Maybe it’s because I just had another birthday. Maybe it’s because I’m a granddad several times over. Or maybe it’s because of a struggling young seminarian I met recently who wishes he had been higher on his parents’ priority list than, say, fifth or sixth. He was hurried and ignored through childhood, then tolerated and misunderstood through adolescence, and finally expected to “be a man” without having been taught how.
My words are dedicated to all of you who have the opportunity to make an investment in a growing child so that he or she might someday be whole and healthy, secure and mature. Granted, yours is a tough job. Relentless and thankless . . . at least for now. There is every temptation to escape from the responsibilities that are yours and yours alone. But nobody is better qualified to shape the thinking, to answer the questions, to assist during the struggles, to calm the fears, to administer the discipline, to know the innermost heart, or to love and affirm the life of your offspring than you.
When it comes to “training up the child in the way he should go,” you’ve got the inside lane, Mom and Dad. No teacher or coach, neighbor or friend, no grandparent or sibling, counselor or minister will have the influence on your kid that you are having. So—take it easy! Remember (as Anne Ortlund puts it) “children are wet cement.” They take the shape of your mold. They’re learning even when you don’t think they’re watching. And those little guys and gals are plenty smart. They hear tone as well as terms .They read looks as well as books. They figure out motives, even those you think you can hide. They are not fooled, not in the long haul.
The two most important tools of parenting are time and touch. Believe me, both are essential. If you and I hope to release from our nest fairly capable and relatively stable people who can soar and make it on their own, we’ll need to pay the price of saying no to many of our own wants and needs in order to interact with our young . . . and we’ll have to keep breaking down the distance that only naturally forms as our little people grow up.
Time and touch. nothing new, I realize, yet both remain irreducible minimums when it comes to good parenting. Take it easy! Listen to your boy or girl, look them in the eye, put your arms around them, hug them close, tell them how valuable they are. Don’t hold back. Take the time to do it. Reach. Touch.
Don’t stand alongside your son or daughter like statues, unable to say what you feel, uncomfortable and distant. Take time to feel, to listen, to hold your child close.
When you are tempted to get involved in some energy-draining, time-consuming opportunity that will only increase the distance between you and yours, stop and think of the unspoken message it will convey. Ask yourself hard questions like, “Could my time be better spent at home?” and “Won’t there be similar opportunities in the years to come?” Then turn your attention to your boy or girl. Hold nothing back as you renew acquaintances.
Take it easy!