Last week the oldest of our three daughters turned nine and today she told me she will be twenty in eleven years. I nearly stuck my fingers in my ears and ran away screaming. Before she came along, I was convinced I would be a great parent and had all the answers. Then that seven pound baby girl was born and I suddenly forgot everything I though I knew. Parenting has been difficult and immensely rewarding. It revealed areas of sin in my life I didn’t want to face, but also has been a tool God has used to make me more like Jesus. Parenting together has strengthened our marriage and helped us learn how to work as a team. Also parenting has been a joy to me. Our girls make me smile and laugh everyday.
As our youngest is now a toddler and we have another child on the way, I’ve been reflected on some things the Lord has taught me through this journey. This list is not intended to be exhaustive as there are more things that could be said, but here are nine things I’ve learned from our nine years of parenting.
Work on Your Marriage
Yes I realize this is a post about parenting, but if you are married with children you don’t have the option of putting your marriage on hold to raise your children. Get your children in bed so you can have some time together before you go to bed. Do everything you can to have date night at least a time or two per month. Spend time together talking about something other than the kids. Laugh together and have fun together. A healthy marriage often leads to healthy parenting.
The Family Dinner Table is Your Friend
If you were to ask me to name an overwhelming image from my childhood it would be sitting around the dinner table laughing with my family. Naturally this was something I wanted for our children as well and the benefits of trying to eat several meals together around the table at night have been legion. At the table we talk with our girls, laugh with our girls, tell stories to our girls, teach our girls, and enjoy our girls. Some of the best times of connecting we have with our girls are around the table.
Ask for Forgiveness 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 to them 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 with them.
Losing Your Temper 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. Work hard from the heart to keep control of your temper, modeling for your children how to love your neighbor and how to exercise self-control. This way they can focus on what they need to learn instead thinking about how much your tone scares them.
Discipline for Disobedience, but not Mistakes
One of our children loves to sneak into the refrigerator and pantry to get food when we are not looking. We have warned her not to do this repeatedly and even child-proofed the pantry to keep her from getting in. Then one day we heard her teaching her sister how to get around the child-proofing. We know she sneaks food when we are not looking because she always makes a mess. The first few times she got in trouble for sneaking food when she wasn’t supposed to, I think she believed she was getting in trouble for making a mess. We learned to say to her specifically why she was being disciplined. Spilling milk is not disobedience; it’s an accident. Pouring milk when you’ve been told not to do it without permission is. Make sure you are clear with your kids that mistakes are okay, disobedience is not.
Teach 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 of 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.
Answer Their 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 must be discussed. 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 a tenth birthday. The conversations are not always comfortable, but they build trust and allow us to help shape our daughters’ view of the world.
Stop Freaking Out About Them
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 Them
This is closely related to my last point. Sometimes we get so caught up in doing things for our children that we forget to do things with them. In most communities, there are so many children’s activities to choose from and you can end up spending your days taking your children to things you watch them do. I’m not saying to pull your kids off all of their sports teams, but maybe you should dial it back some. Take a walk, go to the park, or play a game. Do fun things with your children. They’re funny, fun to be around, and these years go by faster than I can bear to admit. Enjoy it with them.
“‘You’re Going to Be Broke:’ Some Thoughts on Having Three Daughters”
“Teaching Proverbs to Your Children”
For Further Reading:
The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones
Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp