For I was born a sinner— yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. Psalm 51:5 (NLT)
Did you ever ask yourself why you want kids? I know, you’re probably thinking ‘No, but I’m asking myself right now – Why did I think I wanted kids?’ Yeah, people who have children have asked themselves that at least once before their child’s 3rd birthday, right? Those little innocents have the same fallen nature that is in us. As one version of Psalm 51:5 states it: “I’ve been out of step with you for a long time, in the wrong since before I was born.”
But I’m talking about motivation. Did you have the maturity and forethought to ask yourself that question? We do our future offspring and ourselves an injustice when we fail to comprehend how challenging it can be to always be on our game.
To show up
No matter what
Now, I’m not trying to put you off here. I have one child. He is 36 years old.If I had to do the children thing again, I absolutely would. But – of course there is a but – I would be better prepared. My son may tell you he too wishes I would have been better prepared but I can’t change the past. What I can do is give you some food for thought. As we might say here in south Louisiana, ‘So, how ya do dat beb?’
The number one thing I have learned is that kids are tricky. And, that every reasonable adult has the potential to become the crazy, hide the weapons, parent from hell where their kids are concerned.
We have to know that about ourselves so we can stay out of jail. And so our precious little devil child does not manipulate us and end up a morally bankrupt adult.
Another thing I’ve learned is that just because kids have been exposed to something does not mean they understand it, know how to do it, or will want to do it.
Take driving for instance…
From the day kids leave a hospital [in America, for the most part] they are exposed to a car or some type of transportation. But when it comes time to drive, they don’t know how. And some places that we have taken them all their lives they are unable to find once they are responsible to get there on their own. We cannot take for granted that they will automatically “get it”. Each child comes with his or her own personality and have to be handled according to their “bend”.
Before I go further with this article, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I should point out the scary and slightly nauseating truth that [you have probably read this somewhere before] we teach what we know but reproduce what we are.
Eek! I know right? Who decided that? So once again, who we are affects more than just ourselves alone. And multiply that times the offspring we are brave enough to bring forth! What are we that we should not be, and what aren’t we that we should be? If we are planning to imprint that on our offspring, do we need to revise ourselves first?
Get on that. Right now.
7-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?
25The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. Romans 7:7-25
Wowzers, let me take a minute to process that…maybe you should too. [Jeopardy! music]
I have watched this happen as well…Parents send their kids to church. Just drop ’em right off. Presto! Change-o! The kids are now God-fearing, law-abiding, movers and shakers of the entire known world, infinity and…
Yeah, about that
It is a mistake to believe that exposure to a church environment alone automatically changes kids. It doesn’t automatically change adults does it? It only work to the end that we work it. What do I mean by that?
Now this is important. Are you paying attention?
The Spirit does not automatically give people good character. If a person has good character the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of them makes them a good Christian. That is why as adults we have such struggles after the life altering born again experience. Our character has some aspects that are in direct opposition to God. The same will be with our children if we fail to instill a character in them that is in line with God. We have to do the work of molding their character, from birth. It is our God bequeathed responsibility once we decide to bring them into this world.
“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company … a church … a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude … I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you … we are in charge of our attitudes.” ~ Charles R Swindoll
Want to know what keeps an attitude in check?
Yep, character does. It’s also a good deterrent to any feelings of entitlement that might cross our minds. We want our children to have so much more than we did, to have it easier, faster, and with zero complications. Because we know life is tough. And we’ve been hurt, knocked around a bit.
But that same struggle is what matures us. When people never have to struggle for what they have and always get results without ever having to do anything, they increasingly lack any depth of character. And are completely unappreciative of what they have. They begin to believe they are owed the best simply because they breath. Their satisfaction is short-lived and their lives are unhappy.
Personal accomplishments build self-confidence and self-efficacy. There is no pouting when there is understanding that in order to move forward one has to put in personal effort. The struggle is what makes us healthy, well-adjusted and happy.
Think about that for a few minutes. I’ll wait.Take your time. Look up all the words in the dictionary. Seriously, I do it all the time. Even though I already know what the words mean. Then tell me it pierced your conscience – you know, just so I don’t feel like I’m the only one.
Okay, let’s move on.
Proverbs 22:6 instructs us to “Train up a child in the way he should go [teaching him to seek God’s wisdom and will for his abilities and talents], Even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Whoa! That’s a bold promise. Yes? But have no doubt that the God that issued it, can deliver on it. We have to do the training part, though.
