No OB nurse administered a parenting exam. We didn’t have to put our hands on a Bible and swear anything. We were never required to appear before a review board of pediatricians, social workers, and clergy. I’m telling you…renting a steam cleaner at True Value is harder.
We brought those babies home and what followed was a blur of poopy diapers and amoxycillin prescriptions, birthday parties and homework. Ten thousand trips to Super 1 later, before anyone could say “adolescence,” we were filling out the FAFSA for the final time and moving sofa sleepers to Nashville.
Our sons are grown. Our nest is empty. I suppose we got to this place the same two ways people go bankrupt: gradually, then suddenly. Now days our house stays extremely tidy. Usually it’s so still I could hear a pin drop (except there’s no one around to drop a pin). I read once, “Children make so much noise you can hardly stand it—then depart, leaving the house so quiet you think you’ll go mad.” I get it. God knows I get it.
Because of things I did during the peak parenting years—and lots of things I didn’t—I know this: I was not an All-Star Dad. Among other regrets, I was a workaholic. So, for example, the year my boys were 8 and 4, I was too busy helping write a parenting book to actually be an engaged parent. (You can’t make such stuff up.)
I learned some painful parenting lessons through personal failure. And to paraphrase Yogi Berra, I also “observed a lot just by watching” others. Ironically, if I were beginning the parenting adventure today, I like to think I’d be a much better dad. (I want to ask God about that one day—why is it that right about the time we start to figure out some things, it turns out our time is nearly up?) Anyway, here are some parenting truths I’ve become convinced of….
- “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” Elizabeth Stone (And all the parents said, “Amen!”)
- When your kids are small, be oh-so-careful…you can’t get those years back.
- That famous Bible verse, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it” is a proverb (an observation about how life usually works). It is not a promise. Taking your child to church, sending him/her to Christian camp, etc. are good things. But they don’t guarantee anything. Every parent wants to find the sure-fire “secret” for raising perfect kids. There’s not one. If God had given us a formula, why would we need faith?
- Our natural tendency is to try to mold our kids into what we think they should be. Our supernatural calling is to help our kids become what God wants them to be.
- We often fall into the trap of thinking our child’s external behavior is the point. It’s not. The real issue is what’s going on in their hearts. Put your focus there.
- Woe to the parent who says, “My child would NEVER…”
- Childlike faith is a very real thing. So is the childlike desire to say and do things that will please mommy and daddy. Take care that your spiritual concern doesn’t morph into a subtle form of spiritual coercion or manipulation.
- We are powerless to change our kids or save our kids or see to it they embrace the right values and beliefs. Only God can do such things. Our job description is to love, pray, serve, model, listen, be attentive and available, and slowly let go.
- There are “AWOL parents” who are self-absorbed and checked out. There are “helicopter parents” who hover, smother, and control. Trust me, the offspring of both varieties have a rough go later in life.
- Parenting is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. And it’s more art than science. Pray for creativity and adaptability and humility in rearing your children.
- And speaking of rears and children…disciplining kids for the wrong reasons or in the wrong spirit is as bad as not disciplining them at all.
- You will screw up. You will also, to some degree, screw up your kids. Do not despair. God is bigger than your mess-ups. Do what a friend told me years ago: Throw a few dollars in a jar each week. When your kids are grown, tell them you tried your best, and that you’re sorry for all your failures. Give them the cash and encourage them to go work through their baggage with a good counselor. My friend—a great parent by the way—was mostly joking. I’m being totally serious.
- When you mess up, fess up. Admit your failures. Ask forgiveness. Grace flows where humility lives.
- You need others in your corner. There is some wisdom in the old saying that “it takes a village” to raise a child. Form alliances and support groups with others in the parenting trenches. Lean on grandparents, teachers, and youth leaders. Pick the brains of more knowledgeable and experienced parents.
- Realize that each child born is unique in the history of the world. No other kid has (or has ever had) your baby’s DNA, temperament, and mixture of strengths and weaknesses. Meaning, even if you already have four children, you’re a rookie when it comes to parenting the fifth. Give yourself lots of grace.
- The“experts” who write all those wise parenting books have some good things to say. Your know-it-all-friend (with the easy kid) might have some wisdom too. But they also never had to raise your particular child.
- Don’t forget that God uses our kids to help us parents finish growing up. When your child does something that triggers something in you, that’s a prompt: Be humble enough to search your own heart.
- Beware of the temptation to turn your children into your personal trophies. Your kids exist for God’s glory, not yours.
- Your children—ultimately—are not “your” children. They’re on loan from God. (This is so easy to spout and so hard to live out.)
- God made your children. He understands them far better and loves them far more deeply than you ever will.
A postscript…Cindi and I have plans to meet our sons in the mountains this summer. Everyone is pumped about being together. I’m not sure what, if anything, that says about anybody’s parenting, but it says an awful lot about God’s grace and goodness.
In my book, those two theological facts are the greatest parenting reminders of all.