Can someone please tell me how I have an EIGHTEEN-year-old already?! I’m not having a hard time letting go, I’m actually very excited about this next phase of his life. He’s so ready and completely capable of whatever God has in store for him! I am having a hard time believing that I can have a grown child when I’m still in my 20’s myself! Well, I feel like I’m in my 20’s anyway… in my mind, not my body. My body feels like I’m in my 60’s. Humph!
Hold on, I got off topic here. What I want to share with you today is just a few things that I have learned in the last 18 years of being a mom. My oldest child had this landmark birthday last week and it got me thinking about this parenting thing. Man, have we made some mistakes! Despite our mistakes, we have three very amazing children. With all that we have done wrong, there are a few things that I know we got right. We set out to shepherd the hearts of our children, and that is something that will never end. Here are just a few of the principles that we applied to parenting that might help you as you shepherd your own child’s heart. The “how” will of course look different for each family and each child.
- Be intentional in how you parent. Parenting is tough! When you’re young, newly married, and still learning how this new life of yours is going to work, it’s harder still to add the new adventure of parenting. While most of your years of parenting will at times require a “fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants” mentality, there are some things that you can be intentional about. Having a baseline of how you want to raise your children is so important because time really is fleeting. Coming into parenting with no plan at all could cost you precious years spent trying to figure it out. I have so many things throughout my kids’ life that I wish I had been more intentional in. By the time I figured it out, they were past the stage that it mattered. Now, all I can hope is that the areas that we were intentional about will send my children into adulthood with fond memories and loving security to take on the next stage of life confidently.
Being intentional isn’t difficult. You just talk and dream with your spouse about what you want for your children. My husband and I had these conversations long before we were even married and continue the discussion even now as we plan for the next decade. Of course, we wanted to raise our children to follow the Lord. We also wanted our children to be independent, confident, and secure. We wanted them to be respectful, loving, and kind. We wanted to raise leaders with honor, integrity, and character who would change the world around them. That is what we kept in front of us and our children from the time they were born. We weren’t raising babies, toddlers, children, or teens. We are raising adults who will be ready to go out into the world and make a difference.
One of the things that we were intentional about was family outings and vacations. We didn’t even come close to doing all the things we wanted to, but we have made great effort to fill their memory banks with lots of great adventures over the years. We were also intentional about some key landmark ages and what we would do to get them through each transition. One of those transitions was moving from childhood into young adulthood. We planned out what we would do from ages 12-13 that included months spent with us and other mentors for discipleship, teaching and discussing many different adult topics. We took them on their own personal trip to Chicago for a weekend for specific discussions. All of this culminating in a formal event to celebrate their 13th birthday and offer memorable challenges from their parents, mentors, and friends as they embark on their next stage of life moving toward adulthood. This was thought out long before we had children. Other intentional things came as we were growing as parents. What that looks like for you will be different, but it should be intentional.
- Give responsibilities early in life. You are never too young to learn the value of a strong work ethic. If they can crawl around and take their toys out of the toybox, then they are old enough to learn to put the toy back where it belongs when they are done playing with it. As they begin to walk and run, they will love to help you dust, pick up toys, and throw trash away. As they mature and are strong enough, they can stand on a chair to help you with the dishes. By the time they head to school they should have a list of chores that are their responsibility every day. This helps prepare them for the structure of school and it builds a work ethic in them that future employers will be super grateful for. They will complain. They will grumble. They will say it’s not fair that their friends don’t have chores. They will fight with each other over who’s turn it is. Stand your ground! They don’t know how hard adulting is yet and one day they will thank you for teaching them to work. My teens were having a moment last week. I yelled out to my husband saying, “you know, if your kids don’t feel like ‘Cinderella: the early years’ at some point in their life then you’re just doing it wrong.” He laughed, I laughed… the kids scowled and finished their chores. It was a good time! Honestly, they were just having a moment. Most of the time they just do what needs to be done to keep the house clean as best as our busy schedule will allow. Now that they are at the age to start getting real jobs, their work ethic is coming in very handy for them. Again, what you choose to give as responsibilities will look different than it did for us. It’s not what you have them doing, it’s just vital that they have something to be responsible for.
