Another Ten Things I Think I Think About Parenting

With 4 kids of my own and lots of friends who are trying to navigate parenting like I am, I spend a lot of time thinking about my relationship with my kids. So although I posted on this topic before (see here), I’m going to add to it today. In the last post I wrote about the books and ministries that have shaped my thinking on parenting. I’m sure that if there is anything good that I have to say on this topic, I owe to others.

1. I think I think that parenting is the hardest job I have. No matter what happens in the office or at church on a given day, it’s almost never as challenging as shepherding kids.

2. I think I think that parents are often surprised by the obvious. I’m not sure where it comes from but I think that most parents believe that parenting is going to be easy. I know that as ridiculous as it sounds I was surprised to find out that my kids were not of the self-parenting variety. I was surprised that my wife gave birth to sinners. I thought that they were going to be just like me. Oh that’s right they are just like me. That’s usually the problem.

3. I think I think that parents have to see opportunities not problems. Whether the kid is younger or older doesn’t really matter, the “problem” that I’m dealing with today is really an opportunity to shape, guide, and encourage him/her to be the person that God wants them to be.

4. I think I think that it is almost impossible to be a good parent without first being a good spouse. That’s because Mom and Dad’s relationship establishes an environment that all the other relationships (parent-child, brother-sister) take place in. If mom and dad are being selfish or argumentative or speaking negatively of each other, the whole house is going to take on that same harsh, self-oriented spirit.

5. I think I think that when it comes to parenting moms and dads need to listen to each other more. Each parent brings a different perspective and both are valuable and needed. For example, one parent is probably more of a disciplinarian while the other is more compassionate and merciful. Neither of those are more important than the other. Both are necessary. Discipline without compassion is harsh and will drive kids away while compassion without discipline will wreak its own kind of a havoc in a kid’s life. By listening to each other and valuing the others’ perspective, there is a better chance of parenting well.

Example: By late Thursday night I’m tired and grumpy and just want kids to get homework finished and get to bed. In those moments I’m prone to frustration and raising my voice. But by God’s grace I’m learning to listen to my wife when she tells me that no one has done anything wrong and the problem is more mine than anyone else’s. Often the best solution is for me to just go to bed and leave everyone alone. Just to make my point clear: I wouldn’t know that if I didn’t listen to my wife. Because in the moment it sure feels like I’m right. So parents you need to listen to each other!

Single parents are in a difficult position of not having anyone to bounce ideas off of. That’s one reason that The Crossing has a single mom’s ministry. We need to develop the same opportunities for single dads too.

6. I think I think that older kids need more parenting than most of us think they do. When a child is young, their needs are obvious and unavoidable. But as that child grows up and gains a degree of physical independence (they can stay at home by themselves, they can cook their own mac and cheese), it’s easy to believe that they don’t need as much of their parents’ time and attention. But nothing could be further from the truth. Older kids/Teens need a different kind of parental involvement but they need every bit as much of their parents’ attention.

7. I think I think that what’s important to your kid needs to become important to you. Although I’ve always loved sports, my 13 year old is into sports in general and fantasy football in particular way more than I am. The truth is that I don’t much care how many fantasy points Maurice Jones-Drew (running back for the Jaguars for those of you who aren’t immersed in the NFL) is expected to get this week. I’d rather read a good book or magazine than ponder what free agent pick ups will help my team in this week’s game. But I’m convinced that if I blow off things that my son’s interested in and if I call those things a “waste of time,” then it’s going to be difficult for us to have the kind of relationship that I want to have with him. Every kid has different interests and while you don’t have to dive in as deep as they do, I think that a good parent has to take an interest in the things their kids do.

8. I think I think that it’s going to be hard to parent teens if you don’t remember what you were like as a teenager. I catch my wife and I expecting our kids to have the values and perspectives of a 40 year old. I quickly forget that there was a time that I too didn’t think that school was all that important. I too thought that my grades weren’t as good as they should be because my teachers were mean, unfair, and didn’t like me. I find myself thinking that my kid should approach school not like the 13 year old that he is but instead as the 40 year old that I now am.

9. I think I think that it’s going to be hard to parent teens if you don’t remember what those years are like. Do you remember what it’s like to be made fun of for something that you can’t control? Do you remember what it’s like to not make a sports team and realize that you aren’t as good an athlete as you wish you were? Do you remember the awkward guy/girl relationships? If not, it’s going to be difficult helping your kid navigate these years.

10. I think I think that as kids get older parents need to plan family nights that older kids enjoy being a part of. If a kids consistently sits at home on weekend nights, they are going to get bored and try to do things with friends instead. While to some extent that’s healthy, I think I think that parents should try to find stuff to do that the whole family can enjoy doing together. Personally, I find this difficult not because I don’t want to do things with the kids but because it’s difficult to find things that we all enjoy. In the fall, Tiger games (both tailgating and the game itself) work for our family. If you have other good ideas, leave them in the comments.

Bonus: I think I think that too many people try to parent their teenager (or even pre-teen) like they parent their 8 year old. One of the best things that I learned from Age of Opportunity is that a parent’s role changes from more of an authoritarian to more of a coach. When a kid gets older, you have to trade in control for influence. The extremes are easy. When a kid is 2, you are the boss who tells them what to do and rightly expects to be obeyed. On the other end of the spectrum, when a kid is 22, you realize that you can’t control their behavior but that they are going to do what they want to do. In this case, your only hope is to help them to “want” the right kind of things.

So the extremes (when they are 2 and 22) are easy to figure out. The hard part is transitioning from control to influence. It’s especially hard to do with your oldest because he/she is the first and you are trying to figure this parenting stuff out. In addition you still have younger kids in the house who are in a different stage and therefore need different things from you. This means that as a parent you have to deal one way with an 8 year old and then turn right around and have a completely different approach with the 16 year old. For me that’s just plain hard.

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