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Parenting With the End in Mind
October 29, 2009 - Dennis Gingerich
A couple months ago while my wife was shopping in a local store she turned into the laundry detergent aisle and saw a father stooped over two large detergent bottles. It only took her a few seconds to realize what was happening. As his wife and 4 children stood beside him watching, he was topping off one of the bottles with soap from another bottle. His wife saw my wife and began to tell him loudly that he needed to stop and the kids were saying, “Daddy that’s stealing.” Dad’s response was, “It’s okay, they never fill these things to the top like they should.”
My heart breaks when I see how some parents set the stage for disaster. I can imagine that same dad five years from now when he answers the phone call of a police officer who has arrested one of his kids for shoplifting. He will be angry and say to his child, “How could you…? But, all along, from birth, the future of that child was in his hands.
From my way of thinking, the end goal of parenting is this: Leading our children to love God, make God-centered decisions and have healthy God-honoring relationships. You might have other ideas for parenting but these were the core goals my wife and I had over the last 34 years since the first of our three children were born. That’s the end in mind we wanted to accomplish as parents.
As my wife, Linda, and I were recently preparing to speak to a large number of parents, we were trying to think of the principles we practiced so as to reach these parenting goals. We thought of many skills that we learned over the years but decided the following four general principles were central and key in helping us to reach our goals.
BE A LEARNER. Always be a learner. We learned from the Bible, books, seminars, speakers and counselors. We learned from our own families of origin. We discussed ways we wanted to improve over the ways our parents raised us. We learned from their mistakes and I’m sure our children have learned from our mistakes. We even learned from our own mistakes. We learned by watching other parents in our church, watching our friends and our extended families. Parents must be consummate learners, soaking up everything they can for the challenge before them. Just pick your sources of learning carefully.
BE HEALTHY. It is difficult to raise well rounded—healthy children if we are functioning at a level that is less than our best. Our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health is crucial for being effective parents. We all come from imperfect families, and we will never be perfect parents. But, when we continue to live and react out of hurt or pain from the past, we pass that on to our children. If we are physically running on empty, we need fuel, rest and tune ups! Children will become resentful if they feel like they are an intrusion to Mom or Dad who are too sick, or too tired to engage fully in their lives.
Our family encountered a lot of turbulence while one of our children was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Tourette Syndrome. We could have ignored the glaring problems and tried to “survive.” But we got medical help and family counseling. We risked being vulnerable with our extended families, our friends and others who then prayed for us, gave us emotional support and helpful advice.
Another major area where health is of utmost importance is in the marriage relationship. The health of your marriage affects your children. A “healthy” marriage can always get better. A dysfunctional marriage can greatly improve with hard work! If you are single, be sure you are healthy and whole before adding another relationship into the mix.
BE FOCUSED. There are many things that can distract you while you are parenting – finances, climbing the career ladder, marriage issues, illnesses, learning disabilities, special needs issues and more. Don’t forget the end goal of parenting – Leading our children to love God, make God-centered decisions and have healthy God-honoring relationships.
Along the way, there will be many other things to focus on. Every stage of parenting has its challenges and potential distractions. Enjoy every stage. I know that some parent’s have preferences for certain stages. Just don’t check out when your child is in adolescence as if the job is done. Fifty percent of a child’s brain and emotional development happens in the two to four year period that begins with puberty. You may be challenged to the max while they are learning how to become independent and make good decisions. But, that is a critical time because that’s when the tone is set for their adult years. Stay focused on the task at hand.
BUILD ON THE RIGHT FOUNDATION. Nothing can take the place of building our homes on the proper foundation. If we want our children to love God and to make God-centered decisions and have healthy God-honoring relationships, then we need to provide the environment for them to learn what that looks like.
A great instructional passage for parenting comes out of Jewish scripture in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Through Moses, God gave the Israelite nation laws intended to help them live a meaningful and fruitful life. This particular scripture was a conclusion line from God, after giving the laws. It says, “Listen, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Placing our children in environments that instill love for God is very important. Whatever your spiritual roots are or aren’t, I encourage you to get involved with a place of worship as a part of your weekly family experience. Linda and I did our best to share life with others who modeled love for God. We read them the stories of God’s provision for others in the Bible. We pointed out to them the times God answered prayer. We helped them to see God in nature and in other people. We sent them off to school with prayer for God’s blessing on their day and paused to thank God for His blessings at each meal and tucked them into bed with a prayer. This is what Moses was talking about…Loving God with all our heart, soul and strength. Talking it and walking it. Nourishing your relationship with God and really getting to know Him is a part of building on the right foundation. We can’t give a drink from an empty well.
Difficulties, struggles and even tragedy can be a part of our parenting experiences. We can do all the right things, and still have disappointments. So then, why bother? Why spend so much energy parenting with the end in mind? Because God doesn’t give up on any of us. The story is not finished. Scripture says, “God loves us with an everlasting love.” And as long as we do our part in introducing our children to the Father who loves them more than we do, He can be trusted to see them through. The Jewish prophet wrote these words from God, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15-17). I guess God was the first one to get a child’s name tattooed on his body. He loves your children more than you do!
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