, silliness, and not needing to strive for worthiness, and that we will make a lot of mistakes and have a lot of unpleasant emotions along the way. While I call this approach being the Nothing-to-Prove Parent, author and psychologist Bruno Bettleheim called it being the Good Enough Parent.

But this approach to life is not just about parenting. Author of Jesus Feminist Sarah Bessey posted this on Instagram on April 16:

Yesterday was a Stay in Jammies and Let Myself Be Sad and Mad Day. Today is a Gather Tulips, Wash the Floors, and Feel Hopeful Day. Beloved and worthy both days. Productivity and relentless positivity don’t make us winners to Jesus. However you are today – and let yourself name it – you are loved.

If you believe yourself beloved and worthy, my darlings, then your productivity is a gift to yourself and others, and a glorification of the God who made you to be creative and do good works. If you believe yourself beloved and worthy, you will also rest, eat donuts and let your kids do the same -- not with a “screw it, I’m done trying today” attitude, but receiving couch time and sugar as the gifts of grace they are.

But if we have something to prove – that we are enough, that we are better than others, that we are too strong to have bad days -- then we will neither work nor rest in the way God intends us to. We won't find a rhythm of work and rest, but swing between extremes. Goals and a forced "Attitude of Gratitude" become idols and brutal task masters, so we serve them until we suffer and make others suffer. Or, we decide since we can’t be perfect, we chuck them altogether, robbing ourselves of the deep satisfaction known by those who persevere and learn through hard times.

So how about joining me in the Nothing to Prove/Productive/Grace-Giving approach.

Here's how we are approaching life in Week Six of Stay-at-Home:

I love productive days, when I write a blog or finish a quilt block, have a great conversation with a friend on the phone, cook dinner and also make time to watch my twelve-year-old do a card trick she just learned. But I accept that there are some days I will watch Netflix in bed for an extra hour, be annoyed by the sound of my kids' voices and serve cereal for dinner.

I take showers every day and wear “real” pants almost every day, because I like myself better clean and I prefer my worn-in jeans and 1950s-fit skirts to PJ pants. But some days, I wear sweats and no upper body support garments because that's what I'm in the mood for.

I keep my kids on a flexible schedule of distance learning, expecting them to do their assignments in the morning before they watch Disney Plus. We do P.E. most days, which sometimes is a forced march around the lake and sometimes bocci ball on the front lawn. But some days, we watch TV before school and after school, don't go outside and don't make our beds.

We practice gratitude for our home, God’s love, and each other, but we also lament and wail (sometimes with tears, sometimes with comedic melodrama) when we are just SICK, SICK, SICK of this.