Often, as a “Nana and Papa,” my husband and I are asked for parenting advice. We were blessed to have been lovingly parented—and also fortunate to have received helpful God-focused training throughout the years while parenting our own kids. I am truly grateful. Along the way we have had the opportunity to counsel countless other families through spiritual one-on-one training as well as large class settings. Nothing we “possess” is more valuable to us than our children, and fortunately many parents are in the quest to parent well. If I were to quickly jot down my “top dozen parenting tips” perhaps they might look something like this:
- Give foremost attention to your spiritual life. There is nothing more important than your kids knowing God. After all, think about it…. What will really be important (or lasting) 100 years from now? The schools they attended? The sports they participated in? The money they made? As King David told his son,“And Solomon, my son, learn to know the God of your ancestors intimately. Worship and serve him with your whole heart and a willing mind. For the LORD sees every heart and knows every plan and thought. If you seek him, you will find him. But if you forsake him, he will reject you forever. So take this seriously.” 1 Chronicles 28:9-10a (NLT)
You simply cannot pass on what you don’t have. And, you will quickly run out of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness and self-control as a parent if you are not filled within, from a divine resource.
- When your priorities are loving God first and your spouse next—your children will feel the most love possible from you and will be most prepared for life’s challenges. If you make your children your first priority, where life revolves around them— insecurity and the tendency to be self-focused and entitled follows. Nothing produces security more than your consistent walk with God and your love, trust and respect for your spouse.
- Remember, children are to obey their parents, not parents obey their children.(Eph. 6:1) It’s easy to mix this up. While their children are young I’ve seen far too many parents try to reason with their children. It doesn’t work to reason with toddlers. They will learn to manipulate you faster than you can blink. It’s a great disservice to them when we hold back discipline, or practice half-hearted and inconsistent discipline. If they keep on disobeying, telling you “no,” and being generally defiant and disrespectful, you need to patiently and persistently keep on disciplining—and make it count enough until they learn to change their behavior. Our forehead must be stronger than theirs. When they win as toddlers, it’s going to be a rough road ahead.
- Talk to your children—a lot. (conversation…not nagging, complaining or belittling) Before they can talk, talk to them about God. Sing with them. Pray with them. Build great habits of conversation…talking and listening. Talk about dogs,oceans, clouds, spiders, birds,trees, ducks…awesome things (in the true sense of the word), little things and funny things. Teach them to be kind, engaging… and to share. As they get older, talk about real life. When they are in early elementary years begin to talk to them about harder subjects…the things they hear in school, the swear words they hear and what they mean (so they can realize that the ways they are used are stupid and don’t even make sense.) Talk to them about sexual temptations and violations of all kinds and as they get older how to “flee immorality” and “overcome evil with good.” Talk to them about ways to overcome peer pressure and through this kind of communication build a spirit of openness, so they will want to talk with you about their struggles. When they do, respond graciously while sharing your understanding of the struggle. We struggled too, and it’s a tough world out there. Talk to them (and illustrate by example) about how to respond righteously when life isn’t fair…because we can be assured it will not be.
- Beginning when your children are young, make the “dinner table” a priority. Too often, late work hours and extra-curricular activities rob a family of the invaluable time gathered around a table of love and good food…where conversation can freely flow. The food is not the centerpiece of the table. It can be simple. The love and conversation is the main course. This is a great time to share each other’s highs and lows from the day and to take time to connect with each other. This time doesn’t happen accidentally. We have to “fight for it.” We must make choices. If we are too busy to put into our families the things most important, then we are too busy. Make the best choices. Your time with them is really quite short.
- Electronics can become a substitute parent if you are not careful. They desire to take a tight grip on the attention of your entire family. Our attention—email, phone, television and social media. Theirs—Games, TV, games, iTunes, games, movies (and phone and social media as they get older) Monitor the time spent with devices so they don’t take a death grip on you or your children. Don’t be naive about the lure and ease of accessing pornography. If your kids (particularly your sons) have a smart phone or internet access you can be assured they will see it and be tempted to be enticed again and again. That’s the evil marketing plan. Again, please don’t be naive or lazy on this one. Don’t forget about the “lost art” of reading. Read to your children when they can’t read…then introduce great, healthy reading when they can read on their own. Read stories of faith from the Bible and read stories that build and celebrate strong character–as well as those that entertain and capture their imagination.
- Teach them about grace. We all make mistakes, and one of the most important lessons we can learn is to forgive—like God does with us. Practice saying you are sorry when you mess up and expect the same from your child. Assure them it’s “okay to mess up.” We can grow stronger from our failures. Don’t leave things “hanging,” unspoken and unresolved. “I’m sorry, please forgive me and I forgive you,” are words that should be plentiful. Be generous with hugs.
- Get to know your child, really. And let them get to know you. Listen to him/her. Study them. As they get older, be vulnerable with them and let them know your heart… and get to know their heart. Quite often they will think differently from you, which can be a challenge for us. Learn how they think, and learn to accept them, while not being afraid to guide them. You have to ask questions, watch, and be a good listener (and pray-er) to figure this out. Learn from them, too. Show them respect.
- Give boatloads of encouragement. It’s a tough world out there and there is so much pressure from the world on them (hopefully not from us) to perform, and to be all the things the world says they need to be…most of which are empty and vain. Peers can be cruel. Our children need to know how deeply they are loved, and specific things we love and appreciate about them—particularly areas of their character. (We tried to make sure there were about ten times as many encouragements as corrections…and sometimes that meant a whole lot of encouragement. 🙂
- Teach them to love their siblings and to work out conflicts. Teach them to love those who are not easy to love at school, at church and in their neighborhood… and to have compassion on the disabled and those who don’t seem to easily make friends, or are the new kids in town. Teach them to love, period. They will learn best by example.
- Make your home one that is welcoming to friends…with warmth (and good food) abounding. When love exudes from your home, others want to be recipients. Learn to laugh a lot—and try to not take yourself overly seriously.
- Have trusted spiritual friends and advisers in your life who can encourage you, help you see your blind spots, and with whom you can build pleasant and lasting memories as “extended family.” Teach your children to love the church, even though it is made of imperfect people, just like us.
In a future post, I’ll ask our adult children to respond to these twelve parenting tips with “the view from the other side.”