It has been nearly 23 years since I became a mother. Back in 1993, the year our first child of what would turn out to be a larger-than-expected family of 8 children was born, we were young, idealistic, fresh-out-of-college, living in San Francisco, and trying to navigate our one-year-old marriage.
I was thick-headed for far too long, shifting my hope to all of the things we were doing, all of the choices we were making, all of the places and people we were clinging to in hopes that our children would come out as shiny, happy followers of Christ. That end result is not a bad hope, as long as we keep our focus razor sharp: do all you want, but realize that the real hope lies in God. He is the one who shapes us and calls us and lovingly changes hearts.
If we were all afforded the luxury of turning back and giving ourselves advice, this is exactly what I'd say to myself:
1. You are not in control.
You never have been. You have God-given authority while you are raising your children, but that's not the same thing as control. Authority means you can require that your children not hang over the hotel balcony and plunge to their deaths or address their elders as "Sir" and "Ma'am", but that does not mean you have control over what their hearts and minds cling to.
2. Stop dismissing the wisdom lovingly tossed your way by older parents whose adult kids aren't walking with God.
They haven't failed. They've given it their all -- are still giving it their all -- but they have realized point #1 long before you will. They are parenting on aching knees during weary, tearful nights and they understand who the battle belongs to.
3. You do not want your child's heart, no matter how many Christian parenting books use this verbiage.
You want God to have their hearts because he is in control and you are a lousy substitute for God.
4. Parenting books written by people who don't have any adult children are premature speculation, at best.
Skip them. Go for the best words ever written: Jesus'.
It's a great idea to grab practical "hacks" from the web on how to get your kids to brush their teeth or how to effectively diffuse a temper tantrum, but put your hope in the words of God because He is the lover of their souls. He's a better parent than you are, than your best friend is, than the author of the parenting books.
In the end, the best advice I've ever received is this: point your children to Jesus every day. It doesn't matter if you're the parent of a 2-week-old or a 52-year-old: point your children to Jesus every day. Show them that their hope is in him. I keep giving myself that same advice!
Kendra Fletcher is the mother of 8, speaker for groups and conferences around the country, columnist for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, author of several books, and podcaster on HomeschoolingIRL. Her articles have appeared in a variety of publications, including Crosswalk.com, Arizona Home Education Journal, and Washington Family Magazine. She blogs at www.kendrafletcher.com, www.homeschoolingIRL.com, and www.preschoolersandpeace.com. Find her on Twitter: @KendraEFletcher