It has been a long week, packed with blessings, celebrations and memories. The week began with a drive from Arizona to Oregon, crossing four states (we can be stupid cheap sometimes). We stayed at the home of my amazingly gracious sister-in-law, spent one unbearably short day with my only sister, and got to know my adorable niece and nephew all over again. I was reminded that family is a tremendous gift.
My husband and I hiked through a rainforest with the kids and were blown away by the magnificence of God’s handiwork. We spent a day in Portland. Sadly, it was much dirtier and far less charming than I remembered. We reminisced over a long dinner with old friends and were reminded that there are no friends like old friends. We ended the week at the lovely wedding of our son’s childhood friend. Witnessing the marriage of a now-adult child we watched grow up was a bittersweet reminder of how quickly time passes.
As I write, we are headed back to Tucson and I have little to do but think. My mind keeps wandering back to some conversations I have had over the past weeks. All the folks have different stories but they do share a common bond. All have adult children that have broken their hearts.
Some of the kids got caught up in drugs and were unable to free themselves from the trap. Others became alcoholics. Bad company and or worldly philosophies led more than a few astray. All who strayed have turned their backs on the faith they were raised in.
There was precious little I could say to comfort these parents over the course of our conversations. Once an adult child has gone their own way there is not a lot that can be done to bring them back. The ultimate outcome of their story is between them and God. Because there are few cures for this particular brand of heartache, prevention is imperative. There are five steps Moms and Dads can take over the course of the parenting years to prevent a world of hurt when their kids reach adulthood.
Get married and stay that way –
Divorce wrecks kids. Children of divorce universally believe that if they were smarter, cuter or better behaved their parents would have stayed together. This false view of reality sets them up for all sorts of self-image and relationship issues later in life. Perhaps the biggest problem with divorce is that it diverts attention that should be on kids back to the parents. Parents spend a lot of time licking their wounds and searching for relationships to shore up their own shattered self-confidence in the years following a divorce. This leaves kids with loads of time to develop sketchy friendships and lots of opportunities to experiment with dangerous behaviors. To make matters worse, stepparents are rarely passionate about raising someone else’s kids. Kids sense the tension and it causes them to feel like interlopers in their own homes. If you feel you absolutely must divorce, do your kids a favor and commit to singleness (and celibacy) until they reach adulthood.
Don’t overlook character issues-
Inclinations towards substance abuse, self-centeredness, deceit, spiritual apathy, laziness, and the tendency to withdraw have their roots in childhood. Be aware of your child’s predisposition to certain sins and deal with issues early on.
Be selective about which influences you allow-
Friends, relatives, educators, television and even music powerfully influence how our kids view the world. It is vital that we know who and what is shaping our kids. Parents are sometimes hesitant to say “no” to people and things that are having a detrimental impact on their kids out of fear of appearing controlling. There are no do-overs in childrearing. Once harm is done, it’s done. Don’t hesitate to limit or even eliminate influences that are inclined to lead your kids down the wrong path.
Don’t be a fraud-
Do not pretend to be better than you really are and refuse to be satisfied with living a feeble, partially committed Christian existence. Deal with the sin in your life decisively (Matthew 5:30). You must deal with the sin in your life because your child’s spiritual future is hinging on your ability to model truth for them. You don’t have to be perfect but you do need to be making an authentic and concerted effort toward becoming holy.
Commit to a Bible-believing Church-
A good Church has innumerable benefits: it provides a good place to make friends, teaches truth, provides accountability and helps keep kids busy and grounded during the teen years. It is possible for a person to be very involved in Church and not have a relationship with God. That said, kids understand almost intuitively that our involvement with Church is huge indicator of how serious we are about our relationship with God. Your kids will likely never be more committed to God or Church than you are, so get committed to God, find a good Church and stick with it.
There are no guarantees in child rearing. It is possible to do everything right and still have a kid who breaks your heart. The odds of parental heartbreak are significantly diminished when you strive to nurture a good marriage, seek a vital relationship with Jesus Christ, keep an eye on influences and live transparently.