I have often failed as a parent. I need as much forgiveness from my children as they are willing to give. But, having said that, I couldn’t be more proud of the people they have become. And much of that is due to the wonderful influence of their mother.
But here are a few words of advice from a parent and grandparent who is still trying to do his best in those roles:
Children are a priority. Even and especially above work. Work will always be there. Children grow up very, very quickly and need the presence and TIME of their parents. Being a parish pastor for me was a 24-hour-a-day job. I could have worked every waking minute of every day. But I always made sure to take my day off. And I always made sure to do whatever I could to give not leftover time, but prime time to my children. That meant attending Ashlyn’s shows as often as I possibly could. It meant coaching Ben’s baseball teams all the way through high school. It meant attending their events and being present for significant moments in their lives. I wouldn’t trade those minutes, moments, and hours for anything.
Children need boundaries. As children grow up they will test boundaries to see how far those boundaries can stretch and how much they can get away with. As much as children may dislike boundaries, they are actually a source of comfort. Deep down inside children know that boundaries mean they are loved. Boundaries mean telling toddlers to keep their hands off of a hot stove and teenagers to be home by their curfew (I can’t tell you the number of times my wife, Tammy, and I heard the gate at our Milwaukee house slam at the stroke of midnight — or whatever the curfew was — as Ben made it home just in the nick of time. But Ben and Ashlyn always made it home by curfew). Boundaries indicate care and love.
Children are wet cement. Tammy and I read a book by this title years and years ago. But it still applies. Little ears hear everything their parents say, especially when they are talking to other people. Children become what parents say they are. So, when speaking to other people about your children (when they are in your presence), praise them, speak highly of them, and show with your words that you are proud of them.
Children need love and forgiveness. Being a parent means always unconditionally loving your children. It’s not always easy. In fact, it is sometimes downright difficult. Sometimes love means discipline. Sometimes love means simply holding a child who’s hurting physically or emotionally. Children will sometimes do downright mean things and act as though they hate you. But a Christian parent will model the forgiveness of Jesus. Forgiven children learn to forgive and loved children learn to love.
Have fun with your children. There is plenty of time to do homework and chores. There is plenty of time to be serious and businesslike. Take a break sometimes. Play a game. Watch a movie. Laugh. Read a funny book. Play catch. Ride bikes. Go get ice cream. Have fun!
Fuel your children’s dreams. This means having high expectations for your children. But it also means allowing them the opportunity to do the things about which they are passionate. And it also means taking the words “I can’t” out of their vocabulary. Encourage children to at least TRY before they say, “I can’t.” The world will tell them that they can’t. Your job is to tell them they CAN (or that they can at least TRY).
Give children Jesus. There is nothing — NOTHING — more important than this. Remind them of their baptism. Take them to church every Sunday. Give them a Christian education. Pray with them. Read the Bible with them every night. Listen to Christian music and podcasts. When they go to college help them find a church home. Pray that they will one day marry a Christian spouse. Give children Jesus. It matters for eternity.