When God created your children, He gave them life, breath, a soul, and a free will. No amount of parenting can remove your child’s God-given freedom to make his or her own choices. Parenting is about teaching your kids to make great choices with that God-given freedom. Hint: fifty percent success is an appropriate goal!
You made a lot of bad choices growing up and your kids will, too. The good news is that you probably learned more from the bad choices than the good ones. The tricky thing about parenting is figuring out when to allow your children to make a choice and when to choose for them. Start that process as early as possible.
Toddlers can make choices, but you have to live with the fact that they will want to wear their favorite shirt every time it’s clean—and sometimes when it still has last night’s pasta sauce on the sleeve. School-age children can make choices, but sometimes that means that they will come home with a poor grade or a lost friendship, as well as the awards and rewards. The consequences of a choice are the lessons, and some of those lessons come from failures.
The teen years are the trickiest. Teens make most of their own choices, and the struggle for parents is the knowledge that those teen choices can impact the rest of their lives. Grades matter more in high school. Friendships matter more in high school. Handing your teen keys to a car can matter forever. (Parents of toddlers just read those words, glanced at the shirt with last night’s pasta sauce, and felt a degree of panic!)
Here is the good news for every parent. Your ability to parent doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. Consider your own life. Why are you who you are today? Is it because of your parents? Do you have the job that your parents designed for you to have, or are you doing what you wanted to do? Did you marry the person that your parents picked for you, or did you choose that person yourself? Do your parents know everything you did as a teenager, or are they surprised when they hear the stories? Your answers to those questions will probably be your children’s answers too.
God made all of us with free will and your children will design their own lives just like you did. Does a parent have control or influence? Both. The tricky thing about parenting will be when to control and when to influence. My suggestion: only control what you absolutely have to. Influence your children’s choices and then allow them to own the consequences—good and bad. Don’t choose to protect your child from a choice—parent him or her through the consequences. Start that process during the toddler years and the teen years will be a lot easier. (Probably.)
There is no such thing as perfect parenting. That is the best lesson your kids will ever be taught! The way your children will learn that there are consequences to their choices is by watching their imperfect parents live with their consequences too.
When you buy the wrong car, allow your kids to know that you made a wrong choice. When you hurt someone’s feelings, allow your kids to see you apologize. When you get a speeding ticket, don’t tell your kids that the officer acted unfairly—tell them you were driving too fast and you are glad that the officer reminded you of that. (And tell them you won’t be buying something now because you have to pay for the ticket.) Parents who live with their consequences will teach their children to live with their own as well.
Your children will grow up and become what their free wills give them the right to become. Parents will influence their children’s choices but will rarely be able to control them. God created your children with the ability to choose so that, some day, your children could choose salvation. We all know that we can’t make that choice for our children. We can, however, influence the decision. The same is true for most of our kids’ choices as well.
Choices have consequences, good and bad. The earlier you can help your children understand that important truth, the better. Control only what you must and influence as much as you can. Parenting is the most imperfect and rewarding task you will ever tackle. Ask God to guide your choices and, chances are, your kids will grow up and do the same. Including God in your choices is the best way to influence your children to do the same thing with theirs.