Parenting has been different than I imagined it would be as we prepared to welcome our first daughter into the world over fifteen years ago. For one thing, having grown up with nothing but brothers, I never imagined having three daughters and one son. Like every brash young man without children, I knew exactly how I would parent my children and exactly what I would in every situation. It did not take long before I realized that almost everything I assumed had been wrong.
In many ways, parenting has been a school of hard knocks for me because I never thought that my children would actually be sinners who ignored or rebelled against what I told them instead of being a mindless automaton who always said, “yes sir Dad. I’ll do that right now.” Through every one of my four children shattering my misconceptions about parenting, dealing with my own sin, learning how to work together with Beth to parent our children well, and seeing what a joy and blessing children can be, I’ve learned a lot on this journey.
What follows is not an exhaustive list of everything that needs to be said about parenting, but these are nine lessons I have learned along the way.
Your Children Need You to Have a Strong Marriage
If you are married with children, you don’t have the option of hitting the pause button on your marriage until you have raised them. You are part of a one-flesh union that needs to be cultivated for the glory of God and for your joy. Therefore, you should put your kids to bed at a decent hour so that you can spend time with your spouse. While I agree with everyone who stresses the importance of date night, I have found that the day in and day out time together is of greater importance. Make the time each day to laugh together, do something together, and talk with each other about something other than the kids. A healthy marriage often leads to healthy parenting.
Eat Dinner with Your Children around the Table Often
If you were to ask me to name an overwhelming image from my childhood, it would be sitting around the dinner table and laughing with my family. Naturally, this was something I wanted for our children as well and the benefits of trying to eat several meals a week together at night have been legion. At the table we talk, laugh, tell stories, teach important lessons, and simply enjoy being together. Some of the best times of connecting with our kids have come around the table.
Ask for Forgiveness from Your Children When You are Wrong
We do not enjoy admitting when we are wrong. This can be especially true when it comes to our children. We don’t like to admit when we have wronged them because it possibly gives our children the upper hand against us. As hard as it may be, if you have falsely accused your children of something, made a mistake that negatively affected them, or lost your temper with them; apologize and ask for their forgiveness. Don’t use it as a time to correct their behavior or point out how they contributed to what you did. Just say you were wrong and ask them to forgive you. This models repentance for your children, teaches them to own their own sin when they are wrong, and builds trust between you.
Losing Your Temper with Your Children is Lose-Lose
Write James’s words, “the anger of man cannot achieve the righteousness of God” over all of your parenting. When you lose your temper with your children, it undermines whatever good you may have been trying to do in disciplining them. They stop listening to what you are saying to them and only think about the fact that you are angry with them. In the strength that God’s Spirit provides, work hard to control your temper, modeling for your children how to love your neighbor and exercise self-control. This way they can focus on what they need to learn instead of thinking about how much your tone scares them.
Discipline Your Children for Disobedience, but not for Mistakes
Sometimes as parents, we get angry with our children for things they did that were accidents. This teaches our kids that they get in trouble for making mistakes. We must have the wisdom to know the difference between our children disobeying and making a mistake. For example, if you told your child not to get milk out of the refrigerator and he does it anyway, that’s disobedience. If you tell him he can have milk and he spills it, that’s a mistake. Know the difference and respond accordingly.
Answer Your Children’s Hard Questions
My children ask many questions I would prefer not to answer. Either the answer is complicated or uncomfortable to talk about. They are going to get their questions answered somewhere, though, and I want them to know they can come to Mom and Dad with their questions. This means we have long repeated talks about spiritual truths, explaining them the best way we know how. The hardest conversations are the ones that bring up the ugly side of life or the pain of this world, but these subjects cannot be avoided. We’ve had many talks about death, divorce, war, poverty, and a host of other issues I didn’t think we would talk about before their tenth birthday. The conversations are not always comfortable, but they build trust and allow us to help shape our children’s view of the world.
Stop Freaking Out About Your Children
I meet many parents who are afraid they will unalterably damage their children before they are old enough to speak. The truth is that you are not going to “screw up” your child if you love them, teach them, and treat them with respect. These fears come from our desire to control everything and parenting shakes our control issues like few other things in life do. God is in control and you aren’t, so raise your children in the way he has laid out in his word and trust him. He’s good and he does good. (Closely related to this is the ridiculous list of things we believe we must provide for our children so they can have a magical childhood. Release yourself from the pressure of having to provide your child with amazing experiences all the time. It’s nothing but guilt-inducing madness created by burdens that God hasn’t put on you.)
Have Fun with Your Children
This is closely related to my previous point. Sometimes we get so caught up in doing things for our children that we forget to do things with them. Take a walk, go to the park, play a game, or pillow fight. Do fun things with your children. They’re funny, fun to be around, and these years go by faster than you can image. Enjoy it with them.
Teach Your Children the Gospel in Everyday Life
The temptation when we think about teaching the Gospel to our kids is to only think about family devotions and taking our kids to church each Sunday. Teaching our children the Gospel does take place through family devotions and our local church body, but it takes place in other ways as well. Talk about the Gospel with your children as an everyday part of life. This is what Moses had in mind in Deuteronomy 6 when he tells us to talk about these things when we sit in the house and when we walk by the way. When you want to encourage your child to be kind, remind them of the kindness God has shown to them through Jesus. Use the love of God to teach about loving your neighbor. Talk about your own spiritual life, listen to good Gospel-centered music together, and let the language of the Gospel shape the language of your home.
“Why Your Children Need Your Time and Attention“
For Further Reading:
Raising Boys by Design by Dr. Gregory Jantz and Michael Gurian