Last week, I wrote about the importance of parenting intentionally, parenting with a clear sense of what we’re trying to accomplish in our kids’ lives. Without some level of intentionality, we’re just parenting by default. It may look like simply doing what we see other people doing, or comparing our kids to theirs and trying to give them the same or “better” experiences or opportunities. Default parenting leads to all kinds of trouble for us, like overscheduling our kids, stressing ourselves out, exasperating them, and chasing after things that aren’t right for our family and aren’t in alignment with our sense of calling from the Lord (assuming we slow down long enough to even have a sense of calling).
I ran out of space when I started this list last week, and the list is totally incomplete, but here are a few more questions that intentional parents might ask, and you might want to try visiting about as a couple, if you haven’t already:
4. How will you handle the suffering, trials, and failures that your kids will inevitably face? If you wait until your kids are faced with tough issues to figure out how you’re going to deal with them, you’re almost always going to get it wrong, at least initially. Our hearts and minds are just too hardwired to protect our kids, so that our first response is to rush in, to save, to rescue. When kids are in genuine, imminent physical or emotional danger, it may very well be necessary to do so. At almost all other times, however, that initial impulse is the wrong one. If we yield to it, that yielding will often look like trying to manipulate people or circumstances in order to transform our children’s failures or suffering into success and happiness. We’ll spare them short-term pain, in exchange for long-term damage.
I think it’s really important that our kids have a very good theology of failure and suffering, and that we work hard to teach and model it to them. We won’t have to work hard for life to bring them heartache; we just have to be ready to coach them well when it does. One suggestion is to read James Chapter 1 to your kids and talk about it. Why should we consider it joy when we face trials? How much different would our kid’s perspective and approach to life be if we could teach and model for him that failure and trials are God’s pathways to righteousness and personal strength that we can not reach otherwise? If she really believed that God loved her and wanted her good and His glory for her life, and could see her current circumstances with some perspective of eternity? It would change everything. It would make resilient, strong kids who trusted the Lord and really believed in His promises. It would ensure a greater peace in them than we have ever known. Are we willing to coach them and pray them through their suffering and trials, rather than solving their problems? The decision as to how we walk our kids through those trials is made long before the furnace heats up.
5. How will you handle your kids’ attempts to split you all apart on issues? Because they’re kids, they will attempt to play Mom and Dad against each other to get what they want. They’ll say, “Please, Mom, Dad said I could” when they haven’t even talked to Dad yet, or similar, charming little tricks. If you think yours are incapable of that, then they’re probably infants who haven’t yet gained the ability to talk. This manipulation on the part of kids, if unchecked, can lead to dissension between spouses, hurt feelings, and turmoil in your house. It can also lead to spoil kids that no one else likes to be around, but they’re too polite or timid to tell you. Decide beforehand how you’ll respond to requests, “It sounds okay, but let’s check with Mom,” or, “Have you talked to your Dad yet? Oh, really? Dad said ‘No?’ Well then, you have your answer already.” Once your kids see that parental unity reigns in your house, they’ll push this less often.
I never really thought of this in the past, but lately I’ve realized that this sort of working together really models for my kids the way that the Trinity works-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, working in loving submission and concert, one to another, what C.S. Lewis called perichoresis, the loving dance. It’s really a beautiful picture, when it works well. And, so much of how they’ll relate to their spouse in the future will be determined to some degree by how you treat each other in these times.
6. How will you two purposefully get time alone to be together without the kids? I’m always sad when I see one of those couples split up after the last child graduates and leaves home. Part of me thinks, “What the heck? They made it so long, through the really hard stuff. Why are they splitting now?” So often the truth resides in the sad fact that the kids became the reason for the marriage: all they talk about, all they do together, all they think about. Therefore, when the kids are gone, the marriage is gone. Being intentional with date nights, going somewhere for the weekend, taking anniversary trips, and intentionally deciding beforehand what time together will look like will tend to save you a lot of time and heartache when things get hectic. Time together will be a non-negotiable, something you do no matter what. Send the little buggers to Grandma’s. They don’t need to be with you all of the time. In fact, they need NOT to be with you. Your marriage, and your kids, will be stronger for it.
Parenting intentionally requires seeking God’s face for my marriage and raising my kids. My calling looks different from yours. You won’t do it how I do it; you probably shouldn’t. But, parenting intentionally is the kindest, most loving thing you can do for your kids, your spouse, and the rest of us. Otherwise, we’ll just talk about you behind your back.