As a young mother I was filled with a sense of determination–I was determined that 1) my kids would be well-behaved, 2) they would not disrupt my schedule, but fit into it and, 3) they would not rebel as I’d seen other kids do when they became teens. I was going to do this thing right! My husband and I had attended our first child-training seminar the same day we found out I was pregnant. Yup, we were already seeking advice before we had confirmation of pregnancy. Armed with the very insightful information gained on that Saturday so long ago, I felt I was fully prepared to be a great mom. After all, I could still remember very well what it had been like to be a child–the things that had upset me, the times I’d gotten in trouble, the things I figured I could do better than my parents had–that kind of thing. On top of that we’d been to a seminar and read some really good books; and I had that determination–determination which quickly turned into a lack of confidence, and from there into serious self-doubt.
It took me awhile, but I came to realize that good parenting isn’t a matter of using the right techniques or reading the right books; good parenting has to do with understanding the true nature of children, and providing what they genuinely need. Something I had not realized prior to having children was that they don’t come equipped to go along with “the program”. They don’t understand your expectations, don’t fit in with your schedule, and are born demanding what they want, with no real interest in what you want. That’s the nature of children. They’re childish! They don’t know or care about what’s best for them, they aren’t capable of adult thinking or reasoning, and they are self-centered. They do foolish things, and are capable of appalling levels of deceit and unkindness–sometimes even cruelty. Of course, different temperaments display childishness in different ways, but there’s no getting around the fact that children are in bondage to their own self-centered foolishness. Because no amount of patient persuasion or coercion will free them from this foolishness that they’re born with, they desperately need the patient but firm and loving leadership of adults–real grown-ups.
Children don’t need parents who are cool, hip, or their “buddy”. They need genuine grown-ups who possess vision and are able to confidently lead them into mature adulthood. If you’ve never thought about having a vision for the kind of person you want your child to be, you’ll be constantly faced with confusing situations, and have nothing but your feelings and reactions in the moment to guide you in handling them. This is not good parenting. Maybe you still feel uncertain and childish yourself, or perhaps you don’t feel ready for parenting and find yourself longing for the good old days when you were free to do whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted to. Maybe you even resent the demands placed on you by the little people in your life. Well, not to be harsh, but at this point, it’s just too bad! If you have a child, you can’t afford to live as a child yourself–it’s time to grow up.
Children need consistency; having a vision for your children, and staying focused on it, will provide what you need to be consistent in the way you deal with them. Develop a vision for the future by establishing in your mind the characteristics of maturity, along with a mental picture of the kind of things you value most. For example, my husband and I agreed that we wanted to cultivate in our children the adult qualities of reverence toward God, respect for rules and for others, responsibility in the handling of money, possessions and jobs, and resourcefulness– the ability to efficiently use what you have rather than giving up or demanding more. To accomplish this, we systematically trained our children in manners, required a daily schedule of chores for each child, and taught them about the realities of life–relationships, money, and work–through the use of stories, proverbs, and real-life examples.
On top of these qualities, we wanted our children to value the same things we do–genuine beauty, both in nature and in the arts, imaginative literature, the classics, history, learning and reading, and their own roots and family traditions. Your vision will inform and guide the decisions you make regarding the way you spend your time and money, your choice of schools, where you go on vacations, the activities you engage in day to day, and the way you celebrate holidays.
For us, this meant homeschooling at first (there weren’t many good options in our area at that time), camping vacations and visits to historical sites rather than theme parks or cruises, limited TV viewing, lots of reading–both aloud to the children and on our own, trips to museums and art exhibits, listening to great music and going to concerts, limited after school activities (particularly during the elementary school years), and mealtime discussions of everything imaginable. We also enjoyed baseball games, going to the fair, the Fourth of July carnival and fireworks, and trips to local amusement and water parks.
The result? Five children, now grown, who are well-educated, hard-working, love the outdoors, are establishing their own families, ask each other and their parents for advice, enjoy the arts, and are always looking for ways to be together, even though they live all over the country. They are respectful and well-mannered, and are well-liked and respected by their peers and those in authority over them.
Did we make parenting mistakes? Of course. I know there were many times when I didn’t listen well, wasn’t fair, hurt someone’s feelings, or let them down. I tried techniques that weren’t effective, and agonized way too much over small things. I helicoptered at times, let myself get into arguments, and got my own feelings hurt along the way. But I always kept the vision in mind; when necessary, I apologized, and tried again. My children have become adults that I truly enjoy and admire.
Being a parent is the most important and rewarding thing you will ever do. Don’t rely on techniques (although there are some excellent ones out there), and don’t depend on finding and following some secret philosophy that will unlock the mysteries of good parenting. It’s not complicated, and it’s not mysterious. It does take grown-up realism about human nature, and a grown-up sense of responsibility and purpose, with the ability to focus on the end goal of maturity.
Find your vision, set your goals…and lead!