This is the hashtag I added to an Instagram post of my daughter during her high school senior year. On one hand, it was simply a futile plea; on the other, it was an expression of my utter disbelief and grief over my daughter soon fleeing our nest. How did eighteen years fly by so quickly? When children are young, that age sounds like an eternity away, and then poof! the years are gone. The parents ahead of me were right: “The days are long, but the years are short.”
During those long days in the early years, it is hard to see the forest for the trees. The here and now of diapering to disciplining and all the routine in between is all-encompassing. We eagerly await the days our children don’t need us so much. But in a complete reversal—somehow overnight—the forest clearing is in full view and we long for a rewind, whether because the time went too fast, or we still have things we want to impart to our child, or as is the case for some parents, we long for a redo.
As a professional counselor, I have sat with countless parents of teens unsure of how they got to such a difficult place with their child or filled with guilt and shame over where they might have gone wrong. To this I want to first say, there is no perfect parent, and we are never without the hope of redemptive change. There are also no formulaic steps to prevent all difficulty, suffering, and trials for ourselves or our children. As parents, we can do everything as “right” as humanly possible and still our children may struggle or fall away. Or we can mess up royally and yet in God’s kindness and grace, we have children who love the Lord. However, as parents, there are foundations we can put in place during the early years—when we can barely see through the forest—that help smooth the path to the teen years.
Keeping the End Goal in Mind
I like to think of these as small decisions made big. In the immediate timeframe, certain day-to-day parenting decisions may seem insignificant, but what we do in the early years matters. Being intentional, however, requires keeping the long view in mind. So let’s start at the forest clearing and work backward: what do you hope is true of your family and for your children at the end of the age 0–18 phase of parenting, in terms of values and relationships?
For me, more than my children’s happiness or success, my greatest desire was and is for my children to know their need for Jesus and live dependently on him. After that, it is my prayer that our family would be close-knit, desiring to spend time together, able to talk openly, and living redemptively with one another. Keeping these end goals in view along the way informed our parenting.
For instance, we know as vital as church is, parents are the number one shaping influence in a child’s life. Therefore, only hearing about the gospel on Sunday mornings was not enough—we needed to live out the reality of the gospel in our home and communicate our need for Jesus in regular, everyday conversations. So even when our children were little and didn’t necessarily understand what we meant about an idol ruling their hearts or fully grasp the deep truths recited in a catechism, we began to familiarize them with these concepts. With the hope of Deuteronomy 6 that teaching precedes understanding, we believed that in time they would come to grasp a biblical, gospel-centered worldview and that our instruction would shape their understanding of their hearts.
Another aim, as I mentioned, was to foster relationships between siblings who wanted to be together when they grew up. When you are thick in the trees of parenting, your children tend to fight, and this was no different with our family. How then could we raise them to be friends? To love each other well? These were the questions we asked that led to sibling bonding times, and even more importantly, dealing honestly with one another in our sin. Not just for our children’s sin, but my husband’s and mine too. If they were to live redemptively—confessing sin, seeking forgiveness, and extending grace to one another, we had to go first. We had to model what this looked like and tell them again and again of the finished work and worth of Jesus on our behalf that enables us to freely confess and stand secure in God’s love.
Where We Can Place Our Hope
Parenting through the forest is slow. In places the path is rugged. Sometimes we may lose our way. We won’t get it all right, and again even when we do parent with intentionality, our kids may still wander onto another path or we may get to the forest clearing and things don’t look like what we had hoped. But as we trod along with the long view in mind, we cling to Jesus and his steadfast promises to us. He is faithful. He is with us. He will not forsake us. His promise is to work his salvific purposes through covenant families and he promises to direct our path.
May we not lose sight of you, Lord, no matter how dense our view through the trees or quickly it feels the clock is ticking on our days with children in the home.
parenting Ahead: Preparing Now for the Teen Years
Parenting Ahead helps parents with younger children build a foundation for their family based on biblical principles for the teen years to come. Readers will learn to practice redemptive parenting where their children grow to see the world through a gospel lens based on biblical truth.