Parenting on Purpose


Do you plan your parenting as carefully as you plan your vacation?

My three sons and I slumped heavily in our chairs, eyes focused on the fading campfire. We had spent a great day playing ball, chopping wood, hiking, and cooking outdoors. Now we "men" capped off the day by discussing growing-up matters--our faith in God, honesty, and hard work, with a little sex education thrown in.

I'd invested a lot of energy arranging this weekend and had reluctantly left sick patients in the hands of other doctors. As I curled up in my sleeping bag, I thanked God for a great day of fathering my guys, trying to equip them for the world.

After breakfast the next morning, I snatched an hour for personal devotions and introspection while Rog, Rod, and Randy took off to a nearby creek. Despite my warning, they reappeared at our cramped camping trailer covered with mud from head to toe. To put it mildly, I lost my patience. After a superb first day, I blew it!

After I apologized to them, my guys trooped outside again, and I knelt in our tiny trailer, praying earnestly about my poor parenting skills. The issue was far greater than just overreacting to mud. I wondered, What does it take to be a consistent, good father? The Bible? Of course. Intuition? Probably. Maybe I just need to work at it harder....

Then the lush woods silently whispered an answer as I saw God's patterns and systems at work in nature. Obviously, there was a master plan! So why didn't I plan my parenting as carefully as I planned everything else in my life?

Although we plan the purchase of our cars, homes, investments, and even our vacations, too often we allow our kids to sprout like the neighborhood weeds--without nurture, pruning or cultivation. By default, our parenting is often reactive and unpredictable.

So how do we plan to parent? Certainly the most carefully laid plans can go awry, and the best parents can have children who rebel. But there are biblical principles that can keep our feet on solid ground when everything around us keeps shifting. Here are five principles God began teaching me that day in the woods. They have been a source of growth and strength not only for my children, but for me and my wife.

Principle #1: Set your prenatal strategy.

Luke 14:28-32 teaches us to plan ahead by counting the cost before building a tower or preparing to fight a war. I can see a similarity in anticipating the birth of a child!

Amidst all the nursery plans and name selections, we sometimes forget to think about our own job descriptions. However, the prenatal months are a great time to consider such things as what emotional "baggage" you may bring with you to parenthood. Think about your parents' parenting techniques. What worked? What didn't? What do you want to make sure you do and do not do?

Before our first son was born, we sat in our Volkswagen overlooking a California beach, dreaming about how perfect our parenting would be. We critiqued our parents' style with ruthless honesty. For instance, my parents struggled to establish regular family devotions. I knew Ruth Ann and I could do much "better," and we gradually brushed a portrait of the ideal parent mentoring the perfect child.

Go ahead. Paint your picture. And read the books too. Dream all you want; just don't share the details with any experienced parents. If you're like me, you hate it when people snicker at you. But go for it anyway! It will help you build a foundation for realistic parenting. The fine tuning will come later.

Principle #2: Parent your children's environment.

Proverbs 22:3 says, "A prudent man sees danger (evil influences) and takes refuge."

Safe refuge includes our homes. TV remote controls, telephones (with pornographic 900 numbers), and car keys are controllable. But there are other aspects to consider, such as peer influence.

When our children were growing up, we lived on a farm and they had few "walk-in" playmates. While school was out, we knew who our children were spending time with since they depended on us for transportation.

It's healthy for kids to have pals from different backgrounds, but there are times when your child may be attracted to someone whose influence could be harmful. A considerate way to monitor your child's environment is to share your concerns with him but warmly welcome his friends into your home. That way, you can keep an eye on things at the same time you are developing your child's discernment.

Principle #3: Develop a strategic plan for each child.

Proverbs 22:6 promises, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." "The way he should go" suggests that we're expected to plan that way.

My wife and I regularly took short breaks to discuss our observations and plans for each of our four children. While some of those plans pertained to the whole family--family devotions every school-day morning and daily chores for each youngster--other items were child-specific. The result was a list of words or phrases on three-by-five cards to remind me of behaviors I needed to talk to my children about and when and how to talk with them. The cards reminded me what to pray for my kids and helped me check on their progress. Here are some real examples, ranging from the crucial to the trivial. Some of the notations were for me to initiate; some were for my child.

Name of Child__________

Pray for progress in spiritual maturity; note benchmarks.

Ask what specific friends he is praying for.

Pray for God's wisdom in college choice and major.