But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them. 2 Samuel 24:24
My niece, who is 8 years old, has been known to give away her shoes [The ones she was currently wearing.], her jewelry [Because someone else wanted it.], her money [She has brought her allowance to school and had to be stopped as she was handing it out $1.00 at a time, and once gave her brother $10.00 for his birthday because she had two $5.00 bills and that was the same as the one bill she gave him.] and her coloring book [Because another kid asked her for it.]
She is generous. She has to be constantly monitored so no one takes advantage of her. She has to be protected from herself while at the same time never losing that spirit of generosity. [I also want to say that she rarely goes anywhere that she does not find money in a parking lot. She’s already reaping the reward of that generosity.] That same generosity does not come so easily for her brother. He is a bit more protective of what is his and has to be encouraged to give something that costs him something.
In case you didn’t catch that, we need to teach true generosity. The ultimate giving is the kind that costs us something. Volunteering your time and talents can be the greatest test of true generosity. That kind of giving is a true act of faith and gets the attention of God.
Are you a complainer? Someone who is always dissatisfied or annoyed by e v e r y t h i n g? Do you know the weird thing about perpetually annoyed people? They’re annoying. God let a whole bunch of complainers wander around in a desert until they died. So what if their shoes never wore out, they also never received the best God had for them. They complained it away.
How do you teach gratitude? By being grateful and expressing it. In my very darkest times, I knew that God was with me and that in spite of how bad my situation was, I expressed, out loud, how very good God was to me.
Do that with your children. Ask them what they are thankful for and express what you are thankful for. Everyday. The deeper our gratitude the greater will be our ability to receive. Do you like giving to an ungrateful child? Neither does God.
Self control, self-discipline, impulse control are slightly different words that travel in the same circle. No matter how we say it this is about the giving over of what we want to do to the demand of what we must do. Feelings are neither right nor wrong, they are just feelings. It’s the action that follows those feelings that determines the course of our lives.
Encourage kids to take on age appropriate activities that build self-discipline: sports, music, outside jobs, pets, scripture memorization, household chores etc.
Teach them to control their anger, to share their toys, to listen when others speak, and to come when you call them [as opposed to hollering “What!” from another room]. These things will also help them to have acceptable social skills. It teaches patience and delayed gratification when you make a child stop what they are doing in order to do something else for someone else.
Proverbs 25:28 likens self-control to a city without walls. In Biblical times, the walls of a city were its protection. What it’s saying here is that no self-control means you are defenseless.
No armor. No buffer. No refuge.
No self-control means we become reactive in situations where we should hold our composure and wait. Impatience is at the root of many bad decisions. Impulse control will always serve our children well throughout their lives. Teach it.
Teach Conflict Resolution
I want to take this space to encourage you to teach your children to overlook an offense. What is offense? As defined: it is annoyance or resentment brought about by a perceived insult to or disregard for oneself or one’s standards or principles.
Let me point out that it says “perceived insult”. It is true that perception is reality. I see it a lot. People looking to be offended. So many adults struggle in social situations simply because they have never learned how to overlook an offense, how to handle conflict, how to forgive and let something go. Really let it go. Not store it for further use to truly blow something out of proportion down the road.
A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense. ~Proverbs 19:11
A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult. ~Proverbs 12:16
Teach Respect for Authority
Know what I witnessed today? A cool guy in his 30’s walking his mother out to a waiting vehicle. I thought they both were leaving, but no. He opened the passenger door of the vehicle, helped his mother in, shut the door and walked back into the building. And no, she is not elderly. He is respectful. That comes from early training, not some random idea that popped into his head.
I’m freaked out when I witness kids talking smack to their parents. I mean I want to beat ’em and they’re not even talking to me. And let’s be clear, while I don’t tolerate children speaking to me that way, I also treat them with respect – until they give me a reason not to.
Children take their cues from the adults in their lives. If daddy is always belittling momma, junior is going to think he can too. If momma talks trash about the cops or the pastor, guess what, the kids will not have respect for those people either. And before you give me the argument that there are bad cops, teachers, preachers and every other branch of authority in our lives, let me save you the time.
1 Thessalonians 5:12 says to know them that labor among you. Get to know the good ones, the ones deserving of respect. And for the others, we can respect the office of authority they hold without losing our minds over it. I think we are that mature. And we should teach our children the same. But let’s put our focus on the good ones and how they got to be the good ones. Better yet, let’s make it our business to become the good ones and to raise the good ones.
