Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Parenting Advice from a Wise Woman

A few months ago, I asked my mom for parenting advice.  What she gave me was "off the top of her head," and yet, I was hit by its profundity and wisdom.  I put it into a list, and I believe it expresses (in part) what she and Dad have discovered over the years in parenting: from mistakes no doubt, but also from successes.   I pass them on here, with a little commentary from myself, hoping they'll benefit you as much as they have me.

1. Love your spouse - The best thing you can do for your kids is put your spouse before your kids.  This is counterintuitive to some, but the research bears this out.  Kids cannot bear the weight of being the center of your marriage, and if you put there them, you will crush them and your marriage and your family.  More divorces happen because one of the parents (usually the mom) is more 'married' to the kids than their spouse.  (And even though this post isn't about marriage, let me add one thing on marriage: your spouse can't bear the weight of being the center of your marriage either.  That place belongs to God.  Marriage isn't just a union between man and wife, it is like Communion: through it, Christ is leading you Himself.)

2. Be consistent - My dad has often said that with kids being consistent is more important than being right.  Stick to your guns: if you say you're going to do it, do it.  Establish a consistent way of life in your home, and let it be stable.  Children need the stability of consistency.  They need to know what they can expect from you. Nothing will exasperate a child more quickly (or any human being) than having an unpredictable, capricious authority.

3. Confess your mistakes - Every parent sins against their children in some way.  Unless you've got the patience of Job, you've probably had unrighteous anger toward your children at some point.  My children need to know that Daddy knows that he is a sinner in need of God's grace just like everyone else.  Also, the reality is that children know when you've wronged them.  If you want to earn your children's trust, you'll speak to the elephant in the room.

4. Learn from your mistakes - This, I think, is easier said than done.  What I love about this point of advice is that it acknowledges that you will make mistakes and then leads you to a response: "You're gonna mess up, but what are you going to do about it?"  When you foul up as a parent, confess it to God, confess it to your kids, ask for for forgiveness from both, and then learn from it.  What can you learn from the parenting mistakes you made last week? How can you keep from repeating your mistakes?

5. Pray for your kids - This probably should've been the first thing on the list.  Do you pray for your kids?  And what do you pray for them for?  The contents of your prayers for your children will reveal your heart... and really all you need to know about your parenting in order to evaluate it.  It is a good thing to pray for their basic needs: health and growth, healthy friendships, happiness in life... etc.  But if that's all your praying for, you're missing your job as a parent.  Parents (fathers in particular) are called to bring up their children in the fear and discipline of the Lord (Eph 6:1-4).  This surely includes praying the things that St. Paul prayed for his spiritual children (See Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:8-12; Ephesians 1:15-21; 3:14-21) and what Jesus prayed for us  (See John 17 and note the Lord's Prayer).  Not sure what to pray?  The prayers we pray for children at their baptism will a great guide for you in this as well.  (Book of Common Prayer, p. 305-306)

6. Remember you can't control how they'll respond - Mom always says that the hardest part about parenting is that a child's point-of-view, whether they are young or an adult, is impossible to predict.  You just never know how your kids are going to take life.  Often the solution to their woes or successes will be clear to you, but they simply won't see it... even after you have told them a thousand times.  So, what can you do?  You give them more and more latitude the older they get to make mistakes.... and you pray like crazy.  Unless your child has an increasing freedom to fail, they will not grow up.  And that is the point, isn't it?

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