Pray for future mate.

Remind not to drop "g's" from "ing" words.

Encourage to keep room neat--surprise visits.

Don't butt into conversations

Table manners! Napkins on lap; elbows off the table.

Stop picking on . . . .

Smother in love!

I keep my three-by-five cards in my wallet for easy access and to make notes. They give me instant recall when I pray for my kids. If three-by-five cards don't work, you can just as easily use a daytimer, pocket computer, or your memory!

Principle #4: Plan date nights with dad.

Proverbs 27:23-24 urges us to give careful attention to the condition of our flocks and herds. How much more do we need to pay attention to our children!

One hurried morning my daughter Rosalyn said something harsh to one of her brothers. Maybe he deserved it, but I fired off, "Rosalyn!"

"Sorry!" she shot back insincerely and then was out the door. No time for a discussion. In the garage, before starting the car, I pulled out her card and scribbled, "Sorry comes too quickly. Sincere? Monday night?"

Unless I absolutely can't escape the hospital because of some critical care patient or a surgery, I've made it a practice to have a Monday night date with one of my kids. On Rosalyn's next turn, before I left the office, I took a look at the notes I'd made on her card during the past month.

That Monday evening we covered the gamut of her life. She shared about boys, exams, the courses she enjoyed most, the careers she was considering, and how her gifts seemed to fit them. All the while, I was looking for a smooth opening to slip in the importance of sincerity when we apologize. The chance came, we talked about it, and she took another step toward maturity.

It was also on a Monday night that I realized I never learn anything while I'm talking, and it is critical to really listen to my kids. More than once, I've arrived at my Monday night rendezvous with an agenda, only to discover as we talked that there were much more important things to discuss.

Date nights are a fantastic way to get a close-up look at your child's world and to show that you're vitally interested in what matters most to him or her.

Principle #5: Mature together.

Deuteronomy 4:9 reminds us: "Do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them."

One Monday night I met Randy at a favorite restaurant and was greeted with, "Decisions, decisions. So many decisions while I'm still so young and inexperienced."

He was trying to choose courses for his year in high school. "Dad, what do you think?" With an impish grin he confessed, "I've never been a senior before; it's all new to me."

"And I've never been a father of you when you were a senior before, son," I responded. "We're both learning as we go along."

The future looks especially unsure to teenagers. Yet this is when they must make some of life's most crucial decisions. Our role as parents is to give advice based on biblical principles and our experiences so that we can help them make the best decisions possible.

For me, one of the greatest thrills of my life has been to watch my children make well considered, mature choices. I love to sit across the table, challenge them to set goals, and help devise a plan of action to reach those goals. Although the point of this interaction is to help them become independent, it isn't always easy for a parent to give up control!

For years I wanted to spend a family vacation in the enticing snow-capped Rocky Mountains. Finally we set the date. Everyone was excited--everyone but Rosalyn. She loved family trips, so I wondered why she wasn't enthusiastic about this one.

When the day came to leave, we boarded the plane without my only daughter. She had chosen instead to join a mission trip to South America.

As our plane headed for Colorado, I wrestled with Rosalyn's decision, a "first" in our family. But I remembered the day I'd knelt in our cramped travel trailer begging God to show me how to be a better father. Then I realized that loving our children enough to be willing to give them up to God's will was just as important a principle as all the others God had taught me over the years.

By the time the wheels thumped onto the runway in Denver, my disappointment in not having Rosalyn with us had turned into pride over her grown-up decision.

Parenting--Our Finest Hour

I am convinced that we Christians should carefully plan how to influence our children with biblical values. After all, God Himself is the greatest of all planners. He planned for our salvation with His heartwrenching decision to sacrifice His only Son. He revealed His plan through prophets many centuries in advance. And now He's in Heaven preparing a place for us.

Can we do any less than pour our time, energy, and love into parenting the children He has given us?

It's in the Cards

On Your Own

Read Dt. 6:6-7. Through Moses, God impressed upon the Israelites the importance of teachable moments and written reminders. Here's a way to apply these verses in your own family:

Prepare three-by-five cards for each of your children. On one side, list some of the verses you want to pray over regularly for them. On the other side, follow some of the suggestions in Dr. Brandt's article. Make notes of issues to discuss with them, behavior and accomplishments to praise, ideas for "date" activities, and prayer requests.

Don't trust teachable moments and timeless principles to your shaky short-term memory!