Just a little side bar about your pastor – this is legit since I have worked for the clergy since the days of Noah. If you have a difference of opinion with your pastor, [the man God has put over you, the man who has to answer for you to God, yes that man] DO NOT discuss it in front of your children. Because sure as the sun does rise, your little angel darling will get himself in a tough spot and you will go looking for the wise counsel of your pastor to help the LAD. But because you cooked & served the pastor as dining conversation in your child’s hearing, your child will have no respect for anything the pastor can bring to the situation to help your child. This is a by-product of hypocrisy in high form.
Teach them to be polite. Are you polite? Do you realize this is a form of respect? I know it may seem old school. But it’s not. It’s timeless. Politeness is about placing value on others. Value that is not earned. How we treat those who can give us nothing in return says a lot about valuing people simply because.
Set their boundaries early on and decide the consequences that will occur when they put their grubby little toe over the line. And they will test that boundary. It’s human nature. Now here comes the hard part.
Follow through with the consequence.
Kids need to feel secure in where the lines are, not confused because the lines keep moving. Any sentence that contains ‘if you’ and ‘I will’ should not be a threat. It should be an absolute. Does this mean that you can never give them mercy? No, but make sure you are giving mercy and not just failing to follow through because you don’t feel like parenting that day.
I get it. I really do. Sometimes we view the chaos with dismay because we realize it needs adult intervention and we look around for an adult-er adult and realize we’re the adultist adult available. And regardless of how adult we feel we still have the parent position so…
Teach a Lifestyle of Following Jesus
You were made by God and for God, and until you understand that, life will never make sense. ~ Rick Warren
The best thing that ever happened to me as an adult was giving my life to Christ. This is good sound advice: Don’t try to navigate this life without God guiding you. It will be the biggest and most costly mistake you ever make. See, God has promises for you and your children. He is a good, good Father. The best.
Can our children take a wrong turn in spite of a good upbringing and all the ‘teaches’ we teach them? Yep.
We all have had or will have some measure of ‘hell’ happen with our children and to our children. Because of this, seek out the One constant you can count on to steady you and guide your parenting. He is the best investment of self you will ever make.
Let me tell you a true story. It’s my story.
I had the traditional two parent home. We never went without food, shelter, or clothing. All the things that should give security, right? But what I also had was a father that was verbally and emotionally abusive. And if he was drunk, he was worse. Was he an alcoholic? No, probably not. We are from south Louisiana. This is part of the culture and lifestyle here. My dad was very smart and was well-respected in our community. He was very strict and expected [and demanded] perfectionism. My sister and I weren’t allowed to cry and if we hurt ourselves playing, as kids do, we were terrified of his reaction.
I had no emotional security, which is far more valuable than a lifetime supply of material security. I know. I have lived it.
Seek to cultivate a healthy parent-child relationship with your children. You are going to need it if you want them to follow you as you lead them. Speaking from the viewpoint of a rebel I can attest that the following quote is true. Rules without relationships lead to rebellion. ~ Josh McDowell
Do I have any good memories of my childhood? Sure. I also had to overcome a lot of emotional baggage. The thing that saddens me, makes me feel odd, is that I don’t miss him. He died when I was 15 and I don’t miss him. I don’t hate him, I just rarely think of him without prompting.
Now there are many positives to being raised by someone who demands perfection. An extremely good work ethic for one and for another being the kind of person that will do what needs doing, no matter what.
Suppressed emotions, shame, unhealthy boundaries and difficulty receiving criticism without falling apart are, unfortunately, some of the not so positive aspects of being raised with the demand for perfection.
You know, I had this list in my head of things I was never going to do to my child. And I never did those things. And while I don’t miss my dad, I have forgiven him. Know how I was able to do that? It was because though I never made the mistakes with my child that I think my father made raising me, I made mistakes of my own. Different ones from those my father made with me. It made me see how easy it was to make mistakes raising kids.
So I forgive him. He was human.
Count on God to make the difference with this thing we call parenting. He will not let you down.
There is so much information out there on this subject, it is a bit overwhelming. I like this 7 point checklist by Thomas Lickona. It can be useful as a marker to instill boundaries of character.
- The Golden Rule (reversibility) test: Would I want people to do this to me?
- The what-if-everybody-did-this test: Would I like it if everyone else acted this way?
- The parents test: How would my parents feel if they found out I did this?
- The religion test: Does this go against what my religious faith teaches? [I refer to this one as the God test. More along the lines of Does this go against what the Bible says?]
- The conscience test: Will I feel guilty afterwards?
- The consequences test: Might this have bad consequences, now or in the future?
- The front-page test: How would I feel if my action were reported on the front page of my hometown paper?
I will close this with some questions. What are your thoughts on parenting? If you have kids now, are those thoughts of parenting the same as before you had kids? Do you have a “do this” list? Or how about a “stop doing this” list?