Parents, don’t you wish that children came with a “Users Manual”? It seems that, of all things, there ought to be some official guide to parenting.
But there’s not.
And, as young parents, sometimes it takes a little while to grasp certain ideas and principles – realities – of parenting. My boys are grown now, transitioning in to adulthood, and I really couldn’t be more proud of how they turned out. I had great parents who were great examples in how to parent well, but some things I just had to learn along the way. Here are a few of them…
7 Truths Young Parents Need To Grasp Sooner Rather Than Later
1. There is no such thing as the perfect parent.
Nope. Doesn’t exist.
No matter how hard you might want to be perfect – no matter how hard you might try – it’s not going to happen. So stop trying.
Accept the fact that we all make mistakes as parents. Don’t try and deny it, cover it up or ignore it. Just accept it. And, when you do make a mistake (which, in my case, was often!), deal with appropriately.
Apologize, if necessary (yes, even to your 3 year old!).
Make amends where you can.
Learn from it always.
2. Every moment matters.
I’ve spent a lot of time with my sons throughout their lifetime. I’ve made their “events” priority. I’ve been in a family situation where I often was able to take them to school or pick them up. They’ve participated in my work (which was pretty easy since I spent the majority of their growing up years as a Children’s & Family Pastor).
I’ve been blessed.
But I’ve also been very intentional. I made moments with them priority.
And I’m so, so glad I did. As they move in to adulthood, I cherish the memories of the moments we had as they grew up. I honestly don’t know how I would deal with looking back and realizing that I had missed out on those moments. I do that with the few moments that I did miss out on. I can’t imagine if that was the norm.
And, so, make the moments priority.
They are more important than most meetings.
They are more important than most business trips.
They are more important than most personal pursuits.
They are more important that [ fill in the blank ].
And, here’s the thing…as important as these moments are to you (which becomes more and more obvious as they grow up), they are even more important to your child.
Every. Moment. Matters.
3. Every day is a new building block in your child’s growth.
The opposite side of the coin to “every moment matters” is that every day is a new building block in your child’s growth.
Children are not little adults, so don’t treat them that way.
Children probably won’t learn the lesson the first time, so don’t expect them to.
Children won’t accomplish the skill without practice, so don’t push them to do so.
Growth takes time.
That’s obvious when it comes to physical growth, but sometimes parents don’t see mental, emotional or spiritual growth in quite the same way. We force things on our kids, or have expectations of their behavior or abilities beyond which they are capable.
They don’t have that building block in the wall just yet.
So, be patient, repeat yourself over and over, encourage them to learn, and celebrate when they do!
4. Community counts.
My boys had a unique community growing up. For most of the first 12 years of their life, we lived next to a Christian children’s camp (Indian Hills Camp). The families around us were young families, also, and so the boys (and us!) grew up in a community which stayed pretty much the same for all those 12 years. In all, the families had 11 kids, all of whom are like brothers and sisters to this day.
As I said, it was unique.
But it taught me the importance of community and consistency in the lives of children. It helps them to thrive in so many ways.
Now, I understand that our situation isn’t possible for virtually anyone else, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create community in the neighborhood, in the church, or in any number of other ways. You have to figure out what that looks like for your family. The point is to be intentional about creating community for your kids.
I also understand that staying put isn’t always possible (nor is it likely) for a lot of families. We ended moving from the camp and, about 5 years later, to another state. In many respects we forced our kids to start all over in creating community. But they will always be part of the community they developed early on.
5. Listening is every bit as important as talking.
As parents, we have all the answers, right? At least, that’s the way many of us act.
We tell them where to go, what to do and how to do it. We make our opinions their opinions. We give little heed to ideas, thoughts or solutions that they might offer.
We talk at the expense of listening.
After all, we have all the answers.
Except, we don’t.
We need to allow them to express their thoughts, ideas and opinions. We need to give them room to be creative. We need to have conversations instead of always telling them what and how to think. We need to let them be wrong.
And the older a child gets, the more important it is to do this.
Of course, as parents there are many times when we just need to make the decision, tell them what’s happening, or restrict them from expressing themselves inappropriately. But the earlier we set a pattern of two way interaction instead of one way interaction, the more likely we are to continue that pattern in to the older years where they won’t accept not being listened to.
Listening is every bit a part of a conversation as talking is. And every bit as important for parents.
6. Shaping your child’s heart is more important than modifying your child’s behavior.
1 Samuel 16:7 says:
The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
The “outward appearance” not only includes the outward physical appearance, but also the outward behavior, and too often parents are most concerned about the behavior of their child instead of what really matters, and that’s the heart.
Proverbs 4:23 says:
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”
Who we are – our values, beliefs and, ultimately, behavior – comes from our heart. We are to be vigilant in keeping it safe from that which would do us harm.
As parents, it is our responsibility in the early years to “keep” the hearts of our children safe. We do that by protecting it and shaping it. Yes, how a child behaves is important, but it’s importance lies in what it reveals about the child’s heart.
How to shape a child’s heart is far too big a topic to address in part of a blog post, but I would recommend reading Parenting is Heart Work by Turansky and Miller.
And focus on shaping your child’s heart more than modifying your child’s behavior.
7. Hold your child loosely and let go often.
Oh, this is hard!! As I write this, I have one son who is a freshman in college and another who is just a few weeks from graduating high school (and planning on heading to Australia for a year in just 8 months).
Letting go at this age is really about letting go – as in physically moving away. And it’s hard!
But I discovered something along the way in parenting my sons that really surprised me, and that is that there are many times when we have to let go of our kids.
- We have to let go when they go to school and are no longer under our watch 24 hours a day
- We have to let go when they begin to pursue an activity that really isn’t an interest of ours
- We have to let go when they want to be with their friends more than they want to be with us
- We have to let go when they begin expressing their own opinions about things
- We have to let go when they want to engage in experiences of their own (travel ball, youth mission trips, etc.)
- We have to let go when they begin showing interest in the opposite sex
And the list can go on and on.
We have to let go often, and continually.
And the key is finding the balance between letting go and holding on. Because in every one of those scenarios, we have to play our part in shaping their heart while letting go enough to let them grow.
And that’s hard. Emotionally, mentally, socially…it’s just hard.
But we have to realize that, when we play our part while holding them loosely and letting them go appropriately, we:
- acknowledge our imperfect parenting
- maximize the moments
- allow another building block to be put in place
- allow them to build their own community
- listen to their desires instead of imposing our own
- allow their heart to be shaped a little bit more
Young parents, you have a great challenge in raising your kids. You have been given, perhaps, the single greatest responsibility that exists. But it is also, by far, the greatest joy you might ever experience.
What truths have you learned that young parents should grasp?
(please share in comments below)
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