I learned much of what I know about parenting after I was a parent.
Thankfully, my two boys are model young adults. I would say we have two of the greatest young men as sons any parent has ever seen. (Biased – aren’t I?) But, seriously, we have seen good fruit from our labor as parents. I believe this is in part because we followed certain principles.
Again, we learned as we went and it was purely the grace of God, but we were intentional.
These principles can greatly increase your success as a parent, in my opinion. (And, it’s important to note this is an opinion blog and an opinion post.) This opinion comes, however, not only from my personal experience, but also my training as a counselor, and my observation and counseling with hundreds of parents through years of ministry. Keep in mind – principles are not promises or guarantees. Children are individuals and you can do everything you know to do right and things not turn out as hoped.
But, I believe, as with most things in life, you have a better chance of success in parenting if you follow good principles than if you do not.
Here are 5 simple words which can shape your parenting:
Most of us have a plan for other areas of our life, but not for our family. Plan a strategy for raising children the way you want them to go. We had a personal parenting plan. You can read the basics of it HERE. We reevaluated every year and made individual plans for each child based on their needs at the time. Do you have a plan for parenting? Granted, your plan will look different from ours. Your children are different.
This word has several applications. It is critically important to protect your relationship with the child, for example, so you can maintain influence over them for the rest of their life. You don’t want to lose their heart. This is not accomplished by giving them what they want, but by gentling balancing discipline with love. You may have to be willing to say no, or to make them wait for something, even when it is uncomfortable and unpopular with your children (and their friends). There are things parents need to protect their children from in this world – before they are ready. Just because an 8 year old wants to see the movie – and everyone else is seeing it – doesn’t mean they should. You’re the parent.
But, you also have to work to build their trust in you as much as their obedience to you. One reason our plan included the word grace is we knew we would have to extend lots of it to protect their heart and our connection to them. It’s a continual and delicate balance.
This one gets me in trouble with some parents, but often because they don’t always understand the magnitude of their parenting role at an early age – or they aren’t seeing the long-term goal of parenting. There is a time to gain control over a child’s actions. It’s when they are very young. When they are learning all the basic things of life we take for granted. We encouraged independent personalities in our boys, but a parent doesn’t have to let a 3 year old throw a temper tantrum, for example. When is this ever an acceptable – or effective – response as an adult? And, you can make a four year old attend Sunday school even when the would rather not – for another example. Are there times you don’t want to go to work? What do you do in those times?
There should be an element of control for a child not old enough to choose wisely and then a gradual release of authority given to them as they get older. Too many parents allow too much freedom early and then try to get control back when the child tries to be an independent teenager. It should be the opposite. You are training a child in the way he should go. Take advantage of the years where they desperately need and will comply with your wisdom.
Children require an intentional investment of time and energy over time. Having children who grow up well does not usually just happen. It is as a result of the right investment of parenting. We have children for such a short window of opportunity. We can’t waste time with opportunities which only produce temporary rewards or pleasures. Which has more importance – your work, your hobby – or your children? Do your actions portray your answer?
The one thing Cheryl and I consistently observe are families who appear to let the coaches or the instructors or other people raise their children. In a desire to give them activities they sacrifice needed time for their children with the people of whom they need the most time. Every family is busy on certain weeks, but if a family goes for months with little quality – and quantity – time together priorities may need to be evaluated.
(Side note – I realize this is especially challenging for single-parent or blended families. Some parents may need outside help – and it requires even more intentionality and planning. Get help and advice from others who have been there or are living your experience. This is also a huge advantage of being involved in a local church.)
You cannot expect children to learn – and certainly not live – principles you are not willing to model for them. Children should not be held to higher standards than you hold yourself. Are you living a life they can and should follow? If they simply do what you do – or are doing – will they turn out the way you would hope they would?
Parenting is hard – but, the rewards are worth it!
Also, if you know anything about my teaching, grace is of paramount theme. If you don’t feel you’ve done everything right – or you know you haven’t – first, know there are no perfect parents. Second, know God’s grace is sufficient. And, finally, know even if your children are adults there is time to restore relationships. My father was absent most of my life, but the last 10 years of his life were well-lived. He died a good father. I miss him today.
Praying for you as I post this.