Not long after my first son was born, someone came up to me and said something that changed my perspective on parenting. “Enjoy every moment. The days are long but the years are short.”
At the time, I was low on sleep and high on stress, and this wasn’t the time for one-liners. Why couldn’t he offer to babysit for a few hours instead?
But it’s been nearly four years since I held my son for the first time, and I’ve thought about his comment hundreds of times.
Parenting is a beautiful storm. Few endeavors are more life-giving and joy-filled. But it’s far from easy. Some days all you can do is hold on. The torrent of poop diapers and irresponsible decisions threaten your sanity. Other days, you see it. You see the hard work, late nights, and discipline finally paying off.
Parenting is hugely important. Strong families are the backbone of strong societies and cultures. Without strong parents building strong children, cultures become paralyzed and stagnant. Parents, you’re shaping the eternal trajectory of your children.
But, let’s be honest, children aren’t easy to read. I still can’t understand why they don’t come with instructions. And the whole thing happens so fast. One minute a huge ball protrudes my wife’s belly. The next moment the huge ball pees on the nurse. Here I am today, just days away from the huge ball’s fourth birthday.
The days are long. The years are short.
You have a short time to prepare your children. And beyond the poker faces are real needs. For children to thrive in today’s world, with its unique complexities and challenges, here are some things they need.
1.) Your marriage to take priority over them
Children demand time and resources. You should serve them and provide for them. You should invest in their present and future.
And one of the best ways to invest in your children is to invest in your marriage.
If your children take priority over your marriage, you will lose your children and your marriage. Your children will become idols, never living up to your expectations, and you will always expect more from them than they can give.
In the Powell house, we aren’t perfect, but Tiffani and I let our boys know mommy and daddy’s relationship is important. I tell them mommy is important to me. When Tiffani and I talk, they can’t interrupt. We’re are affectionate in front of our children. I want them to see Tiffani and I prioritizing our marriage.
2.) To see you live out your faith, not just talk about it
Your children might listen to your words, but they will follow your actions.
You can’t pass down faith you don’t model. Jesus must impact your decisions. His ways, which are strange and puzzling to the world, must inform your walk. Read Scripture with your children. Talk about Jesus at home. But don’t leave him there when you take the kids to the ballpark. Don’t talk about justice and never help those in need.
You might think your children are naive. Maybe you’re right. But you’re also naive if you think they aren’t watching (and modeling) your actions.
3.) A life without constant connection to technology
Whether your children are newborns, toddlers, or teenagers, it’s your job to disconnect them from technology. When your default response to boredom or public tantrums is technology, you build a craving in them for entertainment. You’re teaching them that life is a never-ending Disneyland experience. And you’re the tour guide. It’s not your job to entertain your children every waking moment. And it’s not your job to protect them from boredom.
I’m not against technology. But you need boundaries. Establish times when technology isn’t allowed, starting with the dinner table. Allow your children to feel boredom and work through it. It’s fun to visit Disneyland every few years. It’s exhausting when you try to bring Disneyland to your living room.
4.) Encourage them more than you correct them
Certain days, my vocabulary shrinks down to two words: no and stop. It’s so easy to highlight the negative. When your children mess up, it’s obvious. But what about the things they do right? Are you highlighting those?
As a parent, your yeses should outweigh your nos.
How often do you say, “I’m proud of you,” “I love you,” or “I’m thankful for you”? You have no idea of the power in affirmation. As a teenager, I longed for this, especially from my dad. I wanted to hear “I love you” from him so bad.
I knew he loved me, but I rarely heard it. And this left a seed of doubt in my mind.
Every day, your children make good choices. If you don’t verbalize them, it’s not just unfortunate. It’s bad stewardship. James 3 says words are like a destructive fire. Well, the opposite is also true. Words build up. Affirmative words that go unspoken are equivalent to extravagant gifts that go unopened.
Are you affirming your children? Do you build up more than you tear down?
5.) To know life isn’t fair
There’s a disturbing trend in America, especially in youth sports culture. It’s called the “participation trophy effect.” I just made that up, so don’t cite some copyright law. I won’t respond to you.
The “participation trophy effect” says everyone is a winner.
“It’s okay, Billy. You didn’t win the game. But you still get a trophy. Everyone’s a winner out here.”
No, they’re not.
I’m so grateful for my background in sports. They taught me about life. And I learned more from defeat than victory. Participation trophys don’t prepare your children for real life. In real life, not everyone gets a trophy. There are winners and losers. But, through loss and rejection, you learn. You develop perseverance and grit. Defeat might break you down, but you have an opportunity to rebuild stronger than before.
