In honor of my 10th year parenting anniversary this past weekend (my first born son turned ten), I thought it would be good to write down 10 of the most significant lessons I’ve learned about fatherhood/parenting during the past 10 years.
1. The early years are the hardest.
- Now I don't know what it is like to raise teenagers (for those of you who have done so or are doing so, please enlighten me) but most of the feelings of despair, inadequacy, and failure as a father happened during the first 3 years of my child's life and really during the first six months. Something remarkable happened when all of my kids turned 4 - like the old had passed away and all things had become new. Hang in there parents of toddlers.
2. Discipline can and should be an opportunity for grace.
- The key to discipline is consistency, truth, and grace. There is no grander opportunity to teach your child about their depravity and the consequences of their depravity than during discipline. Most dads swing between the imbalance of being too harsh (I’ve been here many times) or too lenient (little to no boundaries). There is also (more importantly) no greater opportunity to point your child to Jesus than during discipline. Your child needs to to know when they are wrong. More importantly, they need to know who has taken their wrongs to the cross and paid for them all.
3. Lead out in repentance as often as you sin.
- This was a game-changer in our home. In my spiritual blindness early on in my marriage and my son’s life, I was under the impression that I always needed to be right. And if I made a mistake, it was someone else’s fault, or, there was some justification for it so I would minimize it. Nothing softens my son’s heart more than when I come to him and say “Daddy is sorry, Drew. Daddy needs Jesus just as much as you do. Daddy was wrong and he needs Jesus so that he can be forgiven and changed.” In my mind, nothing points my family to Jesus more in our home than when I own up to my sin and express my need for Jesus.
4. Don’t fit your child into the mold you think they need to fit into.
- The sayings "Apple doesn't fall too far from the tree" and "Chip off the old block" are generally true in principle but not when it comes to specific application. Your child will be a lot like you in a lot of different ways, but maybe not in some of the ways that you desire for them to be. Your job isn't to raise carbon copies of yourself. Your job is to raise Jesus-loving arrows, sent out to the world to do damage for God's glory and the good of the world.
5. Tell your child every day that your greatest desire for them is to know and love Jesus.
- This is one statement I am happily wearing out with all of my children. I even ask them frequently what is dad's greatest desire for them. They exuberantly reply, "That we love Jesus, daddy!"
6. Pray with, for, and over your children every single day.
- I pray the same thing over my children. Every. Single. Night. And I've said it so often that when I get to that part in the prayer, my kids know it's coming and say it out loud with me. It's the best. The prayer goes something like this: "Jesus, as you continue to pursue these kids with your love and grace, may they in turn grow up to know you and love you with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength!"
7. Be their parent, not their best friend.
- I want so badly for Drew (my oldest) to be my best friend as he gets older. If I’m going to be honest, sometimes I parent him as a friend rather than a son. He needs a dad, not another friend (he has plenty of those). God gave me him to be his dad first and foremost. What I’m learning is that we are becoming better friends as a result of me being his dad first.
8. Parenting doesn't happen in a vacuum.
- In my pride early on as a parent, I didn't think I needed anyone's help. I thought I could figure everything out on my own. There is so much to be learned from those that have come before us, even our own parents. To think that parenting can happen outside of any outside influences is foolishness. Ask questions to those who have beaten the parenting path. They can offer you so much.
9. Your spouse comes before your child.
- I wish this was too obvious to have to state, but it isn't. In my own experiences, parenting tends to feel easier than marriage (even though it isn't). We have different expectations of our children than we do our spouses. We tend to dole out more grace to our children than we do our spouse. Please, please, please don't neglect your relationship with your spouse when the kids come because it will be easy to do.
10. Parenting is about Jesus more than it is me or my kid.
- This is the most important lesson I've learned hands down. With everything in my life, I tend to want to make it about me. The same goes for parenting. I distort this very good gift and instead view parenting as a way to play god, to feel validated, to receive love, to exercise authority, to have control, and to look successful. Heck, I even make my kids themselves my idol as if they can satisfy my deep longings for love and acceptance. The truth is that they are very terrible gods, almost as awful as I am. Within all of those unhealthy desires, there will always be breakdowns which means I need a greater desire. a greater goal: Jesus. And the more I make my parenting about Jesus and His glory, the more joy, peace, and security I experience in my parenting.