As a parent of three grown children, I have learned a few things along the way (usually via my mistakes). I hope you will find them helpful.
1) Be consistent! As a couple, we should decide how we’re going to handle a situation and then stick to it until we both agree on a different solution! As much as possible, we should hold off on making a decision about our child until the two of us can discuss it. Also, we should make sure we hear both sides of a story before coming to a conclusion. For example, if a child tells us their teacher thinks we’re too strict, we can tell the child we’ll arrange a conference with the teacher to hear what they have to say. (Most likely, we’ll discover that our child did not accurately convey the teacher’s opinion of us.)
2) Suggested responses to common situations:
a) child to parent: “I hate you!” (Because we said “No” to them.) Parent response: “I still love you, and will do what I believe is best for you.” (Then follow through on our decision. We needn’t spend time trying to convince the child that we love them. They probably already know it.)
b) child to parent: “You hate me!” Parent response: “That isn’t true, & I’m sorry you feel that way. But my decision stands. I’m doing what I feel is best for you.”
3) Depending upon the maturity level of the child, there are times when it’s appropriate to teach them that our God-given role, until they’re adults, is to instruct them in the ways of the Lord & do our best to protect them. Their God-given role is to honor, respect, and obey their parents.
I told my children (when they were older–upper elementary school age onward), that they could calmly and respectfully present their case to me and I would prayerfully consider what they had to say. But once my husband and I had made a decision, we expected them to obey it. Sometimes the Lord did change our decision. Other times, He didn’t. But at least our children felt they had been listened to, even if they didn’t like the outcome.
4) As parents, we should beware of undermining each other’s authority! It isn’t good to argue in front of the children. If our spouse makes a decision we don’t agree with, we can ask our spouse to discuss it with us privately. If we can’t come to an agreement, then we wives should trust God, submit to our husband’s decision, and support him in it!
Because we are human, there are times when we’re too weary to stand firm, and our children may take advantage of that. If, in such a time, we “give in” to a bad decision, we shouldn’t be afraid to go back to them when we “come to our senses”, and tell them we made a mistake and have changed our mind. If they accuse us of going back on our word, we can tell them it is good to keep good commitments, but when a bad decision is made, it’s best to confess and repent. (This will also serve as a good role model for those times when their peers pressure them into bad decisions.)
5) One of the most difficult transitions to make as a parent is in dealing with adult children. My role has changed. It is no longer my responsibility to protect them. I must let them have the freedom to make mistakes and learn their own lessons. I must resist the temptation to give unsolicited advice, and trust in the power of prayer. But the great reward is that I now have wonderful friendships with them–something I couldn’t fully develop when I was still their disciplinarian. I am now free to relate to them the way I do with my other friends: we learn from each other and we are each ultimately accountable to the Lord!
The following illustrations are taken from my journals in the early 1990’s, when our children were around ages 11, 8 and 6.
6) We should not discuss plans with our children until we’ve cleared it with our spouse. Tom and I had discussed the possibility of hiring a clown for Kristy’s birthday, but I told Kristy before we had finalized our decision. There were two things wrong with that:
a) It made it difficult for Tom to say no, if he wanted to.
b) If he had wanted to surprise her, I ruined the surprise.
7) We shouldn’t let parental pride cause us to push a child into something they are hesitant about. We should be sensitive to the child’s wishes and not try to show off their talents or virtues.
I once took the fun out of a Bible Bowl competition by trying to prepare Shon too thoroughly. There were times when Tom signed him up for singing competitions that he wasn’t crazy about. Once, Shon earned money by selling a booklet he created, and then he donat4ed the money to charity. He was upset when I told some people about his giving. He said it was between him and the Lord. I apologized and asked for his forgiveness. It’s good to be supportive, but we need to be sensitive to the child’s feelings.
8) In making family decisions, we should consider the opinions of God and our spouse over that of outsiders. In 1990, I was struggling with a lot of decisions about what to do or not do for our special needs son. I was feeling guilty for not doing everything that was presented to us. We had to weigh the benefits to him and also consider how each thing affected the entire family. Tom and I had to seek God’s guidance and not worry about the opinions of others.
9) We must beware of reaching out to certain children to the detriment of our own. If another child’s behavior is stumbling our children, we may have to lovingly end the relationship. One time when I was agonizing over how to end a relationship between a neighbor and our girls, the girl’s mother got mad at me and she ended the relationship. I was thankful the dilemma was resolved and that I didn’t have to be the “bad guy.”
10) We should help our children to avoid situations that stumble them. Once when our children and I were getting haircuts, I was feeling like I should write a letter about the sexy photos on the walls, but the hard part was that the photos were of the gals who worked there, so I struggled. But as we left, Shon said he’d seen a magazine with a naked woman on it and was upset about how it made him feel. (He was 11.) Then I knew I had to say something. Thankfully, they responded positively. If they hadn’t, we would have found a new place to get haircuts. Also, we shouldn’t cause our children to go against their conscience, even if we think something is no big deal. We must take them seriously and support them in following their conscience. Shon sometimes asked to leave a record store because the music disturbed him or because he was fasting from records.
11) We should be enthusiastically supportive, but not pushy. It’s hard when neither the parents nor the child are highly motivated to do a particular task. At such times, we should pray for motivation for ourselves and our child. A child will usually respond to enthusiastic support in attempting a difficult task. We parents need to be their cheering squad. But we also need to know when to back off if we cross that fine line between enthusiastic support and being pushy.
12) We should be prayerfully aware of our own selfishness. There were times when our young children were sick and I’d post-pone taking them to the doctor based on my convenience. Then God would intervene through circumstances to get me there. I’d then praise Him on behalf of the children and ask Him to forgive my selfishness.