I want my boys to see failure, rejection, and loss as essential components of life. I want them to measure self-worth internally, not by a score on a scoreboard. I want them to know excellence and hard work matter. Life doesn’t give you a trophy because you show up. Sometimes you fail. But failure isn’t final.
6.) To say no and protect their boundaries
From the moment my boys could crawl, they pushed our boundaries. If we told them to stay away from the electrical outlet, they crawled to the electrical outlet. If we told them not to stand in the chair, they stood in the chair.
At first, I thought my kids were evil creatures who gained pleasure from my frustration.
Eventually, however, I realized they tested our boundaries because they wanted to ensure they actually existed.
Establish boundaries between your children and your expectations. They should clearly know what is appropriate. But you must also establish boundaries between your children and the endless barrage of activities and opportunities.
You can’t do everything. Your children can’t experience everything. To them, every opportunity looks good. It’s your job to keep your children grounded and prevent them from drowning in activities.
Overcommitment is one of the great idols of American Christianity. We worship this idol because it tells us we’re important and our children are gifted. And, unfortunately, we sacrifice our children on this altar. We enjoy the satisfaction from our children being the best. This gives us importance. But it creates teenagers stretched thin, obsessed with outward achievements, and overcome with anxiety.
Your children might not say this, but they need you to say no.
7.) Help them become the man or woman they were created to be, not who you want them to be
Before becoming a parent, I dreamed about having a son. We would play catch. I would coach his little league team. He would grow into an athletic shortstop and play college baseball.
Somewhere between conception and birth, God started working on my heart. I realized my dreams weren’t about my son at all. They were about me. I wanted to relive the moments that highlighted my childhood. God challenged me to see my children like he does, without pre-conceived expectations.
Maybe my children will play baseball and golf like their old man. But I’m much more concerned with helping them become the men and women God created them to be. As parents, this should be your goal. Help your children recognize their gifts, those things they naturally do well. Give them space to explore and try new things. Don’t impose your expectations on them.
And never compare your children. They’re created uniquely, not equally. The barometer for your children isn’t a sibling or your friends’ kids. It’s the mirror. Teach them to compete against the person they were yesterday, not the person beside them.
Your greatest competition in the fight for greatness is the man in the mirror. Stop comparing your children. Start challenging them to be the best version of themselves.
8.) Talk about sex and other hard topics early and often
My youngest son is almost three, but he’s already curious about the body. He asks about different “parts” and why boy and girls don’t “look the same.” So (cue the awkwardness) we’ve already had a sex talk with him. Not like the one he’ll receive as a teenager. But we’ve explained that God created boys and girls with certain body parts. We also explained that God created Micah’s “parts” only for Micah, and Noah’s “parts” for Noah. No one should touch their “parts” and they shouldn’t touch other’s “parts.”
That’s elementary, yes.
But Tiffani and I are determined not to dodge the uncomfortable subjects. Growing up, I had one painfully awkward sex talk. Literally, it was painful. It’s like an unexpected bombshell of private parts and words you can’t pronounce blows up in your face, severing your desire to ever discuss sex with your parents.
Rather than dropping a bombshell on your children, why not teach them about sex like you would other things God created? Why not diffuse the awkward bomb with periodic conversations?
You can’t avoid the hard subjects. Your children will inevitably learn about sex. They will hear about drugs and alcohol. The question is who will tell them?
To sit back and assume they’ll figure it out is bad parenting. Sex is a beautiful gift from God. But when it’s used outside of God’s boundaries, sex destroys. And if you don’t create a culture of open dialogue, your children will find a culture that does. And that usually doesn’t end well.
9.) Pray for them, with them, and over them
I plead with you to pray for your children, whether they’re a few days old or few days from graduation. I would not be here without the flood of prayers from my parents and close friends.
Tiffani and I pray with our boys every night. We also pray over them, individually. We pray for their future spouse. We pray for God to surround them with a Christ-centered community. We pray for God to protect their heart and mind.
Prayer trumps any parenting style. It’s also a blanket of grace, covering your mistakes and failures. When your children struggle, this blanket catches them.
Prayer changes things.
I don’t have parenting figured out. It’s incredibly weighty and difficult, but it’s also immensely rewarding. By God’s grace, you’re shaping the eternal trajectory of your children.
Although the world is complex and loaded with pitfalls, your children can thrive if you give them what they need.
I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!