I’ve been thinking a lot about my kids in the last couple of weeks. We love our boys.
This picture was taken eight weeks before COVID officially hit. Looking back, we had no idea what was coming, and they’ve done well to push through a challenging time.
But as a parent, you can’t help but wonder: How much of this is going to impact my child? School is hard to figure out some days, and summer vacation was different, and what will Christmas be like? Will family life ever feel “normal” again?
If you’re honest, in a pressure-filled world, you aren’t the parent you thought or hoped you’d be. You lose your cool, or you just give in or give up. Or you just feel lost at times.
Here’s the challenge. I think that trying to figure out how to answer every short-term unknown can distract us from what matters long-term: Who are your kids becoming? Who are the future adults you are raising?
So, in the midst of our pandemic, I want to offer you something timeless. Something honest and hopeful. Something that has real meaning beyond masks and protocols.
My wife Leslie and I aren’t perfect, but like many families, we are working hard to figure it all out.
Between the two of us, we have walked with hundreds of parents in our work lives and with our friends (maybe thousands now…yikes, time flies!). Over the years, we’ve learned some parenting truths that will stand the test of time.
Not only will you find these to ring true through all stages of parenting, but my hope is they will help encourage you to parent with courage each day.
1. Focus on who your family is becoming, not what you are achieving.
I believe this is the number one mistake you and I can make. It’s a critical issue. Here’s why:
Most character is formed early, but competency can be learned throughout life. parenting principles for a pandemic
I think in our overachieving culture, we get our kids caught up in playing an adult game of success too early. I know I have. Grades, rep sports teams, music, experiences — we want them to have and do them all. We do it out of a good heart to see them get ahead, but if we aren’t careful, we can turn life into a schedule-based to-do list instead of a heart-based to-be list.
Here’s how you can avoid this pitfall: Increase the conversations you have with your kids about character and decrease the conversations you have about competency. Have a robust plan around developing their character, not just their competency. Things like humility, loving those who are hard to love, forgiveness, empathy, patience, standing up for what’s right, and healthy conflict are the hallmarks of raising a healthy, well-adjusted adult.
Looking at your child’s life, the window for character development is much smaller and more important than the window for competency development. I know for some people this feels like tough love, but you need to know the truth. Substance beats skills over the long term.
2. Fight for the relationship, not the rules.
We all know what it means to win a fight but lose in the relationship. I don’t know about you, but as a parent, I can get so caught up in defining the win as rule-following. But how am I fighting for the relationship, not just raising a rule-follower?
Does that mean you don’t ever correct behaviour? Absolutely not. Part of character building is helping your children understand the importance of good decision making. But here’s the question to ask yourself in the moment of correction:
As a parent, am I looking to make a point or make a difference? At this moment, how am I leading my child well?
My friend Carey Nieuwhof would ask, “Am I using my family voice?” You know, that critical tone you would never use with anyone but your family.
I think this cuts right to the core of the issue. Making a point is about keeping score; making a difference is about character shaping. So much of it is about your tone. Are you leading a conversation or lecturing? If I’m honest, I need to lecture less. parenting principles for a pandemic
3. Remember that you are not the best parent for your kids…and that’s a good thing.
Ever feel like someone else could do a better job at parenting your kids than you? The truth is, there is one person. That’s right, your kids have a better parent than you — their Heavenly Father.
Here’s what we both know.
You won’t be a good parent sometimes.
You won’t be able to be with your child every day of their life.
But their Heavenly Father will. He loves them more than you could. Trust in that. Spend your years with them pointing them to Him. He’s a perfect Father, and He’ll always be there for them.
What if after your next argument or next dropped ball, your child could turn to God in prayer?
How do you instill this in your child? More is caught than taught. Not only do you need to point them to God in conversation or prayer before bed, but they need to catch you reading your Bible, praying, or connecting with church consistently. parenting principles for a pandemic
4. Understand that parenting hasn’t changed, but being a parent has.
Parenting has always been hard. I think of my grandparents. Immigrating to Canada on boats, starting and running family farms in rural Ontario from nothing, little income at times, grieving the loss of their three-year-old son. If I’m honest with myself, that’s tougher than the conditions I’m parenting in. parenting principles for a pandemic
But here’s what they didn’t have: social media. They had one or two neighbours they could compare to, not the highlight reel of millions online. You aren’t like those picture-perfect parents online…and neither are they. True confession — at our last family photo shoot with a professional photographer, my boys were wrestling on the ground before some of the shots. We just hid the grass stains.
Stop comparing. Give yourself some grace.
Do I still strive to be the best parent I can? Yes. But when I’m not, I need to trust Jesus to fill the gaps for me and my kids.
5. Understand that you aren’t as powerful as you think.
Here’s the truth. As your kids get older, their friends start to have more influence on their lives. Friends have influence and power. You can try to pick good friends for them, but here’s what’s better…
Teach them to be a thermostat, not a thermometer. Help your kids to learn that they don’t need to rise (or drop) to the temperature of their friends — that God can strengthen them to be the influencer.
Honestly, Leslie and I have worked with thousands of teenagers, and this is so critical. The hallmark of a child becoming an adult with character is their ability to stand on their own two feet in the face of a world that pushes back.
Also, help them to learn how to pick good friends, and then put good adults in their lives. Help them to discover what good friends are. Talk about the good friends in your life and how they support you. Help them to know what a good friend is (we talk about this often in our kids’ environments at Connexus). One author says we become the sum of the five people who are closest to us. That can be true for your kids as well. Other spiritual adults can also be a huge help. parenting principles for a pandemic
COVID is tough, but it will eventually go. These are a few timeless principles that will guide you no matter what happens moving forward.
So don’t give up. Keep loving, hugging, praying, and trying to get better. But remember, on the days you’re not, you’ve got a Heavenly Father they can run to — and so can you.
parenting principles for a pandemic