13) We should pray for wisdom. One of our young daughters would often fake being sick when she didn’t want to do something, thus making it difficult to know when she was truly sick. This type of thing requires divine wisdom.
14) We should look for good interactive games to do as a family (not just toys that make good babysitters). We all have times, as parents, when we need the children to entertain themselves, but we should also be sure to include fun family times.
15) We should pray for patience and perseverance in helping our children to become independent. That process can be a lot of work, even overwhelming at times, especially if we have a special needs child. One morning, my youngest came and told me she’d wet her bed. My heart groaned at the thought of two more loads of laundry when I was struggling to get through the existing pile, but thankfully, I just got her a fresh nightie, tucked her into my bed with a kiss, and said nothing about the sheets. But later I felt the Lord prompting me to tell the children I needed their help. I decided to give then each a basket to pt their clothes in, and then we’d sort and fold the laundry together.
16) We should get our children involved in giving of their time and resources. We kept a jar that the children put money into and then we’d all decide who to help with it at Christmas. We also got involved in a church ministry that took food and clothing to families in Mexico, and we shopped for items to donate to programs like “Love Lift” (which helped local families) and “Samaritan’s Purse” (which provided Christmas presents for children in third world countries).
I have one funny story that came out of a visit to the Love Lift quarters where they sorted food and other supplies and sewed bags to put the supplies in. Our daughter Heather watched a woman working at a sewing machine and asked what it was! We all laughed. (Yep, I never liked sewing.)
17) We should show the children respect by asking before giving away their toys. Tom and I had both been guilty, at times, of giving away toys they still wanted.
18) We should read to the children, especially the Bible. When Shon was 9, he told me he had a “hunger” for God’s Word and wanted an adult Bible (so we got him the audio version, since he had visual problems).
19) If possible, and if both parents don’t work the same hours, it’s good to take our children to our spouse’s workplace occasionally. It’s nice for them to see what their parents do.
20) When a child complains about one parent to another, we must beware of saying anything negative about the spouse to the child. Shon once complained to me about Tom playing secular records when Shon was trying to avoid them. I said, “Your daddy loves you and wants you to be happy. As long as you’re happy, he’s happy. So just suggest other fun things to do when he suggests listening to records.” Then, in private, I explained the situation to Tom. Shon then worked on expressing his feelings to Tom, and Tom worked on being sensitive to Shon’s struggles with his conscience.
21) If mornings tend to be rushed, we can make lunches for the next day and load the non-perishable items into the car the night before.
22) We should give our children time to re-consider. I’m copying the following out of an old journal: “Tonight Heather wanted to go into Shon’s room a little longer and I said no. She refused to get into bed. I told her if she wasn’t in bed by the count of 3 she wouldn’t get her snuggle time. She didn’t move. I said, ‘OK, no songs.’ She burst into tears and said she just needed a little longer to make up her mind. My heart broke, because she really has been trying hard to be obedient. I said I’d pray about what to do. I prayed, then told her I fear4ed that if I gave her the songs, then the next time she’s disobedient she’d figure she could just cry and talk me out of punishing her. She said she wouldn’t. I decided to give her the time and we prayed together asking God to forgive her disobedience. I asked if she was sorry and she nodded. Later, she voluntarily (in tears) said she was sorry and that she had a hard time not crying again because she felt so badly. I told her I understood. I feel the same way after God forgives me for being disobedient. What I re-learned is that Heather just needs prayer and gentle persuasion, not threats. I should have put my arms around her told her I understood how hard surrender is and prayed for God to help her to be obedient. I believe she would have obeyed. I was tired and eager to get to bed, so I didn’t have godly patience. Praise the Lord, He got us through it. Even Kristy, bless her heart, wanted Heather to get her snuggle time. And I think that was also too harsh of a punishment. Heather, of all the kids, definitely needs her snuggle time.”
23) We should prayerfully consider our child’s suggestions. Here is a quote from an old journal: “When I picked the girls up Kristy’s papers had disappeared from the playground. She was upset. Heather suggested we see Kristy’s teacher. I was in a hurry to get back to Shon (left in the car) and said the paper wouldn’t be there if it disappeared from the playground. Then Miss Barbara came running after us, saying a boy turned it in (he’d gotten it by mistake). Tonight, when Tom, Heather and I were sitting around, I told Heather I should have listened to her and that, in the future, when I don’t listen to her suggestions, she should ask me to pray about it. (I told Tom about the incident.) She said, ‘You should have listened to me.’ I said, ‘I know. Will you forgive me?’ She said yes, and hugged me. (I told her I now realize I could have sent her to the teacher while I went to Shon, which I might have realized, had I prayed.)
24) In challenging circumstances, it’s good to pray for a calm spirit. We’ll make better decisions when we’re calm. I read in my journal about a day of one frustration after another: a car that wouldn’t start, a child throwing tempers and then, just when I got her settled down, I slammed her hand in the car door. God provided a ride home and I admired that mother’s calm spirit in contrast to the impatience I was feeling. I did find that it helped when I started praising God for the positive things, such as the ride home and that it was my right-handed daughter’s left hand that was hurt with only minor damage. We all have those days. It’s good to remember to pray and praise God in the midst of them.
25) Whenever possible, we should check with our spouse before saying yes to our child. If a child doesn’t like one parent’s answer, they’ll often go to the other parent without mentioning that the first parent already said no. After I had once said no to the girls, I overheard Kristy say to Heather, “Let’s go ask Dad. He’s the boss.” Tom and I learned to say we’d check with each other and get back to them with an answer. The first parent might end up changing their mind, but at least then it’s a result of consultation rather than manipulation.
As a word of encouragement, I’d like to mention that all three of our adult children are great people, despite all my parental mistakes! Praise God!