It's not money, power or prestige. Though every parent has it-too many never give it.
RECENTLY a young couple came to me for advice. They were experiencing the joy of their first baby. In anticipation of the coming years they wanted to be sure they did the best job possible with child rearing. "What is the one thing you can tell us which will help us rear our children successfully?" they asked. My answer was, "There is no one thing. There are no magic formulas. Successful child rearing will be plain old-fashioned hard work." "But," they continued, "surely you can tell us the one biggest lesson you've learned?" Since that conversation, I've given a lot of thought to the best answer to that question. First I considered waiting six more years before writing this article. That way, our youngest child would be grown and on her own and I could at last feel qualified to speak out on the subject of child rearing. But that would be avoiding the question. My wife and I have progressed through more than 21 years of child rearing. So I suppose I am as qualified as I ever will be to write on this all-important subject. Our five children have given us a combined 84 years of child-rearing experience. The next six years will probably not change us or them all that much. And from the valuable lessons we have learned along the way, we have discovered one big key to successful child rearing. But before we get to that, let's lay the foundation.
Bringing New Life into the World
The birth of a child into a family is one of the greatest thrills of life. Young couples eagerly anticipate the day of arrival. Months of waiting and planning and dreaming and hoping culminate in the excitement of newborn life. Most parents already have a lifetime of plans for their newborns. They may plan for their children to be successful doctors or prominent lawyers. Or plan a major league sports career for them. How many parents have already purchased, before the day of birth, a football, a piano, ice skates or a baseball glove? Above all we want them to have good health and be happy with whatever they become. In addition to their long-range goals, parents hope to give their children every material benefit possible. How many times have you heard parents say, "Our child will never have to go through the hard times we did"? Most children today grow up with better homes, do less work, have more clothing, more leisure time and more convenience items than any generation in history. In order to provide this plethora of material goods, parents must spend countless hours on their jobs. Many fathers have taken a second job in order to provide necessities and luxuries of life. Many mothers work outside the home so the family can afford more and better things than would otherwise be possible. It is a noble goal — to provide well for the family and to give the children opportunities. But in pursuit of material possessions, many parents have failed to give the most important gift of all. Think about it. Proud parents bring new life into the world — tiny miniature reproductions of themselves. Your child will have your looks, your personality, many of your abilities and your temperament. Most parents want their children to grow up to be "chips off the old block." But too many couples today quickly lose their newfound zeal in the early months of their child's life. They just let their children grow up — too often left in day-care centers or with baby-sitters — seldom influenced by their parents. Then when these children become teenagers, the parents wonder why they can't communicate with them — why there is a generation gap. What they fail to realize is that this generation gap has existed from birth — there never was any real communication. The problems may not be manifest, however, until teenage.
From Birth to School Age
There is no more important time in life than the early years. Practically everything we will become is started and determined in those first few years of life. It has been said we learn more from birth to age I than we will learn in any other one year of our lives. It seems hard to believe but researchers insist it is true. And we continue to learn in those early years — at astounding rates. Little children are taking in everything — learning to walk, talk and think. They are forming personality and character traits. How do they learn during these early years? By EXAMPLE! Everything you do — or not do — is being taken in. If you shuffle them off to the day-care centers or leave them with the baby-sitters or leave them alone with the television set blaring from dawn to midnight, they'll be taking in quite a different perspective than you intend. Your children will learn to speak with the same accent, voice tones and vocabulary as you do. They will take on your personality traits and good habits. They probably will develop similar tastes in food, entertainment and art. That is, IF you are around to influence your children. Of course, if parents are not around, their children will pick up mannerisms, personalities and tastes of others. That might not always be desirable.
The Best Laid Plans
Far too often, though new parents start out with the best of intentions, they quickly return to a previously established routine. Long hours of work and fighting the traffic may not make for the best parental attitude at the end of a tiring day. Dad may say, "Honey, get a baby-sitter and let's go out to dinner; I'm exhausted." When the weekend rolls around, the old routine of golf, tennis, fishing, bowling or whatever recreation parents have participated in, beckons. Dad may think he'll play ball with his son when he is older. But family habits usually are set in concrete and later hard to change. A youngster seeing Dad go off with others the first several years is not suddenly going to want to start kicking or throwing a ball around with Dad when he's about 12. If, on the other hand, parents have played with their children on the living room floor when they were 3 months old, then in the backyard when they were toddlers, taught them to ride bikes at age 4, played tag in the park when they were 8, then when they are teenagers, they'll still be playing games together.
Teaching by Example
There is no greater opportunity to influence the way your child will turn out than by the example you set. You've all heard the old adage too many parents still live by: "Do what] say, not what I do." Surely we know that doesn't work. Parents who lament a child starting to smoke in junior high school have no recourse if they've continued to smoke themselves.. The father who brags about how he cheated the government out of taxes due cannot expect his son to grow up an honest, law-abiding citizen. These parents have already lost the battle. Their examples speak louder than their words. In some cases, our examples counteract our words. There have been some alarming social trends in recent years. There are increasing numbers of alcoholic parents and parents who are abusive to their children. After analyzing hundreds of problems, psychologists have found in a large percentage of those cases where parents were abusive to children, they were themselves abused. Similar statistics apply to alcoholism. Adults who become alcoholic are often a product of a home where alcohol was abused. If you are a parent, you have a tremendous responsibility to set the proper example in your home. But in order to set an example you have to be there. The objective is to have a positive effect. Homes that are filled with love and sharing will produce children who love and share. Homes filled with happiness and joy produce a peaceful atmosphere. And when children from those homes grow up to become parents themselves, those same joys and happinesses will usually be present in their homes.
