It’s been said parenting is simple, but it’s not easy! Raising children is one of the most challenging yet rewarding joys and responsibilities we will ever have in life. However, the greatest challenge is that our children don’t come with instructions. It’s not like you can go to Parenting University and get a degree in raising children before you have children.
My wife, Michelle, and I have three adult children, and we found that each one was uniquely different in their personalities and in the way they responded to discipline and motivation. In fact, they are uniquely different in their features. Our oldest daughter has brown hair, our middle daughter has blond hair, and our son has red hair. Chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry … go figure!
Even though our children can be uniquely different, the goal in parenting remains the same. It is to launch children into adulthood with confidence, values, and the skills to succeed.
I genuinely believe, as adults, our most significant contribution to the world may not be something we do but someone we raise.
I remember when our children were little, we used to hear people say, “Enjoy them while they are little, they grow up fast.” What a true statement. Our children do grow up fast, and it’s essential to learn to love and appreciate each stage and season you’re in. There are four seasons of parenting that are all unique and special.
Stage 1: Birth to five years old – Tender-Hearted Supervisor
In the early years of a child, they haven’t internalized the ability to make wise choices. Therefore, it is our responsibility to teach them. How? By balancing love and limits. Many parents hold back discipline from their children because they fear being rejected by their children. Often, parents will confess, “I don’t want to come across mean to my child or turn my child away from me.” However, our priority during this stage as the Tender-Hearted Supervisor is to supervise them and reinforce good behavior lovingly. Here is a good definition of discipline: It is correction driven by love. Discipline isn’t something we do to our children; it is something we do for our children. Discipline isn’t only correcting children who misbehave, it’s also instructing, guiding and encouraging the right choices.
The priority in this stage: Reward obedience.
“A child who has not been disciplined with love by his little world will be disciplined without love by the great big world.” – Zig Ziglar
Stage 2: Six to 12 years old – Fitness Trainer
In this stage, children are growing physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and relationally. It’s our role to give them the resources they need to stimulate each of these areas of growth. In Stage 1, we gave instructions; in Stage 2, we ask questions to help them think and find the best solution. Gradually, we see them grow in their confidence and abilities.
The priority in this stage: Reward good choices.
What gets rewarded gets repeated. During this stage, we must teach our kids right from wrong. Most importantly, help them to understand the “why” behind the what. Questions to ask when they make bad choices: 1. What did you do wrong? The purpose for asking this question is to bring them to a point of admission. 2. How can you handle it better next time? This gives them a chance to rectify their bad decisions and grow from them. Your family values will be the very thing that serves as their moral compass and will help shape their lives.
Stage 3: 13 to 18 years old – Coach
If we give children plenty of instructions when they are little and lots of training as they grow, they’ll have much of what they need when they get to this stage. However, if there is no discipline and training before they become teenagers, then it can become a very tough time for both the teen and the parents because, at this point, there are no guidelines and guardrails to live by. Our role during this stage is to coach them, to affirm good decisions, to help them learn from failure, and to stimulate their creativity. We stop making as many decisions for them, and we expect (require) them to make more of their own.
The priority in this stage: Reward growing responsibility and independence.
Friendship years: (18 +) – Consultant and Friend
When our children leave home for work, the military or college, we launch them with the hope that they will apply all that they have learned in our home since they were babies. But we are not finished. We take on a new role of consultant and, sooner or later, peer and friend. If they know we respect them, they will want our input. When that happens, we need to make sure we don’t regress to our old role of fitness trainer and coach. We give input, but let them make their own decisions. Here, we’re letting go of control and trusting our children will have the wisdom to find success and handle difficulties with calm confidence. We begin to see the legacy of our love and values passed down to the next generation this way.
Let’s leave our kids and grandkids more than just memories; let’s leave them a legacy.
Rodney Gage is a family coach, author, speaker, and the founding pastor of ReThink Life Church that meets at Lake Nona High School. His passion is to help families stop drifting and start living with greater intention. To learn more, check out familyshift.com and rethinklife.com