The desperate needs of a child (Parenting 101)...
I was thinking about my children and the things that I’ve learned by hit and miss along the way over the past 18 years of parenting. For some reason certain words starting popping into my brain yesterday as I was thinking about this emerging generation and the deep needs they have for parenting. So many are raising themselves or letting the culture raise them, and whether they know about it or not, they long for parenting.
As I was thinking about what I believe are keys to good parenting and what kids are in desperate need of, these are the words that came to mind. I want to say that there are in no specific order, but they are. The following list is constructed with chronological age in mind as well as order of importance. Obviously some are practiced simultaneously, and others happen one at a time. Some are employed later in life, while others are practiced from birth. (i.e. – Affection and Connection happen in various forms from beginning to end, while objection and rejection tend to emerge as a child comes of age. You get my point.)
Obviously I’m making this up…so take it or leave it, but these things have been helpful to my understanding of parenting and child-rearing.
It starts with…
1. Affection – This is so critical from the get go. Love is the cornerstone that gives the soul a home. The affection of hugs, words of affirmation, a smile of approval, and a deep care for their every need. There isn’t a close second to this quintessential need. There is nothing so fundamental and foundational as knowing, feeling, hearing, and experiencing that you are unconditionally loved.
2. Connection – There is a roaming signal inside a child for connection. The difference from affection and connection is the need to know whether you relate to them and want to get involved in the things they are drawn to and moved by. Kids want to know whether you like them, not just love them. It’s not them doing what you the parent do and want and like, it’s the parent doing what makes the child come alive.
3. Complexion – As you spend time with each child in your family, it doesn’t take long to see that God made them all different. They each have their own distinct desires and dispositions. As that unique distinctive quality is called out and honored, a child begins to thrive. It’s not a one size fits all approach…each child is custom made by God and takes a custom care. The desire is for them to be the best them, not the best. When you can show them the beauty of diversity and teach them to celebrate who they are, you can free them from the pressure to be anything or anyone other than who God made them to be. That freedom is priceless.
4. Protection – Before they know there is danger that threatens their heart and life, they need shields and shelters to find safety and security from all that would seek to steal away their internal spiritual innocence or put them in harm’s way physically. The younger they are, the more they need a harbor with a clear breakwall and lighthouse from the winds and waves of attack in all forms. We cannot see ourselves as simply providers, we must also be protectors. To be a watchman on the walls guarding values and virtues is the mark of a loving parent.
5. Direction – I mentioned the need for a lighthouse and breakwall. As children get older, they don’t just need protection to guard them, they need direction to guide them. They need a parent to both shine a light on righteousness and show them the way to walk in it by example. It doesn’t not good telling them what is bad if you’re not going to mold and model the good to be pursued in life. I would also say that this involves vulnerability and the admittance of personal weakness and failure. Our kids need to see that we relate to their humanity, not just relay timeless truths to address problems. Parents that apologize teach the power of apology. Parents that share vulnerably teach the power of vulnerability…and so on. This is holistic direction.
6. Correction – As children falter, fail and fall on their faces, they need someone to offer instruction and counsel through the maze of messiness. This is the part of discipline that takes time. It’s easy to call out the bad, but it takes time to sit with them and guide them toward the truth by both by admitting where you’ve failed and learned from it as well as knowing them well enough to know how they understand best…their learning style. As you learn this, it’s easier to show them the next steps for them.
7. Reflection – As children get older they need mirrors. They need for parents to mirror back to them what they looked like from the outside in. They need to be taken on a journey from being told “what to think” to learning “how to think”. They have to be able to pause and contemplate the alternatives and decisions and think through the pros and cons. Introspection is critical to growing up and it can be valued and modeled in a home making it second nature in a child’s life. “Why did that happen? Is there anything I can learn from that?” It seems simple, but kids that don’t know how to reflect, often deflect.
8. Objection – I’m a believer that kids need to learn how to work through disagreement and conflict. When someone says, “No, you’re not going to do that” or “no, you’re wrong”, they need to work through opposition without it causing them to unravel and question their identity. Protection doesn’t mean shielding them from anything that will challenge their assumptions and upset their paradigms. I think they need to be told “No” for their own good. Objection is part of life and differing view points sharpen their hearts sometimes more than the encouragement that comes from kindred spirits.
9. Rejection – You may wonder why I’ve included this last one, but we’ve heard a lot about “snowflakes” in this generation. If objection is someone disagreeing with you or feeling the resistance of the world, rejection is experiencing the hurt of not fitting in, being pushed out, being lied to and about, being abandoned by friends, being fired, being unwanted. It’s hard to let your kids get slammed with the harsh realities of a depraved world, but they need to learn how to overcome obstacles and oppression. If they don’t, they will eventually feel disillusioned and think they’ve been lied to or fed a bunch of myths that we’re nothing more than fairy tales. As they come of age, it’s important that they are taught and allowed to experience the full-orbed life, a life that is hard and unfair. As they are taught to stand in the storms of life, getting back up after being knocked down or around, they develop a reliance on God and a resilience of heart that prepares them for life. To shield them from this is to rob them of a much needed power to survive and thrive.
Well, those are a few parenting tips. Take them or leave them. There is nothing like children to humble you, so I share these in quivering humility. I have so much to learn, but I’m happy to be learning as I go and owe a great deal to others who have shared their stories of success and failure along the way with me.
I love being parent. God, help me to be a good one.