Mixing Nurture and Admonition: Parenting (Part 2)

[Continued from Part 1.]

πŸ‘¦πŸ» You are not your child's friend.  Since you are responsible to make choices for his welfare, you have to be the bad guy sometimes.  My heart has longed for my children to "love me" but I have had to make decisions that were in their best interest which sometimes made them upset with me.  My job is not to win their love but to do what is best for them.  Place your happiness in God's hands, not your children's.

πŸ‘¦πŸ» The goal of rearing children is their independence...from you. Independence FROM YOU. This is one that gets forgotten because we enjoy that close relationship we have with our children and it is hard to give it up. I guess the really scary part is to put the choice for a close relationship in their hands and fearing that they do not want to be as involved with you as you want to be with them. I see parents becoming dependent on the children's affection and company and not wanting them to leave.  I also see parents not teaching independence, making the child unable to function without them.  A baby is fully dependent on his parent for everything: food, warmth, even holding up his head.  From birth on, we are teachers, training that child to do things on his own.  We have approximately eighteen years to get them to full independence. We clap and rejoice when they learn to walk on their own, but are we as happy when they are eighteen and the training is done and they do not need our help?  I use the phrase "Be your own mother" with my students.  You should not need a mother (in the sense of needing a manager and caretaker) as much today as you did yesterday.  You should be able to tell yourself what to do. 

Getting that gradual timing right takes a lot of wisdom. Even with the little taste I've had of my oldest child going to college and interning far away in the summers, I can tell you that it is satisfying to the parent and the child for the child to have the wherewithal to be on his own.  Going away to Christian college has proven to be a good transitional environment between living at home and living independently, for my husband, for me and for our son. 

Sending our children into the world without having trained them with our point of view on how to handle things may leave them vulnerable.  We decided to allow our children to get a Facebook account on their fifteenth birthdays so that we had a few years to train them in how to use it.  We had many limitations on it at first but gradually weaned them off of those to see if they made right decisions.  When they did not, we backed up a step.  This is training.  I would hate to think of the trouble a young adult could get in on the internet by facing those issues on his own.  At least we were there to guide him through it and he knew our reasoning behind what we taught him.

πŸ‘¦πŸ» Be real.  My children watch me mess up regularly.  It's embarrassing but would be more embarrassing and damaging if I did not own up to it.  There's no need to pretend I'm someone else to my children.  They see me every day, good days and bad days, or I should say when I do right and when I do wrong.  Your children will learn to face reality and take responsibility for themselves if they see you do it. I also want them exposed at the appropriate ages to problems they will eventually face. Seeing their parents deal with problems will give them the tools to deal with those problems when it is their turn.  My prayer has always been for God to use my successes AND my failures to benefit my children.  I just have to trust that He will turn my mistakes into lessons for them. 

πŸ‘¦πŸ» Keep talking.  Talk about everything and anything. Your listening to her talk about her doll when she is four will pave the way for her to talk about boys when she is fourteen. Our goal has always been that our children feel free to talk to us about anything.  To make that happen, you cannot blow up when they drop bombs on you.  Expect them.  They will know about and wonder about things way before you wanted them to. No question was off limits--always in private but anything was fair game. When those bombs come, you should whisper "Thank You, God, that they are coming to ME with this." If there's a problem, they are seeking your wisdom.  If they are curious, give them just as much age-appropriate information as they need to satisfy that curiosity.  

I've heard it said that your parents are your lifelong friends--womb to tomb, birth to earth. Well, parents are friends to children in that they do good things for them but hopefully you really can be mutual friends as adults. You spend all of their childhood setting a foundation for this potential future friendship.  Keep the airways open and give the advice when asked. Then let the child make his decision about what to do and let him enjoy the reward or pay the consequences himself. This is a good formula for being the parent of an adult.

πŸ‘¦πŸ» Respect your children. I have always acknowledged the fact that my baby was just an adult in his early phase.  I look at adults as former children.  I see a boy as a future grandfather. We are all our own people.  We just intersect each other's lives at different ages and life deserves respect.  

