As I reflect on all of the ways that I’ve spent my life, there is nothing more sacred and significant than my role as a mother. I am in the final leg of the journey of raising my sons, as my firstborn is finishing up his senior year and preparing to go to college in the Fall, and from there I am left with 4 short years before the final exodus of my offspring.
I am amazed. They are outstanding young men. They are loving and thoughtful, considerate and kind. They have a great work ethic (thanks to their daddy). They are wise, wonderful with the elderly and infants and everyone in between. They are genuine, humble, patient and wonderful. There are few who will be as sorrowful and jubilant at their parting. I overflow with gratitude.
And it makes me want to share some of the wisdom that I have learned on the path of raising them. I apologize in advance for how long this is going to be. I’ve learned a lot in my almost 18 years of parenting and am elated to be able to share it.
- There is no greater parenting tactic than prayer. God alone can change hearts.
- Find wiser, older parents to emulate. Ask questions. Watch them. If you have no one to mentor you, read books. A couple of recommendations that I’d like to share are the Bible, of course, and “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” by Ted Tripp. I had a plethora of mentor-moms in my life when my kids were little, and it’d be more fitting to praise them and Jesus for how my kids turned out, than it would be to praise me for it!
- When you fail, cry out for mercy. My frequent prayer, when my kids were little was “I’m screwing it all up down here, Lord, and You’re just going to have to fix it!” And He did.
- Be honest and humble with your kids. An honest apology is irreplaceable. I always taught my sons that I’d rather them be humble than perfect… but those are just words unless I also exemplify humility when I am imperfect in my parenting.
- Rejoice in them. Enjoy them. Savor the moments. Watch them sleep. Notice their faces and listen to their laughter. Encourage them. Tell them what you like about them. Thank God for all the little aspects of who they are.
- Pray for them each and every night (and throughout the day).
- Love their daddy. There is almost nothing better that you can give your kids than a healthy marriage (thank you, Pat Ryan, for that advice. You weren’t even saying it to me!). They will respect both of you more if you do.
- Don’t let them divide your marriage. Kids will usually try to get what they want from the other parent, if they get the “wrong” answer from the first one they ask. This was high treason in our house.
- Have a long-range view. For example, disciplining them is difficult, but necessary for their long term well-being. It’s much easier (and wrong) to give them what they want, rather than what they need.
- Watch for teachable moments. And you won’t notice them if you aren’t there or aren’t listening.
- Listen when they’re young and you don’t really want to hear what they’re talking about, so they will trust you to listen when they are older. (Thank you, Shari Ryan, for this advice)
- Don’t scold them for things that aren’t sin, like simple mistakes. You can use those moments to teach, but don’t make them feel guilty.
- Forgive quickly. Hug them after you’ve spanked them.
- Boys especially have lots of energy and oftentimes it’s tempting to get them drugs or leave them in front of a screen to cope with it. I’d like to highly recommend that you, instead, find ways to channel that energy. It’s a real gift, when used properly. They can use it to build stuff, help around the house, exercise, etc. God made them that way to be a blessing to the whole wide world, and it’s not a pain to escape, but a blessing to channel.
- If at all possible, homeschool them. There is no one who can replace you in mentoring your children. You were entrusted. Do well with it.
- Don’t believe that money is more necessary than being present. When our kids were younger, there were many times where we could not afford new shoes, etc. But God always provided our needs (though often with a lesson in contentment) and looking back, our kids have learned much wisdom by living in “poverty” (I put that in quotations because this is America and our version of poverty is wealth in most other places in the world). And they have had their mother 24 hours a day, which is a much greater gift than new shoes.
- The sacrifice of time is so small in comparison to the opportunity to change the world through your parenting. Please be intentional. It is hard, at times… but oh, so worth it!
- Encourage their strengths. Channel their weaknesses. Teach them to give thanks for both. Pay attention to who they were created to be. Often our greatest weaknesses can enlighten us as to what we can become. For example, one of my sons was incredibly stubborn. I had to realize that he was born a leader and teach him to grow into that. I repeatedly told him “Before you can be a good leader, you have to become a good follower”, to instill both the submission that he needed to learn, but also to channel that weakness into his God-given strength. He is now an excellent leader and not easily swayed by public opinion.
- Teach them to embrace their weaknesses as opportunities to grow. One of my kids struggled terribly with reading, and I had to perpetually remind him that through it, he was learning diligence and perseverance, which is far more important than simply having an easy time learning to read.
- You cannot simultaneously be a good parent and care too much about your reputation. Otherwise, you will parent in such a way that makes you look good, but breeds people that perform well, but are dishonest or don’t have love filling their hearts.
- Don’t shame them. Guilt is a terrible motivator.
- Don’t parent based on fear. Fear leads to failure.
- Don’t alter your parenting just because people are watching.
- Let others help you, assuming they are being helpful. My kids were scolded by many other loving parents, in their younger years especially. If someone was not being loving, then I would stop them. But for the most part, they were genuinely caring folks and my kids benefited from learning to listen to others as well. This has helped them tremendously to be humble when corrected. And will continue to help them as they seek employment or even just to live in society.
- Tell your kids your shortcomings. Smiles and I were both awful teenagers (sorry Mom and Dad), but we told our kids about our waywardness and as a result have been able to spare them a lot of hard lessons and grief, as well as teaching them compassion for people in all walks of life.
- Be vulnerable. And humble.
- Pray some more.
- The Bible is profitable for teaching, reproof, correcting and training in righteousness. Use it. Believe it. Let it change you first, and then your kids. If you don’t love the Word, now is a good time to fall in-love with it. But don’t bash them with it. Use it the way the Holy Spirit does, with grace and encouragement.
- Don’t shelter them. I’m not saying that you should necessarily follow this example, but when our kids were young we had a lot of random people stay with us, and some of them were less-than-reputable (We also watched our kids very closely and never left them alone with anyone we didn’t trust entirely). At one point we had a friend who kicked heroin on our couch. Sadly, he returned to it. Our kids watched the wreckage and learned from it. They never wanted to use hard drugs, not because we told them they were bad, but because they saw first-hand that they are devastating and addictive. And they learned to love the least of these. They saw us showing compassion and they have adopted that worldview.
- You can’t substitute teaching wisdom with law. Our kids don’t need us to tell them when to do, as they age, they need us to teach them to be wise, honorable and loving. And teach them the “why”. I am a lot more effective at following instructions if I know WHY I’m supposed to do something a certain way.
- Teach your kids to rejoice in suffering. If they love Jesus, then He has promised to work ALL things together for their good. Teach them that.
- The greatest commandment is love. If we can just instill this one thing, we have succeeded.
- Be gracious! Teach them to be gracious! We all wear this skin together.
- And finally, our kids are going to follow our examples. Be the type of human being that you want your kids to become.
That’s it, for now. I hope it wasn’t too overwhelming. I just hope that you will feel empowered. I met a mom yesterday, whose kids are grown (and asked her for advice because I still do that) and she told me that no other roles that she fills are as significant anymore. Parenting is one of the most crucial and magnificent things that we can spend our time on.
If you are unable to be a parent, please don’t feel slighted by this. You have a wonderful opportunity to come alongside others who are struggling to raise wise and wonderful children. It really does take a village to raise a child. Your role of “Aunt” or “Uncle” (even if not biological) can bear incredible weight in the lives of the next generation. Don’t let the longing be wasted. Use it to help others.