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What Wise Parents Do
June 10, 2010 - Dennis Gingerich
It’s fun to watch our 34 year old son and his wife parent their four and a half year old and seven month old daughters. My wife and I think they are doing a great job with our granddaughters! They have dispense an excellent mix of unconditional love and discipline – two of the most important ingredients in parenting. Watching them and having other young parents ask us for parenting advice, got my wife and I talking a few weeks ago about four other aspects of this significant challenge. We thought of four contrasts that characterize wise parenting.
Wise parents are both Visible and Invisible. Parents that are actively visible and present in the lives of their children have a much higher probability of raising children that reflect their same values and characteristics. There certainly is legitimacy in the debate of quality vs. quantity of time. Quantity of time that doesn’t include quality time is limited in its positive influence. But only quality of time in short quantities also minimizes affirmative impact. Wise parents will invest significant amounts of time into the lives of their children. Children soon learn that time is a commodity that is invested in what we value the most. A commitment of time communicates to a child and a teen that they are of high worth and value.
Yet, there is a season in the life of raising our children that wise parents prepare themselves to be invisible to their children. As children mature and move toward independence, wise parents will not always be physically visible, but our children will still hear our “voices” through the values they have caught and been taught. It is vital to the emotional and relational health of teens to know they are trusted to live out the values of their family even when parents are not visible.
Wise parents Speak up and Shut up. Communication is the key word here. Parents must take their role of teaching, instructing, coaching, encouraging, validating, correcting, etc. seriously. But at every age, we cannot forget that communication goes two ways. We speak. We listen. Being “right” isn’t always right. “I told you so” is rarely necessary. Consequences often speak louder than words. And, as in all relationships, we can usually learn more by listening than by talking. Some of us need to be reminded that maybe the reason we have two ears and only one mouth is that God intended that we listen twice as much as we speak. Unfortunately, many parents practice just the opposite.
Wise parents Hang on and Let go. Whether it be giving discipline coupled with unconditional love, or giving spiritual guidance, we must have a good grasp on our children. I have never forgotten the phrase I first heard when we were young parents - “children are like a wet bar of soap.” If you hang on to a wet bar of soap too tightly or too loosely, it will slip out of your hand. Finding that right grasp of loving and careful discipline is so very important. And each child is uniquely different so there is no “one size fits all” approach to discipline.
And of course, as our children become older, we must learn to let go. We always told our children than when they were born, we made all of their decisions for them – when to change their diapers, when and what to feed them, clothes, baths, etc. But we repeatedly reminded them by the time they were 18, we wanted them to be making 100% of their own decisions. So, we didn’t wait until they went away to college to make their own curfew. We didn’t ever have a set curfew for our teens. We mutually agreed upon the time they would be home – situation by situation, depending on where they were going, how late the event was to last, travel time, etc. If they were not going to be able to make it home by the agreed upon time, they called to give us an update as to when and why. Now that kind of relationship is based on trust. But, we tried to let go earlier rather than later so they were set free to make decisions and learn the consequences and the rewards of those choices.
Wise parents Give and Take. Experienced parents already know that sacrificial giving is involved. It isn’t all about me – the parent. It is about giving unconditional love, advice, honor and respect. When they were young and still at home, we gave the majority of our vacation times to child-centered activities. Now, we travel overseas or do other things we want to do. We did our best to give them great memories when they were home. Now we are trying to do the same for their children – our grand children.
We sowed, we gave. Now, we are reaping and taking the benefits of giving in those early years. Now we get to receive our adult children’s respect. We get to watch them make wise choices, excel in their careers and be really proud of them. We love to see them choosing the same spiritual, family and relational values. All of this is a “take” for us at this stage of life. And we take away great memories when we look back on parenting. And most of all we take back our house. We receive an empty nest!
Of course if you have had a heap of negative experiences as a parent, you might be taking pain and regrets with you still today. But if so, would you also be willing to replace that by taking God’s forgiveness, His grace, His healing and His hope? He does freely offer it to you.
Wise parenting changes as we go through the years. When they are older, we are no longer wiping messy bottoms but we help them wipe up when they hit the bottom after bad decisions as teens or adults. We no longer hold their hands while they are crossing the street but we get to hold their hearts through difficult relational intersections. We no longer put food on their plates, but instead we give them food for thought (only when they ask us) when they are trying to make wise decisions about how they handle a parenting dilemma with their own children.
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