My parents made plenty of mistakes. Yours did too. As a dad now with 4 kids, I've finally arrived at that place where I am more cognizant of the mistakes I am making. Wouldn't it be nice if -- like the idea of the "easy button" -- we could just hit a button to erase all the mistakes we've made? Unfortunately, we can't.
There have been many authors who have taken note of these "wounds" that have become a natural part of our fabric. They are the mistakes that our parents have made that have left us with customized scar tissue. Authors like John Eldredge have written books that get us, as men, thinking about our "father wound." The other day I was running, and had time for my mind to wander on different topics. For a few minutes I began to mix together memories of what my parents did right, with what I've heard many adolescents say they wish their parents would have done differently. I realized it's easy to focus on what they did wrong. We do that often. Instead, I made a mental list of those things they did right. Below is a list that should be a good charge for all of us as parents. (I have no idea who this family is -- just a good, old-fashioned looking picture.)
1. Be a good example.
- My parents have been married for 43 years!
- My dad was an FBI agent. He knew that advancing past a certain level as a Special Agent would require our family to move more than he wanted. For this reason, he didn't advance past that level, which demonstrated his love and commitment to our family.
- Recently I found out my dad rubs my mom's back each night to help her fall asleep. Enough said.
2. Don't overreact.
- Years ago, another staff person and I were talking to a young adolescent girl. She had a horrible attitude and was pushing others away on a regular basis. After a while talking, she told us that she had been raped a few months earlier. She asked me to tell her parents for her. Her reason: she knew her parents would overreact. It was a painful conversation. I walked away from it thinking how I needed to make sure I prepared myself to not overreact someday with my kids.
3. Get grace; give grace.
- In college I cheated on a test and got caught; almost expelled from the university I was attending. I remember how my parents reacted. They brought me spaghetti to my apartment and told me they loved me. Isn't it funny what we remember, so specifically? Why? Because their grace was overwhelming.
4. Invite people into your child's life.
- As a senior in high school, I got involved with a great ministry, Young Life. My Young Life leader, Mike Maddry, became a man I admired quickly. He taught me a lot about how to walk with God, but also how to live out my faith. Needless to say, time with him was invaluable. This helps explain what I think is the best decision my parents ever made while I was in high school. Each Friday morning at 7am I had Bible study at Mike's house. About 2 or 3 times my senior year, I commented what a beautiful day it was; perfect for golf. Mike would laughingly say that if I showed back up at his house an hour after Bible study ended with my golf clubs in hand, there was nothing he could do but play golf with me. Best decision: my parents let me skip school. That time with Mike was priceless, talking about school, girls, God, and everything else we could fit in. It was just what an insecure high school senior needed. (It shouldn't be a surprise, then, that we named our 3rd child "Maddry" after Mike and his wife, Libba.)
5. Teach the value of money.
- When I was turning 16 I asked my parents for a car for my birthday; and then I asked again for Christmas. Nothing. They finally explained that I needed to work, and to save, and when I had enough money I could buy one. I am so grateful for that lesson now. We plan to do the same with our kids.
6. Lead spiritually.
- I've sat down and interviewed well over 1,000 college students over the past 13 years. The interviews are roughly 45 minutes each. One of the questions I've asked is, "As you think back to your childhood, and then look forward to being a parent someday, is there anything you would change when you become a parent?" I should write an entire post on this one question alone someday, but I'll save that one for later. Generally speaking, the number 1 answer I have heard is college students saying they wished their parents played more of a role of spiritual leader. Now it is my turn to think about this with my own kids.
As you can imagine, I had no intention of this list being exhaustive. My parents have done many things well over the years. So much so that I don't want to try to recount them all in a simple post. Instead, I'd love to merely be the beginning of the list. I'd encourage you to list one thing you think your parents did right, below in the comments.
Let's hear it. What is one thing your parents did right?
For more blog posts like this on leading, following, parenting, fostering, and family, visit Kevin's blog at www.followingtolead.com.
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About Kevin East
Kevin East is the Executive Director of Family Matters. He and his wife Stephanie have five unbelievable kids, two of which they most recently adopted. If Kevin isn't busy with work or family, you'll probably find him in the woods near his house with a power tool. He writes at his blog, "Following to Lead". Connect with him on Twitter at @kevinteast.
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