Charlotte and I have two daughters and a son-in-law. We now have three grandchildren! Little Sully was born to Jamie and Cal just the other day. As I drove home from Oklahoma City yesterday, I thought about what I wish I had known when our children were born. Like others, Charlotte and I were trying to figure out what we needed to do as parents. In spite of the way it may appear at times, no parent has this figured out. Good parents are constantly learning.
What I wish I had known when our children were born:
The best gift two parents can give their child is for them to love each other. If a husband and wife love, care for, and cherish one another, they have given their children a precious gift. Children watch their parents closely. Often parents think their kids do not overhear unkind words or see the menacing looks. Typically, children don’t miss very much. They see the way their daddy treats their mother and the way their mother treats their daddy. You cannot talk your way out of problems that you have created. You can’t explain away the contempt you have for one another.
On the other hand, when children see that their mom and dad are tender toward one another and that they cherish each other, they experience a special kind of security. When they see that their daddy adores and treasures their mother (and vice versa), they are witnessing something that can positively impact them for a long time.
Some of the very best parents I’ve known were single parents. Some became single because of the death of their spouse. Others experienced divorce. At almost every church we have served, there were single parents who gave their all for their children. It is tough to be a single parent and yet so many raise their children in homes of joy and contentment.
Having children will often reveal just how selfish you are. When the baby cries in the night, who feels like getting up to check on him? Selfishly, a parent would just as soon stay in bed and ignore the cry. Yet, a parent will awaken, get up and deal with the baby’s needs. Why? Because this is what loving, unselfish parents do. This is not the job of the mother. This is the job of the parents. I wish I had the maturity to see this when I was much younger. Looking back, I was not near as sensitive to this responsibility and opportunity to grow as I should have been.
Having children may motivate you toward emotional and spiritual maturity. Children are going to be immature. After all, they are children. However, it is important that mom and dad grow up if they haven’t already. Growing and maturing is an ongoing process. When parents are stuck in their own immaturity as they attempt to raise children, these children are really at a disadvantage. It is difficult for children to rise above the maturity level of their parents.
Children are impacted by the behavior of their parents even when the parents believe these behaviors are hidden. Some adults attempt to be good parents when their children are present. However, when their children are not looking, the parents may be engaged in all kinds of improper, immature, and even immoral behavior. It is important to realize that my behavior impacts my character, whether the children are aware of what I am doing or not. When my character is diminished, I bring less to my children.
For example, a person might be traveling away from home on business. He might engage in some behavior that is immoral. Like many he might think, “Well at least my kids will never know what I did.” Yet, he is becoming someone different because of his choices while on the road. Your choices made while away from home will either build or deteriorate your character and your kids will be affected either positively or negatively based on those choices.
The best thing I can do as a parent is to become the kind of person whom I would like for my child to be when she grows up. What kind of person do you want your child to be as an adult? Identify those desired traits and become that kind of person as well. It is difficult (not impossible, but difficult) for a child to rise above the character of mom and dad.
Parents don’t have to entertain their children. Play and entertainment are not the same. Some parents think they have to entertain their children. They are constantly buying toys, rushing them to various entertainment parks, etc. None of this is bad. However, on a typical day, children just need to play. Parents can spend meaningful time with their children by using their imagination, playing outdoors, etc.
Children need their parents’ undivided attention. One of the best things that many of us can do as parents is to put the phone down. When I am always texting, tweeting, posting, checking e-mail etc., my children are not getting my full attention. One teacher told me of a program that was held at their elementary school. Most of the children performed in the program. This teacher told me that as she and other teachers stood near the stage, it was amazing to see just how many parents were on their phones instead of watching the children perform. You may be surprised at the kind of connection you can have with your children simply by putting the phone away and paying attention to them.