I am an observer. I like to watch the world around me. Whether I am in a coffee shop, driving down the road, or hanging out at the ballpark, I just enjoy taking in the environment. Maybe this is a product of some ADD, but I would like to think it is a gift. During Old Testament times, I would have been a prime candidate to be the guy who sat on top of the outer wall and scanned the area for suspicious movement and activity. Nobody would have been able to sneak by me regardless of their level of sneakiness.
I observe a lot, and I see a lot in many different arenas of my life. One particular arena where I have done a lot of observation is parenting. I became a parent two and a half years ago, and I have been learning from day 1. I now have two boys (and in the process of adopting a baby girl from Ethiopia), and it seems like every day presents a new challenge and a new reason to smile. I have observed so much, and I want to take some time to highlight a few observations I have made in my short time as a parent.
1.) Good parenting never takes a day off.
I am not at all interested in getting into a discussion on “original sin,” but if you try to tell me kids are not born evil, I am going to call you a fool (in the nicest way possible, of course). My two boys have been evil from birth. Both of them decided to pee on the nurses before they could be transferred from mom’s belly to the cleaning table. That’s pretty evil. I do not say this as an eternal pessimist…I say this as a realist. The truth is kids are constantly pushing the limits, and psychologists would tell you kids do this because they are longing for boundaries. This is really an entirely separate post, but people, especially kids, need boundaries. They long for boundaries (Dr. Henry Cloud has a lot to say about this in his book, Boundaries For Kids). Here is what that means practically. Parents must always be in the boundary setting, teaching, and correcting mode. Good coaches know this…there is never a moment during practice where a coach is not teaching. Well, for parents, life is like a constant “practice,” and we must always be in a mode of teaching and correcting. Taking days off is not an option because establishing boundaries means we constantly teach, model, and correct.
2.) Children are remarkably perceptive.
Your children are watching you…they are watching everything you do. They are watching your actions, the way you interact with other people, they are listening to what you say, etc. They are also taking in the environment. They notice what is on tv. They notice how much you are on your phone.
Do not be naive…kids are incredibly perceptive.
If you are a parent, it is vital to acknowledge this reality. What your kids see you doing as a parent has an impact on their actions, behavior, and understanding about life. I have noticed on several occasions where Noah (my oldest child) has seen me do something and then he proceeds to do it. I soon slap myself for doing what I just did. Maybe you have been there.
I think it is important that my kids see me loving my wife, Tiffani, well. It is important they see me praying and taking my relationship with God seriously. It is important that my children see me helping others. I could on, but I think you get the point.
Do not expect your children to become something that you are not modeling to them every day.Click to tweet
3.) Children are extremely moldable.
This point builds on the previous one. I know abut the book The Strong-Willed Child, but I also believe this…children are moldable. As a parent, I believe I have the power to mold my child. This is all about the shaping power of culture. Humans are shaped by culture. Period. And the more any person is involved in a culture, the greater influence that culture will have on them (there is a fascinating book about the power of culture called Culture Making by Andy Crouch…I recommend it highly). So, in what culture do your kids spend most of their time? The answer should be the culture at home. And if this is true, what happens in your home is going to have a significant impact on the present and future trajectory of your kids…good or bad.
As parents we are shapers and molders. We are artists, in a sense. But when I say we are molders and shapers, something really important is pre-supposed: you have to work to mold and shape children. Molding and shaping takes a substantial amount of time, consistency, and persistence. It does not just happen. Start molding now.
4.) Godly, respectful children do not just happen.
So, I have danced around this one in the previous three points. Now I am stating it explicitly. Godly, respectful children are not just going to happen because you are awesome, nor do they grow on trees. I believe there two things that are important: a vision for what values you want instilled in your child in the future, and intentionality working to instill those values in the present.
I have a vision for my children. This vision is not a result of me wanting to live vicariously through them, nor is it rooted in a desire to force them to become something they do not want to become. I want my children to discover their talents and gifts, then use those gifts. This vision is rooted in a desire I have for my children to be something other than what the surrounding culture is mass producing.
I want my children to love the Lord intimately and live fearlessly for Him. I want them to be married to one person for the entirety of their lives. When they are 20, 30, 40, etc., I want to be able to sit down with them over a cup of coffee and talk about how the Lord is working in their lives. That is what I want for my children. Just like molding and painting, the final picture does not just happen. There are intentional things that must happen NOW to bring about the future vision.
Just having a vision for my children does not mean they will fulfill the vision I have for them. But I also know it is ridiculous for me to desire them to follow Jesus when they are adults and not model what it looks like to follow Jesus now. It is absurd for me to assume my children are going to remain married to one person forever if I do not model for them and teach them what it looks like. Can it happen? Yes! But, it is much less likely to happen if they have no framework for it.
Let me challenge you to be intentional with your kids. I do not care if your children are about to leave the house or if they are still crawling, start now being intentional about the values you want your kids to have.
5.) Good parenting purges selfishness.
There were two big events in my life that opened my eyes to the depth of my selfishness. Marriage was the first event…becoming a parent was the second. I am a selfish man, and becoming a parent made me realize just how selfish I am. This statement is true…
When Noah was born, I realized my life was no longer about me. I wanted to spend more of my time pouring into him and loving him. This became even more true with my second child. I still have the evil of selfishness lurking around, but God has really used kids to purge me of some level of selfishness. I am thankful for that.
6.) Parenting increases dependence on God.
I do believe it is possible to raise good kids without the Lord, but I also believe it is impossible for my children to become the people I desire them to be without the Lord. Parents who do not know the Lord can raise their children to be good people, but my ultimate goal is not for them to be good people…my ultimate goal is for them to love the Lord with every fabric of their being. I can not make that happen on my own.
Parenting is a daunting responsibility with eternal implications, and these two truths often overwhelm me. The combination of these two things forces me to my knees a lot. I pray for my children every day. I know I can not do this on my own. I desperately need the power of the Spirit to fill the gaps and draw my children closer to God. I pray to God for wisdom to parent and handle situations in a way that will draw my children closer to Him. In areas where I fail my children and do a poor job of reflecting the image of God, I need the Spirit to use even my weaknesses and inefficiencies to draw my children to God. I understand I have a responsibility to be intentional, to teach, and to correct, but I also acknowledge that without God’s power and presence actively working through me and my children, I am fighting a losing battle.
I know I am early in the game, so I would be curious to hear from some other parents that have been in the game much longer. What have you learned What has worked for you? What has not worked? Maybe the comments thread could provide a helpful dialogue on how to raise children and be more effective parents.
I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!