One major struggle of women who have a hard time transitioning to the “empty nest” time seems to be that they never really thought their kids would be gone. They didn’t really think of their kids as future adults. Parenting wasn’t thought about in terms of raising MEN and WOMEN. It was just “my baby”, “my little girl”, “the kids”, etc.
Now, I know– it’s easy to do, to just think of them as they are… and when they are little, those times of having adult children seem SO far away. But we, as Christian parents, must be more visionary than that.
I get it. I really do. 8 years ago, this is what my children looked like (after a long hot day tramping through the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul… forgive us if we looked tired):
ASSESS PROGRESS REGULARLY
“OK, he’s almost 13… so we’re about more than 2/3rds of the way through parenting Ethan… is he on track for that? His behavior? His integrity? His heart? Are we getting through to him in the best way for his personality? Are we building resentment or bitterness in his heart in any way? How does he deal with anger? Emotions? How does he view God? How does he view marriage and children? Does he have an innate respect and love for the Word of God? Are we raising him up to be a responsible, godly man? Does HE know that that is his purpose in life?”
The answers to these questions give us direction for what might need to shift or change in our parenting and training of him. We ask these same questions all the way down the line… with each of our kids.
PUT IT IN PERSPECTIVE
The other thing we do is this: we put our time with him in perspective.
We’ve been through almost 13 years with him… we only have 5 more. 5 years may sound like a lot. It’s not; not really. For you, perhaps you have a 6 year old, and you think, “eh, I’m only 1/3 of the way through.”
But I think taking on a different perspective can really help here.
Think in terms of a pregnancy. At first, it all seems to go so slowly, but then suddenly, you’re in the middle of the 2nd trimester, and then one day, you realize, “oh goodness– we’re at 36 weeks! We’ve got to set up the crib, buy some diapers, pull down the burp cloths, get all the clothes washed and ready… we’re almost out of time!”
I don’t want to treat parenting that way… trying to squeeze it all in to the last year or two, realizing that my time with each child is almost up. I don’t want to be scrambling at the end… college, character, work ethic, ideas about marriage, approach to ethical issues in our society at large… everything will be quite solidified by then.
BUILD WITH THE END IN MIND
We think futuristically, in a sense.
What I mean by that is this: we project current behaviors and attitudes into the future.
- A lack of respect for mom now will likely translate to a lack of respect for a wife later.
- A haughty attitude now will often mean job loss and disappointment later in life.
- A sullen, disinterested countenance now may translate into depression and dissatisfaction with adult life.
- Resistance in submission to proper authorities could even claim his life in an encounter with police.
- A know-it-all attitude will be off-putting to everyone he encounters his whole life.
- A lacking work ethic will hurt not only him– but my beloved daughter-in-law and our precious grandchildren!
We try to think of our sons as, Lord willing, future husbands and leaders of their homes (and did even when we “only” had two and they were just 5 & 3)… and we think of our daughter as, Lord willing, a future wife and mother.
With each child, we have to look at what are HIS strengths? and HIS weaknesses?, and help him deal with those. We look at what are HER strengths? and HER weaknesses?, and help her grow and shape her character to deal with those things.
DON’T IGNORE IT or WAIT FOR IT TO GO AWAY
We will harm them if we are so short-sighted as to think, “if I just hang on, that whining will stop in a year or two”… or “she’ll be more helpful once she’s a little older and out of this ‘difficult phase.'” Fertilized squash flowers turn into squash. Tiny seeds of grass turn into a lawn. A sperm and egg become a human.
Little things, in their small form, become big versions of the thing they already are.
We must look BEYOND now, to consider what our action, or inaction, will produce in them for years to come.
You have the opportunity, right there in your home– day in, day out– to help your children fight battles and have self-mastery in areas that are seeking to master them.
Here are some specific questions that help me to think about my children like this:
- What end result are you shooting for, and is that end result biblical? (It helps to write down an exact description of what you want your son or daughter to look like when they are an adult, to have a very clear picture of what you are aiming for.)
- What qualities do you need to be working on NOW in order to get to THAT goal? (We have to be intentional about encouraging worthwhile things and discouraging undesirable things.)
- Are there things that you’re doing now that will hurt his/her future? (i.e., Are you so conflict-avoidant that you don’t make her take responsibility for her failures or disobedience?, Do you do all of the chores and are thus teaching your children that homelife is a free ride for them, and setting them up for marital arguments?, Do you speak against your spouse or deride marriage?)
We must be careful to not set our children up for future failure as an adult.
These are some ways we try to “train up” our kids in the way they should go, remembering that one day, they will — in fact — “go.”
IN THE COMMENTS, PLEASE SHARE:
- What do YOU do to prepare your kids for their future, and to prepare yourself for your kids’ growth into adulthood?
- How do you keep yourself from thinking of them merely as your kids or babies, but as separate people who will one day leave their father and mother and cleave to a husband or wife?
8 thoughts on “Mama, Are You Thinking Ahead?”
We talk to them! We tell them what we’re doing and narrate adult responsibilities – “We’re stopping to pay rent now – we pay money so we can live in our nice home, and this money comes from the work Daddy does” or “This is the last story we’re reading before I need to cook dinner – we have to start it early enough so it’s ready on time.” They come with me to do grocery shopping, they hear why we prioritize church, they get included in a lot of Dad’s weekend projects, and they know they can ask (within reason and respectfully) for explanations of pretty much anything. In addition, we let them know that these are the sorts of things they’ll need to do when they grow up and don’t live with Mom and Dad any more.
Beyond just talking, we let them explore in a limited, safe way, skills that will build into essentials. So we tell them, “Yes, you can spend that money from grandma how you like, but you can only spend it once!” and if they regret their decision, they learn to do differently next time. They have little chores that are the foundation of bigger ones someday – helping set the table, hauling dirty clothes to the central hamper, helping make beds, checking the mail and so on.
I find that the discipline mantra “Keep the end in mind!” is helpful in reminding me that they will be adults one day. When I’m dealing with a tantrum or sibling discord, I often am not sure how to sort it out (ahem, or I feel like being lazy) until I project it forward – which you often point out as necessary – to their adulthood. But daily picturing fruit, good or bad, in their future helps keep that future seeming closer than it would otherwise. That said, it’s touch-and-go whether I think of them as individual people or not – it’s certainly easier with the child that is drastically different than me than it is with the child that is very similar in personality, preferences, and birth-order. However, they are currently both under five years old and still very mom-centered – I think being intellectually aware of their distinct persons will naturally translate to instinctive awareness as they get a bit older.
Excellent excellent points! I love your practical conversational examples.
And yes, I agree about the kids’ personalities and interests becoming more clear as they transition toward independence and maturity.
I really appreciate this reminder. I feel like seeing my children as adults and training them to that end has not been too much of a struggle for me. But, recently I have been learning more and more of God’s design for gender roles and leadership and submission in marriage. I have also been awoken to the deeply profound and far reaching consequences of not following that design. I am now thinking about my oldest son who will turn 13 this fall. How do I prepare him to be a man of authority and responsibility NOW so that one day he steps into leadership of his own family with grace and confidence. I have been raising and training him for adulthood, but have been realizing that I haven’t been treating him as a young MAN, but simply a young adult. Do you have any ideas that are specific to boys in how to train and prepare for leading a wife and children? I know much of it will have to do in how I treat my husband and other men, but I am just starting to explore this and would love to hear your wisdom. (I would also love to hear your thoughts on raising a woman/wife/mother. I have three sons who are approaching manhood rapidly and my daughter is only 18 months so the first question on my mind is for my boys:)