Theodore Roosevelt gave one of the most widely quoted speeches of his career on April 23, 1910. The speech was originally titled “Citizenship in a Republic,” but you may know it as “The Man in the Arena.”
After I’d had a particularly hard week recently, a close friend texted me a portion of this speech as a little bit of encouragement. Although I’m 100 percent confident that President Roosevelt didn’t author this speech with discouraged parents in mind, I believe it’s absolutely fitting for those of us who find ourselves walking the difficult places of parenting.
These words really spoke to me:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
You’re enough because God’s enough for you
Here’s an arena truth for parenting: Just because things don’t look like we anticipated, or our kids are not taking the path we hoped for, doesn’t mean we’re getting it wrong.
Here’s an even better arena truth for parenting: God’s grace is sufficient and his power is made perfect in the places where we feel inadequate (including parenting). See 2 Corinthians 12:9.
When we realize that the Lord goes before us in this parenting journey, having preordained every single day of our children’s lives (Psalm 139:16), it can’t help but take the pressure off of us when we feel like we aren’t good enough.
Because the reality is that we all get it right lots of times—and we get it wrong lots of times too.
Knowing that should naturally make us view parenting through a lens of compassion and humility, speaking encouragement to those around us giving it everything thing they’ve got, trying their very best to raise kids they desperately love.
You’re not alone
Like Roosevelt talks about, being in the arena is really difficult when life gets tough and you feel like you’re surrounded by critics watching as you struggle.
Please know that if you’re walking a difficult path with your kid(s) right now, you’re not alone.
We face challenges today in parenting that no parent before us has experienced. There’s no instruction manual for raising the first generation of kids inundated with social media and smartphones. Nobody has the quick fix for dealing with pornography, bullying, and rising suicide rates.
Before it’s all said and done, every one of us will likely have a taste of victory followed by the sting of defeat. As we walk the parenting road together, let’s have a healthy perspective on the hard places in parenting and find ways to bring others along who may be struggling in their arenas.
- For every perfect parent-teacher conference, there are lots of parents paying specialists to test for learning differences.
- For every child on the honor roll, there are parents spending hours and hours simply trying to help their child pass a test.
- For every child recognized on the homecoming court, there are parents praying their child gets a date to just one high school dance.
- For every child who made the team or got a part in the school play, there are parents worrying about kids who desperately need a place to be included and have community.
- For every family packing up a child for college, there are precious moms and dads researching rehab facilities.
To the mom in the arena
To all the moms (and dads) in the arena who are doing everything you know to help your kids find their way, this word is for you.
You may have a face marred with dust as you face the critics, feeling like you’re coming up short again and again, but you’re fighting a worthy cause.
As parents, if we fail, we fail giving all we’ve got to those we love the most.
If we succeed, we succeed knowing we have walked the hard road well with those around us, building up others and bringing them along when the road looked hopeless.
From one mom in the arena to another: Be strong. You’ve got this!