“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
When presented, this question is usually aimed at little kids, and we enjoy the cuteness of their answers. When the same question is posed to graduating high-school seniors, it’s not as cute.
I recently sat at a high school graduation and listened as the junior and senior officers stepped up to the microphone and echoed each other with this mindset of ‘when we grow up’, talking constantly about how they would now need to mature and become adults.
As the parent of one teen and one teen-to-someday-be, this terrifies me.
If you pick up any recent books on life, specifically books on manhood and womanhood, it can almost be guaranteed that one of the chapters will be devoted to the idea of prolonged adolescence. This is the recent realization that more and more young adults are stretching out their journey to adulthood well into their late 20’s and early 30’s, some even beyond that. If we look around us, it’s not so hard to see that this is truth.
If I am sending my son or daughter off to college, and they still structure their lives around this idea of ‘when I grow up’, I have failed one of my jobs as a parent. Our primary role in parenthood is to love and lead our children, and we are not doing either well if we are not preparing them for adulthood by their graduation date. When high school ends, the full weight of society and life itself comes crushing down on our kids, whether they head off to college or not. This doesn’t mean we don’t still financially support them if possible, or that we don’t keep an open door for them, or that they need to have their future figured out by graduation. What it does mean is that our children need to be spiritually, emotionally, and physically prepared for the increase in responsibility that comes when they wrap their hand around their high school diploma.
So how do we prepare our children for that moment and enjoy the preparation along the way?
Responsibility and allowing our children to ‘own’ something should begin very early in their lives. You are safe in asking a fair amount from your kids and helping them to learn how to function independently and joyfully apart from you. Starting this early doesn’t rob them of their joy, it helps them grow in it. By providing them with responsibility you are giving them the tools necessary to become adults and also allowing them the achievement of accomplishing something on their own. Encourage creativity and ideas along the way; if they come up with a different way to get the job done than how you would have done it, that’s ok. Let them have freedom in figuring things out. While we’d love to live our kid’s lives for them, doing so will most surely ruin who they are and who God calls them to be. Sometimes this means letting them take more time figuring it out. One of the great difficulties of parenting is that we know if we just do the task, we will have it done more quickly than if we take the time to walk our kids through it. This is something we personally struggle with, because it slows down all of our routines. We have to keep reminding ourselves that it is ok when a task like folding laundry goes from a 25-minute chore to a 2-hour ordeal and we’ve had to endure a little frustration and problem-solving along the way. We need to be ok with this and we have to be flexible enough to allow this to happen until our kids figure out their routine. As our children grow, so should their responsibility. It’s ok to stretch them from time to time in order to train them up well.
HAVE A PLAN
In one of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, Calvin’s Mom and Dad are having a conversation and admit that they would have never been in such a rush to adulthood if they realized that the entire thing was ad-libbed. As true as that might seem, ad-libbing our parenting isn’t a wise choice. At times we have to improvise or be flexible, but wisdom is making a plan for our kids. Spend a date night talking with your spouse about what you agree are the major points in your children’s lives, ask then how you will help them to reach those points, and write it all down. This discussion should never stop, but continue throughout your parenting and the life of your children. For us, one of our big points is our son’s entrance into high school. We have planned a Dad and son outing for a few days that we know he will enjoy and hopefully will concrete the moment in his life when he begins a new season. Our kids need guidance and wisdom, from their first bike ride to the neighbor’s house, to the day they walk down the isle, to their first child, your guidance as a parent is vital to their joy and growth.
As parents, we should be keenly aware of the difference between wisdom and knowledge.
Knowledge is simply knowing information, wisdom is knowing what to do with the information you have and how to make decisions based on that. Most of our kids will learn knowledge from an educational system, but they will learn wisdom from peers, parents, and pressure. Obviously, the wisdom imparted to them by peers and pressure can be negative. It’s important that we constantly engage our children, finding out what they know and what they are doing with that knowledge. This is true for any topic, from the Pythagorean Theorem to sexual activity. If we aren’t guiding our kids in how to handle what they know, someone else will.
A great friend of mine has often said that one of the best things we can show our children is our own fallibility. We need to realize that even though we may think we are perfect, our children will quickly begin to see that we are not.
As we move forward in preparing our children for adulthood, they must learn that they will make mistakes, and handling failure is equally as important as handling success.
We must learn to repent to both our children and our spouse, and to do it immediately and often. Not only does this teach them what repentance looks like, it helps them understand that mistakes are ok and also allows us to teach them what forgiveness truly is. If we are humble enough to seek our family’s forgiveness when we make mistakes, they will learn the same trait. As parents, we’d love to look like we have everything figured out, but we all know we do not. There is no shame in seeking out an answer we don’t know or asking someone we trust. This is the priceless value of living in Christian community. We have a readily available source of friends who love us and our children and are willing to help when we need it. Let your children see you do this, contrary to what we are taught, especially as men, seeking help isn’t a sign of weakness. We have to help clarify what it really means to be a Godly man or woman, and honesty in all things is crucial. As we move forward in preparing our children for adulthood, they must learn that they will make mistakes, and handling failure is equally as important as handling success.
The item of utmost importance in parenting our kids well is teaching them to put Christ first in everything they do. They will learn this no other place better than at home. If they watch their parents simply sprinkling a little Jesus here and there, they will do the same. There is no separating the work of Christ in our lives from how we live day-to-day, everything we do is informed by the truth of the gospel and the saving work of Christ on our behalf. This shapes how we live and is the greatest wisdom we can impart to our children.
Equipping our children with the knowledge of who God is and how He calls us to live, for His glory and our joy, is not the responsibility of the church or the school, but of us, the parents.
Time together reading scripture, books, and discussing questions about who God is are the most life giving moments that we will ever experience as parents. We need to set aside time for this and make it part of our plan, not only to do it with our children, but to teach them to do it themselves. We are handed the responsibility of shepherding our children into the beautiful reality that they can examine God for the rest of their lives and his character will continually be revealed to them in new and wonderful ways. We can only teach this if we are striving to live it ourselves. We do this not because we must, in order for God to love us, but as a response to Him – because He has already loved us.
Our role is not hiding them from the world, but teaching them to navigate it as they stay focused clearly on the cross of Christ.
The reality of parenting is that we are stewards, nothing we have is ours, but is a gift from God to us. This also true for our children.
We must steward them well, taking into consideration the world that they live in and how to best prepare them for it. Our role is not hiding them from the world, but teaching them to navigate it as they stay focused clearly on the cross of Christ. When we, as parents, draw our last breath or send our child off on their own, we should be able to say that we did our utmost to prepare them well and that we taught them to continually and whole-heartedly trust Jesus in all of it. We won’t always be there to guide them when they step out into the world, but we can teach them to trust the one who can.
Most importantly, we, too, must trust Jesus. When we fail with our children, and at times we will, it’s only the saving work of Jesus Christ that will secure our children for eternity and bring them the joy we so deeply desire them to have.