I have always said "Would you please" when I have TOLD my child what to do.  "Thank you", "I'm sorry", "Please", even "Yes, Sir" and "Yes, Ma'am" were phrases I used consistently in speaking to my children. Your children will not respect you if you do not respect them, and there is a difference in respecting your position and respecting YOU.  I wonder if the same people who openly mock political leaders are the same ones who are shaking their heads about "these disrespectful kids these days". You teach respect by showing respect.

I am horrified to see children humiliated in public by "adults".  You know, the ones who read a student the riot act in front of the class, the one that posts a picture of his child wearing a sign about what he did wrong, or the very loud mom in the store showing us all how to keep children in their places. That gets you nowhere with a child except to prove to him that you are not respectable.  Humiliation is not a tactic we used with our children, which made it obvious to them whenever some other adult tried it on them.  If they committed an offense, we handled it privately. (Remember, keep private things private.). And, yes, even if they committed the offense publicly, we handled it privately.  Any apologies were made face to face that were necessary, but embarrassment does not pave the way for a child (or anyone else) to soften his heart. Committing a public offense is childish.  Handling it with wisdom is adultish. 

Also, respect the child's dignity. Bathtub and potty training pictures are vault-type pictures. When you are in the baby days and your life is about bodily functions and issues, you are accustomed to discussing that daily. Some of the rest of us are not.  Those details are your child's most confidential information. Be trustworthy with it. Guard his dignity, even as a baby.

πŸ‘¦πŸ» All children are different.  Even children who have the same two parents learn at different rates and in different ways. They have different interests. Do not compare one child to another.  My children are all gifted in obviously different areas and have their own niches, but even so, I could get an instant tearful reaction if I ever mentioned how one child got it right and this child got it wrong.  You just don't go there.  It really isn't fair. They are different people.  Do not hold one up to the yardstick of another, but speak in terms of doing right or wrong.  And do not forget that they all will not end up living identical lives when they are adults.  They are not who they are because of who you are. They are individuals with a common starting point.

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Being a parent can feel like a terrifying responsibility but God never asks us to do something that He does not equip us to do.  Make "Lord, I need Your wisdom" your daily prayer.  There will be times that you have no idea what to do.  Stay close to God and He will guide you through this most important task of your life, and you will be the object of His help in rearing the children He has given to you.

Mixing Nurture and Admonition: Parenting (Part 1)

This is one of those posts that I hesitate to publish. I do not pretend to be an authority on child-rearing and frequently think of things I wish I had done differently along the way. I have three children who all have some great attitudes, but Jeff and I cannot take credit for that. Sure we are pleased with the good things we consistently modeled for them, but they each have to decide for themselves if they will adopt those beliefs and behaviors. 

Every child has a mind of his own. We can make him behave in a certain way but it is his choice as to whether he submits his heart to wisdom. My father-in-law preached a sermon entitled "No Credit, No Blame" which emphasized the inconsistency of taking credit for your child's good decisions but not blame for his bad ones. We should take neither one. We are certainly accountable for how we rear our children, but we cannot control what they do with that upbringing.

Parenting does not produce the person. The person is β€œproduced” by his own free will, the choices he makes. A child can be raised well, by good people, and turn out badly. Contrarily, a child can be raised badly and turn out well. I call this the Paradoxical Parenting Principle. Parenting and the child/person is not a cause/effect relationship. Parenting is an influence and one’s job, certainly, is to maximize the positive aspects of the influence, but even the most positive parenting does not guarantee a positive outcome.
— John Rosemond

If you set your sights on your child turning out to be a certain way, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. You've heard the phrase "little me". Your child is not a little you.  He is a little him. He may have many similarities to you but be assured that he is his own person.  God designed him to be able to do certain things easily.  He has strengths you do not possess and that you did not teach him. Parents need to remember that we are simply channels and guardians.  While they do belong to us, we are their way of passage into this world and we nurture them until they are able to stand alone.  

Having children makes parents permanently vulnerable. Our children's choices in life have the ability to break our hearts or to make our hearts glad. I've heard it said that a mother is only as happy as her saddest child. The reality is that their adult lives are theirs, just as yours is yours.  It always helps me to remember myself at their ages and how immature, unsure, and unknowing I was, yet eager to tackle life and to make the best of it. They will learn the same way we did--by experience.

With those thoughts in mind, let's consider some specific attitudes we as parents need as we strive to bring up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. These are good for teachers to remember as well.

