Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Parenting While Thinking Ahead

One of the major struggles I've seen in women who have a hard time transitioning to the "empty nest" time is the fact that they never really thought their kids would be gone. They didn't think of their kids as future adults. They didn't put parenting in terms of raising MEN and WOMEN. It was just "my baby", "my little girl", "the kids", etc.

Now, I know-- it's easy to do, to just think of them as they are... and when they are little, those times of having adult children seem SO far away. But we, as Christian parents, must be more visionary than that.

We try to be very intentional about assessing where we are in parenting. By that I mean, every so often (at least once a year), we'll evaluate... "OK, he's almost 6... so we're about 1/3rd of the way through parenting Ethan... is he on track for that? His behavior? His integrity? His heart? Are we getting through to him in the best way for his personality? Are we building resentment or bitterness in his heart in any way? How does he deal with anger? Emotions? How does he view God? How does he view marriage and children? Does he have an innate respect and love for the Word of God? Are we raising him up to be a responsible, godly man? Does HE know that that is his purpose in life?" The answers to these questions give us direction for what might need to shift or change in our parenting and training of him.

The other thing we do is this: we put our time with him in perspective.

We've been through almost 6 years with him... in six MORE years, we'll be 2/3rds through- and then we only get 6 more beyond that. That may sound like a lot. But think of trimesters in pregnancy-- at first, it all seems to go so slowly, but then suddenly, you're in the middle of the 2nd trimester, and then one day, you realize, "oh goodness-- we're at 36 weeks! We've got to set up the crib, pull down the burp cloths, get all the clothes washed and ready... we're almost out of time!" I don't want to treat parenting that way... trying to squeeze it all in to the last year or two, realizing that my time with each child is almost up.

We think futuristically, in a sense. What I mean by that is this: we project current behaviors and attitudes into the future. A lack of respect for mom now will likely translate to a lack of respect for a wife later. A haughty attitude now will often mean job loss and disappointment later in life. A sullen, disinterested countenance now may translate into depression and dissatisfaction with adult life.

We try to think of our sons as future husbands and leaders of their homes (though they are now only 5 & 3)... and we try to encourage our daughter to nourish her feminine and mothering characteristics. With each child, we have to look at what are HIS strengths and HIS weaknesses, and help him deal with those. We look at what are HER strengths and HER weaknesses, and help her grow and shape her character to deal with those things. We will be harming them if we are so short-sighted as to just think that "if I just hang on, that whining will stop in a year or two"... or "she'll be more helpful once she's a little older and out of this 'difficult phase' ". We must look BEYOND now, to see what our action or inaction will produce in them for years to come.

Here are some specific questions that help me to think about my children like this:

  • What end result are you shooting for, and is that end result biblical? (It helps to write down what you want your son or daughter to look like when they are an adult.)
  • What qualities do you need to be working on NOW in order to get to THAT goal? (We have to be intentional about encouraging worthwhile things and discouraging undesirable things.)
  • Are there things that you're doing now that will hurt his/her future? (i.e., Are you so conflict-avoidant that you don't make her take responsibility for her failures or disobedience?, Do you do all of the chores and are thus teaching your children that homelife is a free ride for them, and setting them up for marital arguments?, Do you speak against your spouse or deride marriage?) We must be careful to not set our children up for future failure as an adult. (A great book that talks about this is "Boundaries with Kids" by Cloud & Townsend.)
So, these are some ways that we try to train up our kids, remembering that one day they will in fact "go".

What do YOU do to prepare your kids for their future, and to prepare yourself for your kids' growth into adulthood? How do you keep yourself from thinking of them merely as your kids or babies, but as separate people who will one day leave their father and mother (you) and cleave to a husband or wife?


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