- Discipline from birth. This is the one that we have taken a lot of criticism for over the years. Most people hear the word “discipline” and the first thing they think of is a spanking. While that definitely had a role in our discipline strategy for a time, it’s not the only factor here. Discipline simply means to practice or train yourself or others. It takes discipline to play a sport well. It takes discipline to grow in your education or career. It takes discipline to take a baby who is born in a sin nature and grow them up into a man or woman who serves the Lord. Your discipline strategy should reflect your intentionality of how you want to raise your children. One of our goals was, we intentionally wanted to raise independent children. So, we instilled disciplines on ourselves and our children to reach that goal. One of the things we did is we made a point of dropping our children off with a grandparent or aunt for short times starting in the first few weeks of their life and longer times as needed as they grew. Of course, they are super dependent on mom in the early years, but we wanted to make sure they could be away from mom for small amounts of time too so that when it was time to put them in the church nursery, or when we had to use daycare while I worked they would be able to function without screaming for the caregivers all the live-long day. We also made a point to have a schedule that we stuck to, including feeding times and napping times from birth. We weren’t so rigid in the schedule that they couldn’t be flexible, but we also weren’t so relaxed in it that they had no stability. By the time our children started Kindergarten, they were waking up on their own to an alarm clock and getting themselves ready for the day. It was hard in the beginning and took intentional effort, but the pay off is that I don’t have to fight with my kids about getting up and getting to school or church in the morning. They just know it’s not an option and this discipline is all they’ve ever known. It doesn’t mean they LIKE getting up early, but they do it. How you instill discipline into the life of your children is completely up to you and your spouse and you must choose the things that you feel God leading you to.
- Learn from the success and failure of those who have gone before you. I remember when I first got married, before we ever had children, I wanted to write a book on parenting. I was just dreaming of course, because I just wanted to write and that was a topic that interested me. Well, don’t tell people that you want to write a book on parenting when you have never had a kid of your own. Unless you like being criticized and looked at like you’re an alien from another planet. If I had written something 20 years ago, it would still be relevant today although it would have like 10 sequels as I learned and grew as a parent. Not because I know everything, quite the opposite. I learned a long time ago how to learn from the success and mistakes of others. I studied God’s word to see what He said about parenting. I read Christian books on parenting. I talked with friends who had kids and mentors who had raised their kids. I got advice from everyone I respected about how to parent and prepare for parenting. I didn’t agree with it all and I didn’t use it all, but I soaked it all in to apply to my methods of parenting my own children. I learned not to criticize other parenting styles. We moms gotta stick together, not judge each other because we have different ideas of what discipline should look like. I watched teenagers throughout my years of youth ministry and made decisions on how I could help my own kids avoid some of the pitfalls as well as experience some of the blessings of being a teen. I still don’t have it all down and I never will. But one thing remains: I will never stop learning from those who have gone before me as I go through each stage of parenting. Their experience is pure gold to me!
- Always remember that there is no magic formula or one-size-fits-all approach to parenting. We have so many principles and guidelines in scripture when it comes to bringing up our children, but how that looks practically is going to vary from person to person. God gave you your specific children and He equipped you with what you need to parent those individuals. The decisions you make will be different than the decisions I make. Don’t get caught up in whatever new fad comes along that tells you how you must raise your children. Take what you want from the education you have and learn what things don’t work for you. Don’t ever feel guilty because you aren’t able to do something that others can, or because you seemingly failed at doing something you see your friends doing. Pray fervently for your children and raise them to love God and others.
As always, this is not an exhaustive list. There are so many things we could discuss and ideas we can share about parenting. These are just a couple that were on my mind this week. What have you learned in your years of parenting? Share some stories and ideas in the comments that will help us all grow as we seek to honor God with how we bring up the children He has blessed us with!