Another good question a mom from Mom to Mom asked me recently: “Your kids all seem to be doing well as young adults. As they look back on their growing up years, what do they say made the biggest difference for them?”
Good question! And I only have a partial answer to share at this time, as I’ve not had the chance to ask each of our kids how they would answer this. It would make great conversation, and I intend to ask them when the time seems right. Stay tuned, and I’ll try to share more in the future.
But for now, I’d like to share a few things from my own mom-perspective as I look back on the years when the kids were still under our roof. First, however, a crucial disclaimer. There is no “magic answer” to this question. Each home is a different story—with different players in the drama. Different parents. Different kids. Different circumstances. God uses—and works in, through, and in spite of—all kinds of family situations.
And parenting is no slot-machine endeavor. It’s not as if we can figure out just the right coins to put in and buttons to push—and out come the kind of grown kids we’d been hoping for. Every one of us—including every one of our kids—has been given what someone has called the “terrible freedom of choice.” Our kids grow up to make their own choices. And we are not responsible for every one of those choices. They are. It’s important to remember the difference.
Having established the limitations of our parenting (and God’s non-limitations!), I’d like to share with you a few things which were important to Woody and me as parents—and which I think were also important to our kids.
- TIME. Children often spell love T-I-M-E. It’s important that we leave spaces in our lives to be available to spend time with them. This means not being so over-scheduled (you or them) that there are no spaces just to hang out together now and then. This is actually far more important than theme birthday parties or trips to Disney World or lessons you sign them up for. It really is. Trust me on this!
- LISTENING. Some of us (guess who!) can be better talkers than we are listeners. Children want to be listened to. That does not mean they call the shots. It does mean that they feel “heard” even when the decision you come down with is not what they wanted. It also means you are attuned to what they don’t say as well as what they do—able to “listen to their feelings” when you need to.
- STORIES. Children love stories. Both imaginary and real. Both fun flights of fancy and real-life experiences you—or perhaps your parents or grandparents or aunts, uncles, and friends-- have had. Share your stories!
- BOUNDARIES. They won’t tell you they love these, you can be sure. But they absolutely do need to know who’s the parent. You need to be the “wall they run into,” as one friend put it, when necessary. They need you more as parent then as pal. They’ll make plenty of friends. You’re their only Mom.
- FUN. Laughter is essential. Absolutely essential. For their health—and yours. Make opportunities to have fun together. Family vacations played a big part in our family life. But just as important may be the ability to find fun—and funny things to laugh at—in the mundane routines in life. If you’re looking for it, there’s something to laugh at in almost any situation. You just have to be paying attention!
- AUTHENTICITY. Over-used word these days. Let’s just put it this way: Kids need you to be real. Be real about your self and your limitations (often lots to laugh about there, BTW). Your struggles—and theirs. The fact that life is hard, progress often comes slowly, problems can seem insurmountable. But God is bigger. His clocks keep perfect time. His love is forever. And His strength truly is perfected in our weakness.
- GOD! First, last, and always. God. Keep a Godward focus. No, you are not God—and never will be (phew!) But HE is God. And he will never never never never never never (to borrow from Churchill) quit. Remember this when your two-year –old (or three- or four-year old) looks as if he/she will never be toilet trained. Remember this when your young adult child seems to be running from God. And remember this all the years in between—and beyond.
That’s it for now. This is certainly not an all-inclusive list by any means. It’s just what came first to me in response to this question. If I had to sum it all up in a word, it would be grace. It’s all grace, really. God’s grace in our lives—and theirs. Some kids take the long way around. I know—maybe the long, long way around. But as we often say at Mom to Mom, “There’s no place your kids can run that’s so far God’s grace can’t find them.” That, of course, is what makes all the difference.