I am no parenting expert and have never read a “how to” parent book. Yet, sometimes, people ask me for parenting advice. They probably ask because I have two stellar adult children who make me look real good (though they get the credit and now model life for me).
For what it is worth, I will offer a few ideas after a bit of reflection. Although not a specialist or other expert, I have lived as a child with parents and a parent with children. I also observed parents of friends in my childhood and daily see other parents in action. Our experiences are things we can all “read,” reflect upon, and learn from to progressively become better parents and people. These certainly relate to one another: In my view, good people make the best parents.
Jesus welcomed children and their questions. He blessed and held them and “spoke sternly” to those who tried to keep them away. Jesus also told us that the Kingdom of God belongs to child-like people (Mk 10:13-16). Thus, we have a lot to learn from children, who invariably are inquisitive, inclusive, and recognize differences (such as skin color) with interest and without judgment. In sum, kids are very important. As parents, they are entrusted to us. We should also pay attention to them and learn from them. Kids (ok, most of them) have certain traits we should not “grow” out of; rather, our growth as adults should often go in the other direction. Yet, all parents know that raising kids is most challenging.
Reflecting on our Experiences as Children
Learning from our experiences, as a kind of filter, is an underrated component of our faith and life journey, including as parents. Have you ever taken the time in solitude to seriously reflect on your childhood, including how you were “parented” and what you observed in friends’ homes? What actions, words, and qualities contributed positively to your life then and now? What didn’t work? The idea is not to judge your parents. We all know there is no perfection in parenting. Yet, there can be growth in thinking seriously about the things that helped and hurt us when we grew up.
I offer a few examples from my childhood. I watched my parents and how they lived and treated others more than I listened to their words. This reminds me that as a parent and now grandparent, like it are not, we are models (good or bad) because kids are often if not always watching us. Realizing this, we should endeavor to act and speak with great care and sometimes pause before we react to our kids. I vividly recall my dad treating most everyone, especially in service positions (e.g., grocery store clerks) in a kind and personal manner. My mom was incredibly kind, gentle, and sensitive.
In contrast, I recall my dad angrily and arbitrarily raising his voice and telling me to be quiet when he was tired or preoccupied, and my mom arguing with my dad in front of me to the point that it scared me. Importantly, I treasure the occasions when they each owned it and said: “I’m sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me. I love you.” I also learned so much from the times they encouraged my frequent questions. “That is a great question” often taught me more than any answer could and encouraged my further inquiry. Oh, in case you haven’t noticed, kids (and grandkids) are loaded with questions!
Learning from our Parental Experiences — and then Working at Changing
Parenting is time-consuming, busy work, especially in unexpected seasons of life like the COVID 19 pandemic. What can we do beyond the best we can each day? One idea is a periodic, perhaps annual or bi-annual, intentional self-audit as a parent or as a couple. If we intentionally and periodically take the time for a hard and honest look at our intentions and priorities for parenting and things we need to change, we can emerge with the potential to progress in our parenting. The follow-up is hard but rewarding and formative work. To help the process, we can create daily routines, such as part of a morning quiet time, to help us focus daily on things we want to improve.
We can also create reminders to bring to mind when we stray from our intended path in how we deal with our kids. Simple things, like a daily word consistently in mind, can really help. For example, in Col. 3:12-15, Paul suggests that his readers “clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” He then adds forgiveness, peace, thankfulness, and the ultimate priority of love. That makes for an excellent starting list of priority words and traits. We can select one of those or other key words each day, truly intending and mindfully focusing on such words/qualities for the benefit of our children and everyone around us — and for ourselves in the process.