I recently attended a conference where speaker Tara Leigh Cobble told a beautiful story about how God is never disappointed in us (especially as our father). After all, disappointment can only occur when expectations are unmet. God has a huge advantage; He knows everything, so his expectations are never unrealistic.
Instead, God is a loving father who knows exactly how many times you will fail when learning a lesson. Therefore, God is not disappointed by what we do not know. Instead, He lovingly teaches us exactly what we need to know over and over despite our numerous failures.
Unlike us, God is the perfect parent. We fail, fall short, worry too much, make horrible mistakes, yell when we should comfort, control when we should let natural consequences be the teacher, and forget to appreciate the small blessings of daily life with children.
However, we can attempt to model our parenting after the perfect parent by teaching our children over and over despite their numerous failures.
Teach your child how to behave outside of the home when you are at home. For example, the family dinner table is an excellent place to learn important lessons: listening, engaging in reciprocal conversation, being bored, sitting still, table manners, etc. If your child cannot sit successfully through a meal at home, do not take her to a restaurant where she is expected to sit quietly for two hours. Putting her in a setting with unrealistic expectations is a recipe for disaster for her, you, and everyone near you. When you take the time to teach your child at home, you know exactly what she can and cannot do. This allows you to set realistic expectations.
Remember that everything is a skill that must be taught, and you are the primary teacher. Interrupting appropriately, emotional regulation, taking turns, doing what you are told to do, eating a balanced diet, raising your hand, sharing, talking quietly, being respectful, telling the truth, etc., are all skills that must be taught. They are taught through practice, not by lecture. No parent has ever told me, “My child has a serious problem. I talked to him about reading, and he still cannot do it.” We all fully understand that reading is a set of skills learned through exposure, practice, and repetition. In the same way, everything we expect from children is a skill learned through exposure, practice, and repetition. Your job, as the primary teacher, is to set up ways to practice, ensure that practice takes place, and encourage every attempt your child makes to learn that skill.
Never lose hope. Just like you, your children are constantly growing and changing. As they go through the peaks and valleys of life, help them focus on becoming a better person today than they were yesterday.
Consistently point out character qualities that you see developing in them: humility, optimism, compassion, honesty, gratitude, adaptability, creativity, etc. This will keep your entire family focused on what truly matters instead of becoming distracted by the “bad behavior” and “bad choices” of the moment.