Its hard to imagine but from time to time I have people ask me for parenting advice. I've always been kind of hesitant to give it for a few reasons - for one, I don't think its wise, second, I haven't done everything "right" myself, and third, while parenting has a huge impact on children's lives, its not the only thing that determines "how they turn out". Other factors, that parents have no control over have a pretty big impact on our kids too.
But, since parenting does have a big impact, and since I've been asked, and since I do feel I've learned some good stuff over the years of raising my kids, I'll share some of that here for anyone who cares to read.
Being the Perfect Parent
Don't try to be the "perfect" parent. Trying to be perfect is, in my opinion, almost as bad as abusing your kid. It puts unbelievable pressure on your kids and it teaches them that its not OK to screw up, and we all know that we all screw up and need grace. Set a better example by giving yourself some grace when you screw up. That does not mean that you let things slide. It means when you screw up that you admit it and make amends as necessary. Making mistakes in parenting is normal. All parents make mistakes and have regrets. Own them and take responsibility for them and admit them to your kids. As far as perfectionism goes, check yourself - are their other areas in your life where you demand perfection of yourself? Your kids see that and trust me - it makes a huge negative impact. It sends the message that if you're not perfect (no one is) then you're not acceptable and your children will internalize that and live it out in their lives.
Teaching Kids to Give
Since I've been leading mission trips I see two basic responses from parents about missions and both are a little scary to me. Some parents say that their children are too young and can't be left at home for a week. Other parents want to take children that are too young on the mission trip. Both of these responses give me nightmares at times.
Let me address the first issue - Kids are not as fragile as you think. As long as they know that they are the most important things in your life, they'll be just fine without you for a week or two. In fact, they'll be better than fine. They'll see that helping people is important - so important that you'll give up a short bit of time with them to go do it. That will teach them more than any words you have about the importance of helping out others and giving. Words are cheap, actions are not and kids know this. That's not to say it'll be easy. I left for a two week trip to Romania when Cody and Logan were very young. I think Logan was just three at the time and Cody was old enough to worry about me getting hurt "over there". It was stressful for all of us. When I dropped them off at my mom and dad's I cried all the way to the airport and then all the time until we boarded the plane. Are my kids OK? I think so. Both of them have chosen careers that help others. One is a missionary and the other preparing for a career in public service. Both have been on mission trips themselves to Pine Ridge, Haiti and the Philippines and both have a desire to go on other mission trips. As far as I know they are neither one scared for life. In fact, I think it was a good thing. And really, it's only a week. Its what happens all the other weeks that matter to your child's development.
Now let me say this - if you're kids don't know that they come first, you will have some resentful kids if you leave them for a mission trip. In fact, you're going to have some resentful kids regardless if they feel something else comes before them. As I said above - its what happens all the other weeks that matter to your child's development. Wondering if your kids know they come first? They know. And so do you.
As for the second issue with mission trips. Sometimes parents want to get their kids involved in missions. That's awesome! BUT, you've got to be careful here. The maturity level of your kid is a really, really important factor if you want them to have a good experience rather than a bad one. I'm assuming people want their kids to have a good experience so their kids will learn about giving. But taking a child who is too immature on a mission trip can backfire and leave them with a really bad taste for "giving". Mission trips are tough. They're mentally and emotionally tough for adults and they're just that much harder for kids. Aside from the physical toughness of these trips, you have to be able to put others first, do without privacy, and tolerate people who may rub you the wrong way at times. That's a tough thing for most adults. Some kids are exceptional and can handle that beautifully. Others, most ... not so much. That does not mean they are bad kids. It simply means that they're kids and they're supposed to be immature. Its OK. They'll grow up and there will be other opportunities. Not sure about your kid? Ask someone who will tell you the truth.
Well, I'm out of time and I bet you're out of time reading, so I'll continue this topic in future blog posts.