It is often said that parenting is not for cowards. It is true that parenting is a non-stop endeavor and some days are easier than others for sure. I had my “I can do it days” when I felt strong and capable and empowered, but I also had plenty of “deer in a headlight” days when I felt body slammed, on the verge of tears and numb. Nonetheless, throughout Scripture it is obvious that raising children is a wonderful blessing of God, full of challenges but with a multitude of joys as well.
Infants are the sweetest of treasures. Little and pink, full of promise, their chubby cheeks and cherub-like smiles are balanced by endless diapers, colic, sleepless nights and exhaustion. I think that I spent 20 years rocking babies in the middle of the night, feeding and praying for the one in my arms and those asleep down the hall. I am sure that those tired prayers raised to heaven in the dark are what sustained me, and they now make me smile in remembrance. My challenge in those days was to try to put things into a routine the best I could. I knew things went better for us when I didn’t feel defeated as I sat on the floor amid piles of laundry and stacked blocks with my little one. Sometimes you just have to take the long view and say “this too shall pass.”
So it seems that just as you get them sleeping in their own beds, they develop their own little personalities with likes and dislikes, tantrums, whining and language development – like saying “no!” Discipline takes on a greater meaning as parents learn what works for a particular child. While a warning look might work for one child, another might need timeouts or motivational charts with rewards for good behavior. Their circle of relationships also gets wider, so the need to teach them to share, ask forgiveness, take turns and be kind becomes a challenge. Consistency and repetition are so important at this age, and that can wear a parent out. But, oh, the sweetness and joy when you see them share or ask forgiveness without your prompting. Most important, though, is teaching our children about God and how much He loves them. Reading Bible stories to them, praying with them and talking about Jesus at an early age are great joys to both children and parents.
School-age children are some of the most delightful little people on earth. Humorists fill books about the marvelous and endearing things they say. On the other hand, they test, challenge, resist and even defy parents, so routines, boundaries and discipline are as important as ever. Teaching children to work and serve others is also a parental challenge at this age. Work around the house, work parties and service projects can be fun ways to teach this. Seeing a child’s character and skills develop brings great joy to a parent’s heart.
Personally, I found overscheduling activities was a pit we fell into off and on over the years. Sports, dance, art and music lessons and youth-development activities of all kinds teach our children valuable skills as long as we don’t run ourselves ragged or find that we are not having dinner together, or missing family prayers or other obligations. Moreover, making sure we balanced individual pursuits like club sport and ballet with community activities like youth development and school sports helped to keep our children more plugged in to our overall vision of how we were following the Lord in community.
The challenges in raising teens and preteens have grown greater in recent years. While we enjoy seeing our children spread their wings and march toward independence, we are also aware of the threat of negative influences from TV, video and other media. We worry about violent video games and movies and programs with hidden messages. The culture around us does little to support Christian values, and we struggle to stay on course and pick our battles. Helping children experience the power of the gospel is so important in these years. Family prayers, youth development, Life in the Spirit Seminars, prayer meetings and mission trips were some of the things that helped my children and gave us joy. Of course, we parents need to pray unceasingly and live out the gospel to the best of our ability ourselves.
We found the teen years to be great memory makers. Those years are filled with listening, lots of laughter, hard work and new experiences. We sat on many bleachers and drove many miles to sporting events. Being involved in what the kids were doing built relationships and gave us some peace about what was going on in their lives.
The end of the high school years brings its own challenges. Dealing with senioritis and guiding teens in their plans for the future can be a minefield and a joy at the same time. Raising children who know that they are children of God and loved by their Heavenly Father and that He has a plan for them is probably the most important task we are given. But I have always found comfort in Isaiah 55:11: “So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” Bob and I and so many, many others worked to put the Word into our children, and it is there for them, ready to be anointed by the Holy Spirit when they need it.
Nowadays, Bob and I rejoice in the adults and parents that our children have become, and grandchildren keep us busy and light up our lives. We rest in the assurance that God is always faithful in the midst of whatever challenges we face, and we try to pray unceasingly.