When my kids were tinies I realized quickly that I needed all the help I could get. I was hungry for ANY lifeline when I was drowning in a sea of uncertainty about ALL OF THE PARENTING THINGS. Fortunately I had some wise, godly moms who were a season, or two or three ahead of me and shared some valuable lessons. Coke Evans, a mentor in the 80’s 🙂
Here are 8 choices they taught me to make:
1. Choose Jesus. It may seem impossible to have any time alone with the Lord when your kids are tiny, but there will ALWAYS be distractions and responsibilities that will try to pull you away from Jesus. A mentor told me “It’s not easy, but it will NEVER be easy. Make time with Jesus a priority right now.” Don’t put it off tip “someday when the kids are easier.” I know, I know, the bathroom is your only sanctuary and sometimes not even that, but get creative. Praying while your kids are on the swings at the park is a start. Maybe you’re not alone, but reading Bible stories aloud and talking with your kids about what you learn is something. You can do this, and it will make a difference.
2. Choose your spouse. Your kids are important, but you are just a steward of these gifts God has given you for a time. It may be hard to believe, but they will be gone one day and you know who you’ll be left with? Yep, him. That fascinating studly guy you couldn’t get enough of a few years ago and now you just wish he’d just change a diaper and let you sleep. The 18 years you have to invest in your kids is super important, but your marriage is just as important, and it’s easy to neglect when it seems like you’re so dang tired. A mentor couple in our lives lent us their home in Florida every year for a week with the condition we would not take our kids with us. It was to be a place to nurture our marriage. I know, not everyone has that kind of option, but you can still figure out a way to get away alone with your spouse at least once a year for a couple of days. It will remind you why you married that guy in the first place.
3. Choose to pray. My praying mentors remind me that I’m not in control. I’m just a steward. “In their hearts human beings plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Proverbs 16:9. My go-to parenting prayer is “Abba Father, do what only You can do in the life of my child.”
4. Choose to read. Reading is a huge value in our home. If we go broke it will be because we bought too many books. A fantastic resource we used to get good book suggestions for every age was Books that Build Character. In addition to reading aloud together, one thing my cousin, who a season ahead on the parenting journey taught me was how important it is, (especially in those pre-teen years), to read everything they read (or want to read). This helps you know what they may be thinking or questioning and can help you discuss values that are different from yours.
5. Choose to protect AND prepare. One of the most insightful pictures a mentor drew for me was a graph that showed the dual roles of parents – to protect and prepare our kids. When our kids are little we are mostly protecting them. As kids grow you can protect less, and need to prepare more. Many parents err on the protecting line of the graph in an effort to control because our self-image can be so wrapped up in the choices our kids make. I wish we had had more “coaching conversations” – role playing different situations to prepare our kids for all the stuff they might face.6. Choose to set boundaries early. One of the best decisions we made as parents was to not allow commercial t.v. from the start. We relaxed that rule as our girls got into later grade school years, but we still had pretty strict time limits. We saw huge benefits to this in their behavior. As an elementary school teacher I was told facetiously not to smile til after Christmas. It’s always better to start strict and lighten up instead of trying to clamp down after you recognize a problem. I’m not sure how I’d handle all the screen and social media options you guys face today. Maybe others can comment on this!
7. Choose to broaden your kids’ worlds. This one goes along with #3 and #5. We’re all so aware of how dangerous the world is that our instinct is to over-protect. If we truly are preparing our kids, we can also encourage them to take some risks…help them to become world Christians. One of the most important things (and one with the most profound consequences) we did was to set a goal of taking each of our kids to a developing world country when they turned 10 years old.
8. Choose grace. This is the one no mentor told me, but I’m telling you now, so listen up. Honey, you are gonna snap at your kids when they throw their legos in the toilet, and you’re gonna forget to pray with your teen on the day of his big test. There will be days when you feed your kids cereal for dinner and get the wrong time for your daughters ‘s dance recital. Your house may be a mess for 3 years straight, and you may have a meltdown before your kid’s superhero birthday party because you want it to be perfect and it’s so not. The thing is that Jesus isn’t going to die. He loves you even if you swear when your kid has a blowout diaper all over your Easter dress. Jesus is with you and He’s got this. He’s got you and He’s got your kids. Be gentle with yourself.