"Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth.” Psalm 127:3-4Did you know that when you had a child, it was like God was handing you an arrow? When the doctor handed me a squished up little baby boy 20 years ago, he was so tiny and so helpless. I immediately wanted to protect him and my nurturing instinct went into overdrive. Little did I know that God had handed me an arrow. The ultimate purpose of being given this little gift was to launch him out into the world.
Obviously, our first role as parents when we go home from the hospital is to care for, nurture, and protect these little ones. But the work of launching begins quicker than you think. Moving through the different stages of parenting can be one of the most challenging things to do. Just when you think you have this little kid figured out, things start changing. Infant to baby to toddler to preschooler. On to elementary school and then MIDDLE SCHOOL (let’s all just take a moment of silence here……) and then teenagers and before you blink - you’re dropping them off at college. And within each of these phases, there are smaller stages and adjustments. I heard Larry Fowler (author of Raising a Modern Day Joseph) explain it this way: Picture holding your baby with both hands….all ten fingers engaged. Throughout their childhood, you will lift a finger off, one by one as they learn to stand on their own. And by the time they leave, you are letting go with all ten fingers. There have been times throughout our parenting journey when I have recalled that and felt at particular moments, “We are letting go of a finger here."
A few things to keep in mind as you travel through the parenting journey:
- Begin with the end in mind. Always remember that one day, this child will be on their own. So am I parenting in a way that will empower them to make decisions on their own? Or am I contributing to a delay in that process? Try to keep in mind what is best for them in the long run, not right now.
- Come up with family values. If you determine what is important to your family ahead of time, it will help minimize the decisions you have to make. One of our family’s values is courage. So that means we are going to put effort, resources and support behind opportunities that our kids have to step outside of their comfort zone and have new experiences.
- Remind them of WHO they are. Be a student of your child. You are on a journey of discovering who your child is and it will be your job to “train them up in the way they should go.” That means that when they are acting outside of WHO they are, you remind them. If you discover over time that your child has a generous spirit, then when they are acting selfish, you remind them, “That’s not who you are. You are a generous person and you’re not being true to yourself right now.”
- Recognize the uniqueness of YOUR family. No two families are alike when you take into consideration the history of each parent and the personalities of parents AND children. It makes for a combination that will not be replicated in any other home. So remember that when you are tempted to play the comparison game. You have to take all of these things into consideration when you are trying to help guide your children through the next season of growth.
- Allow mistakes. It’s better that they make mistakes when they have a safe place to fall - within the protection of your family - than when they are out on their own. Learn to VALUE mistakes. They are a catalyst for growth and learning. And apply that to yourselves as parents too. Let your spouse make mistakes. Take it all in stride when you make mistakes. Because YOU WILL. No one gets through this unscathed and the quicker you accept that, the quicker you can move on.
- Don't think big, think long! Sometimes, it takes YEARS to see the fruit of your labor. You may have to say something or teach something for years before it starts to stick. I underestimated how long it could take to affect behavior and let frustration set in instead of just knowing I was doing the right thing and staying the course.
- For most things, there isn't a right or a wrong answer. Are they ready for an iPhone? Should you let them go to the party? Should you extend their curfew? Should you extend grace when you find out they broke the rules? Should you let them hang out with the kid you just have a bad feeling about? Should you...? You have to just consider all the information you have and make the best decision you know how. And when you know better, you do better.
- Let the Holy Spirit be your guide. The first few chapters of Proverbs talk all about the value of wisdom. Proverbs 2 says you should “search for her as for hidden treasures.” And chapter 9, verse 10 says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” You HAVE to meet with the Lord on a daily basis. You HAVE to ask the Holy Spirit to fill you up every day. It’s the key that will unlock wisdom beyond your own understanding.
But ultimately, when it comes to you as a person, it’s about the journey, not the destination. Proverbs 3:11 says, “Do not despise the Lord’s discipline.” You need to grow too. The Lord will use this time of parenting to change you, to grow you. He will use it to smash your pride. He will use it to draw out empathy, to show you unconditional love, to make you utterly dependent on Him. EMBRACE these times of correction. I love what the CEO of Orange, Reggie Joiner, says, "God is at work telling a story of restoration and redemption through your family. No matter what your family looks like or how limited your capacity might be, you can cooperate with whatever God desires to do in your heart so your children will have a front-row seat to the grace and goodness of God.” If nothing else, we are showing our children that we are all sinners in need of a Savior!
When that day comes to send them off, you can know that God is in control. God actually cares about them more than you do. And He will be with them, just like He was with you when you left home. So start pulling that bow back now. Ready, Aim….
Lora Batterson is married to Mark, who is the lead pastor of National Community Church. Together they have three beautiful children. She loves living in the heart of Capitol Hill and going out for coffee every day off with her husband. She also thinks that the french toast at Eastern Market is the best in the world.