Lately, I've been looking back on my not-married-no-kids self, my married-no-kids self, and my married-one-kid self. And I alternately have to laugh or cringe at some of my self-righteous, uncharitable assumptions about parents, and--I'm ashamed to say--plain old snobbery at times. Of course, I didn't dream I was any of those things at the time.

I realize now how hard I used to be on parents in general. Before I had Gabriel, I had spent all of my quite relatively young life observing parents, and I had all listed out in my head what I was going to take from them and what I was going to throw out with the trash. I felt "enlightened" by the parenting books I read and was also boosted by plenty of conversations with like-minded people.

But having Gabriel changed everything. And then having Faith changed everything again.

Now I'm the mom with the toddler pitching a temper tantrum in Walmart and randomly hitting other children in the face at play dates. I'm the one with the kid who throws food across the aisle and under the bench of the table beside us at the restaurant. I'm the one with the kid who loses his mind over not being able to bring his toothbrush outside. Not that he's like that every single day. The frequency of these kind of episodes is probably around the average for kids his age.

Because there IS an average. Because every single toddler does these things sometimes.

I am so humbled. Now, I understand that despite my best intentions, my late nights staying up reading parenting books and poring through blogs, my agonizing over the form and structure and consistency of my discipline, my ever daily prayers--despite all of that--toddlers will be toddlers, and babies will be babies. And no two are alike.

We parents and caregivers are all trying to do our best, and sometimes at the end of the day, we've done a great job parenting our children if they are alive, happy and healthy.

Every single child is different, and every family is different. Whatever works for your family, whatever keeps your home peaceful, your marriage strong, your children healthy and growing in grace and stature into the men and women God created them to be--that's all there is to it.

I truly strive now to be generous in thinking the best of people, in believing in their goodwill and their best intentions as parents. I don't give my thoughts or opinions readily unless I'm in the trenches kids' ages-wise with that person. I especially take care to do this if my opinions contradict views held by the person I'm talking to. Just like I'm not going to tell someone the best way to discipline a teenager (since I don't have one yet) I'm not going to give my two cents on how to potty train, since I'm not there yet either. Before I actually had a two-year-old, I never imagined how much patience, how much self-denial and sacrifice it takes to be the mother of one. A bad day for a two-year-old (and they all have bad days sometimes) can be a soul-refining experience.

Another rule of mine these days: I try not to be too sensitive about criticism of my parenting--real or imagined. This is a spiritual battle as well as an emotional one, since the line between sensitivity and pride is always a little fuzzy. :)

In the end, though, I hope that God permits real criticism of me once in a while. Or at least plenty of embarrassing temper tantrums in the middle of Walmart. (Did I really just type that?!)

Because no matter how many books I read or tapes I listen to or techniques I borrow from all the great parents I know (my own included), I will always need the reminder that I'll never have perfect kids or be the perfect parent.

My little boy turned two years old today, meaning I've been a mom for all of two years. What do I know?

Enough to know I don't know much at all. Enough to put my two babies to bed happy, healthy and (usually) clean. Enough to pray simply that the Lord will permit enough parenting challenges in my life to keep me humble, and enough grace to keep me going.

Copyright 2012 Erin Franco