πŸ‘¦πŸ» Be consistent. Your walk HAS to match your talk.  Children can spot the difference instantly and nobody respects a hypocrite. Also remember that repetition aids in learning. Be prepared to teach the same lesson over and over.  One child may learn after being taught 20 times.  Another may take 2000 times.  Don't give up. Don't give in.  If it's right, you should keep insisting on it.

πŸ‘¦πŸ» Set the foundation before kindergarten.  The parent of a small child needs to be on the job in a big way.  The child is figuring out how things work and you had better make yourself clear.  Set aside involvement in your other interests. The time will come later for those but you have a much more important job right now--training that child.  Just the physical work alone is enough to make you exhausted so trying to have other ministries or hobbies will just frustrate you, though you will have to be careful that the child is not convinced that he is the center of your universe. To everything there is a season. You have to be able to be on that job and still have time to maintain your own body and sanity with scheduled breaks. I think if parents were fully focused on the importance of teaching their babies and toddlers, their parenting work would be mostly done by kindergarten.  There have been many times in correcting my older children that I thought "I didn't conquer this when they were little so I am still having to work on it."  You need to be very convincing to your toddler so you do not have to keep trying to convince them for years to come. 

To see a well-behaved, happy child is jaw-dropping to me.  I am in awe like some would be of fancy cars or huge muscles.  It shows that a lot of effort has been expended to make that child so secure in his parents' authority and not fighting for his own way. Of course, the increase is not of us but of the Lord.

πŸ‘¦πŸ» Mean what you say and say what you mean. I learned early not to make an empty threat. If you are not willing to carry it through to the end, do not say it.  You'd better speak carefully when you say what you will or will not do.  Sometimes I even have to write it down so I remember what I said.  I promise you that they will remember. Many is the time that I have immediately said "No. You are not going to do that" and then wanted to soften my statement after I've heard the whole story but hesitant to go back on my word.  I didn't have to put myself in that position if I would just be slower to speak.  Threats and bribes are not the way to go.  Think more in terms of consequences and rewards.  We are not their bullies or their beggars. They should know that there will be consequences, and rewards are something I have often kept to myself until it was earned.  They have no idea how many rewards they forfeited.  Keep them guessing with the rewards, not the consequences. 

On the flip side, say what you mean. Do not assume they know what you expect. Say it clearly, whether it is a curfew or "I love you." Speaking your heart to someone, looking them in the eye, is difficult for some people. Some would rather praise someone in a prayer or correct someone online than to say it to his face. We should be able to own up to what we say, and children need steady doses of "I love you" and "I'm proud of you," especially from their fathers. 

πŸ‘¦πŸ» You represent God to your child. You are the justice system in your home. This hearkens back to being consistent.  You must make decisions based on what is right and wrong.  Punishment for a teenager breaking a lamp should be different based on whether they accidentally backed into it or if they knocked it off in anger.  We punish according to the offense (accident or anger), not according to how we feel about it (That was my favorite lamp!).  They shouldn't be punished worse if the lamp broke (though they would need to replace it) than if it just fell over.  You are punishing the loss of control, not how upset it made you. How we handle punishment and reward gives children an understanding of the character of God. 

πŸ‘¦πŸ» In justice remember mercy.  Remember that thing about representing God?  He is fully just yet always falls on the side of mercy.  There are times that you show love to your child by not punishing to the full extent.  If you show mercy in every instance then there is no justice.  It must be obviously unusual.  They should know what they deserve but we should sometimes let up a bit, particularly when they have had a tough time lately.  There have been a few times when my daughter was covered up with school, basketball, flute practice, youth group, not feeling well, and deadlines that she arrived home to find that I cleaned her room.  Sometimes you just need a little sunshine to help you make it through. It is the goodness of God that brings you to repentance (Romans 2:4).  Being good to a child softens his heart and paves the way for repentance.

πŸ‘¦πŸ» Just because they did not do it on purpose does not mean they should not be punished.  Children need to learn that they are responsible for what they do.  If they pinch brother's finger in the door accidentally, they are still the one who pinched the finger.  They should apologize and possibly be punished for carelessness. You will hear many times "But I didn't do it on purpose!"  This is a clue that they have not learned to be responsible for their actions. They should feel sad that the hurt was because of them. 

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[Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.]