My wife Linda has been a labor and delivery at Cape Coral Hospital for over 21 years. She has the privilege to be with parents during one of the most sacred events in life - the birth of their child. She gets asked many questions when discharging first-time parents. "How will I know when my baby is hungry?" "How will I know when to change the diaper?" "When can I expect my baby to sleep through the night?" And, "Do you know how this car seat works?"
It's amazing to her (and me) that the question about the car seat is the most frequently asked question! Linda's always tempted to reply, "You had 9 months to figure this out and now you ask your nurse how to install the car seat?"
But it leads to a much bigger question. How much preparation went into this life-changing event?
Will these parents use purposeful or accidental parenting? Linda and I are both passionate about helping moms and dads parent with the end in mind. When parents move from a bump to a bundle, the future is literally in their hands. My wife is a parent extraordinaire! She helped me be a more purposeful parent. Together, we had the privilege of authoring three wonderful children who are now adults and starting their own families. As we look back over the 35 years we've been parents, we realize we really did make a commitment to intentional and purposeful parenting. We were constant learners. We chose to parent on purpose. Not by accident and not by default. But on purpose. Allow me to share the three purposes that shaped our parenting.
"Our children will choose to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength" was the first purpose of our parenting. The Jewish scriptures repeat this command frequently, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5). Several thousand years later, Jesus was asked to rank the most important law. Jesus answered, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind" (Luke 10:27).
So how do you practically introduce your children to God so they will choose to love Him? Moses wrote these words to Hebrew parents who were leaving the slavery of Egypt and moving toward a new life for their children in the Promised Land, "These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates" (Deuteron-omy 6:6-9). It is clear in this scripture that intentionality was very important! It all starts in the hearts of parents who then are purposeful about keeping God before their children through conversation, worship, activities and actions.
We practiced this in our home by praying with our children before they left for school, at meal times and when they went to bed. We reminded them often of how special they were to God and His love for them and that He had created them for a purpose. We surrounded them with good books and music that instilled God's love for them. We placed them in a healthy and positive church environment where they could learn and grow to know God better. And, we are most grateful that all of them have chosen to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.
"Our children will understand they are God's treasured and unique creation" was our second parenting purpose.God created each one of us for a purpose. We are not accidents, regardless of the circumstances of our conception. Long before we were a thought in our parent's minds, God had us in his mind. We were made by God and for God. Teaching our children that God, the creator of the universe, loves and has a plan for their lives, lays the foundation for healthy self-esteem and self-respect. But this takes intentionality.
Our parenting goal is to help our children discover the gifts God has given them and discover God's dream for them. It takes spending time with them: observing their personalities and inborn talents, talking with them about their dreams and wishes as they grow, refusing to compare them with siblings or discourage them from having big goals and dreams. We must often remind our children that they are gifts from God, given for a unique purpose.
"Our children will choose to live in healthy relationships" was our third parenting purpose. The goal of healthy relationships is accomplished much easier if the first two of these purposes have been consistently worked out in our children's lives. In reinforcing the extent of God's love for them, day in and day out, there is the greater probability they will respond to that love by returning it to you and to God and to those around them. As they grow in their understanding of who God has uniquely created them to be and how much He loves them, life is then lived out of the overflow of that love. Then healthy relationships can flourish.
As with every value and life principle we want our children to learn, what we model to our children is critical. How do we as parents show love? How do we communicate and deal with conflict? Is the atmosphere in our homes peaceful or tense? Is there freedom to disagree without harsh criticism? Do we speak with our children in a tone of voice that honors and respects them as individuals? Our homes need to be the place where we demonstrate honor and respect to our children. We can't expect respect from our children if we haven't first given respect to them. Respect is caught more than it is taught.
The calling of parenthood is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength so that we can help our children to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. And when we fully embrace His love and understand we are God's treasured and uniquely gifted creation, we will use the gifts He has given us to make a difference in the lives of others and our children will see their value in God's eyes and live in anticipation of how God will use them in life to make a difference in the world. Then out of this mindset and lifestyle, we can actually live in healthy relationships with family members and others. This is parenting on purpose.
Dennis Gingerich is founding pastor at Cape Christian Fellowship in Cape Coral, www.capechristian.com. He is writes a Family Matters blog on the Cape Coral Daily Breeze website.For more information, e-mail DGingerich@capechristian.com