I see much of parenting as sacred and private territory. To be a friend of a parent is not the same as being a parent, and thus I normally refrain from giving advice to friends about parenting unless they specifically ask. That said, I want to give a few encouragements that I believe will make all the difference in your relationship with your child.
- Celebrate life in front of them and with them. I can be an animated person so this one comes easier to me, but I know that many parents are introverts and weighed down by the burdens of life. It’s the normative weight of adult life that makes it even more critical to intentionally celebrate the accomplishments, victories, creativity, and moments of awe that your child brings to your table. If you have trouble participating in the celebrations of your children, then chances are you need a perspective change in your own life. I know the sense of wonder I get when I look at the green mountains and valleys of Tennessee and North Carolina. I know the celebration of scoring a goal and building a fort. I know the awe produced by a stormy evening. I invite my children into these moments of enjoyment and wonder and they invite me into theirs.
- Reasonable Transparency! There are certainly private moments of pain and adult life complexity that no child should be exposed to, however it can be one of the most empowering moments in life for a child to hear that their parent has struggled with something they are struggling with. My father was the godliest man I have ever known, but my father had trouble showing me his faults and transgressions. Thankfully my mother was much more open and conversant about some of her struggles in life. Having a parent that walked with me through my struggles and was willing to relate her own during that time was priceless. I have found that my daughters are far better equipped to handle pain, disappointment, heartache, and the consequences of their mistakes because my wife and I have shared some of our weaknesses with them. As your children get older, keep intentionally reassessing what areas of past or present weakness in your life could be communicated to your children to let them know that they are not alone or abnormal.
Carry a ready sense of thankfulness and forgiveness in your hands. For the rest of my life I’ll continue to drive home the point that “sorry” is not the same as “will you forgive me.” This principle is amplified in the ears of children. Forgiveness is such a powerful gift you can give someone, and asking for forgiveness the most meaningful request to make of another. Not every disagreement or transgression between my wife and me is helpful for my children to know about, but it’s important for them to see me ask her to forgive me when I wrong her in their presence. It’s even more important for me to be willing to own up to the moments when I have sinned against them, and then humbly ask them to forgive me. It doesn’t solve every problem or heal every wound, but it shows the child that you value them as a person, made in the image of God. It shows them that love seeks reconciliation where it can be had, and that parental authority is not built on the façade of perfection. In addition to forgiveness, few things are more powerful in this world than a sense of gratitude. Being truly thankful for something is definitely empowered by one’s perspective on life. If you think that you deserve every good thing that you work for or that comes your way, then there is a good chance that gratitude is foreign to you. If it is foreign to you, then it will be hard for your children to learn it by watching your life. We are owed nothing by the world, and every good thing is a gift from God. Our children watch us in the hard times and the easy times, waiting to see if we will shake a fist at or extend a “thank you” to our government, neighbor, and God.
These are just a few things that I have observed over the years as I have interacted with my children and sought clarity from God in how to raise them. I hope these principles can be an encouragement to some that might be in that same process of wrapping their heads around how to love their children as God loves us. Adolescence brings on tempting opportunities to make life more about the self, but when the wild hares have run their course your children will remember what kind of adult you were. Are you thankful? Are you forgiving? Are you transparent? Do you celebrate this sacred life with your children?