We were having dinner with our friends, an older couple who had raised 4 children, and the conversation turned to parenting.
Coming from different cultures, we were amazed and encouraged by their gems of advice. These ranged from the very practical – like gradually training the baby to sleep at night for at least 12 hours (which is both necessary for the baby’s healthy development and for your own sanity), and setting routines even into the teenage years – to the profoundly inspiring, like seeing your child through God’s eyes and not bringing any mistake up – ever again – after it has been addressed.
It got us thinking and talking about how we would want to parent our kids in future. Even though we haven’t any at the moment, we figured it’s never too early to start working out a plan.
This much I’ve gathered from seeing and hearing from all my friends with kids: start discussing and nailing down a strategy early (preferably B.C. – Before Children), then be prepared to be really, really flexible with this plan (this would be A.D. – After Delivery).
It’s a bit like going on a round-the-world trip with a hyper-excited and indecisive spouse who’s constantly high on sugar and caffeine. Except that it’ll be 24/7, for the next 20 years and beyond. Well, no. That’s just a guess.
We won’t go into the baby-caring details here, for lack of experience and also since everyone has their own idea of what’s best for them. (But we’re definitely going for the 12-hour win-win sleeps of healthy development and keeping sanity.)
So we’ll just focus on our common and agreed-upon parenting principles that we hope will stay fairly unchanged. And in case I might forget when A.D. comes, I thought I might pen down a brief list to remind myself:
#1. See them through the eyes of grace.
This was the most precious advice we got from our friends. Even though we can never see our children like God Himself does (since we can never out-love God), we can certainly try to show them what it looks like. This means believing the best of them, and not recalling their faults or mistakes after the incident has been dealt with.
Spilling a bowl of soup or breaking a window in the course of play and other such messy accidents don’t need to be fiercely berated. If it wasn’t deliberate, just shrug it off as a silly mishap, tell the kids “Don’t worry about it” and focus on the clean-up, together. We all have such moments, and they don’t need to mark our life.
Something more serious like stealing money, hurting someone in anger or being disrespectful would call for a talking to. Find out why they did it, let them know it’s wrong, reaffirm them in their identity (more on this shortly), then let the matter rest after they’ve apologised and made up for it. God doesn’t keep a record book of our wrongs, so there’s no need to for our kids either.
#2. Build up their identity in Christ.
This is, in our opinion, probably the most important. Doing this effectively will have the greatest impact in keeping them from temptation, bad company, and bad habits, and growing them to become integrated, well-adjusted and successful individuals.
Our children need to know: they are God’s beloved and our beloved child, and neither God nor we will ever stop loving them, regardless of their performance. When they are secure in God’s love and our love for them, they’ll be less likely to rebel or seek love elsewhere or find outrageous ways to prove themselves.
It doesn’t mean condoning bad behaviour – that’s indulgence. The most common brands of parenting nowadays swing between 2 extremes: the strict disciplinarian always uttering “no”s and “don’t”s, and the “best friend” parent who smiles and chuckles benignly at even the most brazen misdeeds committed by their child.
We’re not for either. What we mean is we never want our children to tag our love for them to how well they do. Amidst the “no”s and “don’t”s, and when they do wrong, we want them to know that we still love them, and to understand that they don’t have to behave badly or follow the crowd because they already have God’s approval and our approval.
Taking the time to explain why we do or don’t do certain things helps too, and building up their identity as a “Jesus boy” or a “Jesus girl”. Like, “a Jesus boy is brave enough to admit his mistakes and say ‘sorry'”, or “a Jesus girl is generous to forgive and share”. The more they know they are a prince or princess of high bearing beloved by God, the more they will start acting like one.
Bringing them to church to listen to Christ-centred messages and reminding them when good things happen that it’s God’s blessings on them goes a long way in building up this identity. No doubt at some point, they will still need to make that decision to accept the Lord Jesus into their lives, since God has no grandchildren. But it’s never too early to start telling them about Jesus, because the world has no minimum age either on exposing them to threats and temptations.
And possibly the best way to bring Jesus into their lives as someone real is to simply model it in our own lives. When they see how real Jesus is to us, and how restful we are in seeing ourselves forgiven, righteous, and fully-supplied in Christ, they’ll start doing the same too.
#3. Try not to fuss over them (can also be read as: enjoy them).
This is probably going to be the hardest, I think, even though I count myself as someone who’s pretty chill about things. From what I can tell, there’s a moderately high chance of people undergoing drastic changes in personality after making the transition from B.C. to A.D.
Loving our children isn’t the same as fussing over them. Fussing over them just makes us frazzled and stressed out and makes them feel smothered and embarrassed. Think about it like this: God loves us intimately and abundantly, but He doesn’t stir us from within every time we eat something fried or non-organic, or if we are wearing mismatched pyjamas every once in a while.
God just focuses on loving us, affirming us, comforting us and lifting us up. And when we do that with our kids, we will begin to loosen up and truly enjoy them as the bundles of joy and laughter that God has given us.
I’m just going to stop at 3 because I don’t think I’ll be able to remember more than that. Also, I’ve already learnt that parenting is really a series of failures – learnings – from day to day, so it’s best to keep the goals few.
To the parents out there, don’t ever let your repeated failures make you feel like a lousy parent. We all fail everyday, and we all need grace. And sometimes in spite of our best efforts, we may still lose a child to wayward influences. We can only pray for them, that Jesus will turn them back to His grace and love. But be assured that your words of love and encouragement will always stick with them.
Have some parenting thoughts of your own? Feel free to contribute them below 🙂
Ultimately, every parent has their own style of parenting, and you’d settle into what works best for you and your family.
Will it happen the way we want to for our kids? Only time will tell. One thing’s for sure, we’ll need a lot of grace. But thank God I know Jesus will be there all the way.
Because when we encounter Jesus, we encounter grace.