Qualifications for Parenting
What kind of qualifications are necessary to become a parent? If you wanted to become an airline pilot, you would have to log hundreds, even thousands of hours in a small plane and in flight simulators before taking the responsibility of piloting a huge jet liner. A brain surgeon must devote years of life to study and as an assistant before being placed in charge of the operating room. Carpenters, secretaries, electricians, teachers, shipbuilders and tradesmen of all kinds must be qualified to work in their fields. But what are the qualifications of a parent? What kind of skills are required for the most important responsibility anyone can ever take — to become a mother or father? What kind of schooling is mandatory for having a baby? And what certificate is issued to demonstrate proficiency in parenting? To become a parent all you have to do is reach the age of puberty. That's it. I'm sure we will all admit such a person is by no means qualified to become a parent in his or her early teens. But it is biologically possible. The question, then, is, when is one qualified to become a PROPER parent? Obtaining an education, gaining skills for a profession, growing in maturity to face the responsibilities that accompany parenthood ought to be required. But who can enforce the requirements? There are no legislative or judicial bodies to make laws and enforce them. So young people grow up in whatever environment their own parents have created for them. They learn by example what parenting is all about. And the result is the society in which you live.
The Biblical Examples
From the pages of the Bible we learn it was much the same in the society of ancient Israel. In that nation there was a priest who served well in God's service. His name was Eli. But Eli was not effective in child rearing. Of his children, God says, "Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord" (I Sam. 2:12). It was a responsibility of the priests to offer sacrifices for the people. The sons of Eli abused the sacrificial ceremony. "Wherefore the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord: for men abhorred the offering of the Lord" (verse 17). In addition, the sons of Eli were sexually immoral. They brought great disrespect upon their father and the way of God. It was a shame these young men could not continue in the footsteps of their father as they should have. But Eli made the tragic mistake so many parents do. He did not properly rear his children and train them. He was too busy — even in the service of God. The results were disastrous. God then selected Samuel to follow Eli in priestly service. Surely, you would think Samuel would have learned the lesson from Eli how to become a proper father and rear respectful children. But alas, the sad story was repeated. Samuel married and had a family. It was normal for him to desire his sons to follow in his steps as priests and judges in Israel. The story is told in I Samuel 8: "And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel. Now the name of the firstborn was Joel; and the name of the second, Abiah: they were judges in Beer-sheba" (verses 1-2). But as Eli before him, Samuel did not influence and teach them by his good example. The result? "And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre [money], and took bribes, and perverted judgment" (verse 3). The reputation of the sons of Samuel was so bad in the community that the people demanded a change in government. What a tragedy! Let these examples serve you well if you are parents or plan to be parents.
What Is That Gift?
What is then the nearest thing to the magic formula of child rearing? Be prepared. The answer may surprise you. I promise it will not cost any money. And it will not be complicated. The most important gift you will ever give your child is — YOUR TIME! If you can't take the time to be a parent, don't become one. Parents who take the time to rear children properly will receive no greater thrills, joys and rewards in this life. But, if they don't apply the right principles and don't take the proper time, there are no greater sorrows and disappointments than improperly reared children. If you are a parent, you are a constant living example to your children. They are learning every minute of every day how to be and how not to be. They will see your positive examples — they will also see your negative examples. If your children see you fight, scream and have disrespect for one another, they will think that's the way husbands and wives are. After all, it's all they've ever seen. Newborn babies don't have instinct. Animals do. A newborn calf or colt knows right where to go for dinner. It will be up and walking within minutes because instinct has been built into its mind. Everything human babies learn must be taught. By word. By example. They learn the meaning of love, caring, concern, warmth. They learn how to smile, giggle, laugh and cry. They can also learn anger, hostility, disrespect. They are constantly learning. There is no better way for them to learn how to be the right kind of parent themselves than by the proper examples you set for them. But, you have to spend time with them to teach by example.
The Importance of Example
From creation, God has used the technique of example to teach. We can read the Bible, see the examples and learn from them. On the other hand, we can pass over them and not learn the intended lesson. The most important of all was the personal example of Jesus Christ. The apostle Peter said, "For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps" (I Pet. 2:21, RAV). When Jesus lived on the earth, he experienced every human thought and emotion. Paul said Jesus was "tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin" (Heb. 4:15, NIV). By studying the life of Christ, we can see how to live. We have a perfect example to follow. At creation, there was another important example. After six days of creating, God on the seventh day did something very special. "By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done" (Gen. 2:2-3, NIV). God had created Adam and Eve on the sixth day. On the seventh, they saw, by the example God set, they should rest. When Jesus came, he said of the Sabbath, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27-28, NIV). When God rested at the end of creation week, he wasn't tired. God is spirit-self-contained energy. But as Creator, he knew mankind would need to rest one day each week — thus by example God showed what man should do and when he should do it. From creation God, through patriarchs, prophets and New Testament apostles, showed by example what to do and what not to do. Let me use another illustration. I was talking with a man who believed there was nothing wrong with polygamy — having more than one wife. I told him it was wrong. "God never intended a person to have more than one mate," I said. The Eternal God said, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24, NIV). Only one man and one woman can unite in marriage and create one new family unit. Not "they three" or "they four" — but "they two" shall become one flesh. "Well," this man said, "you can't show me one verse in the Bible which says, 'Thou shalt not marry more than one woman.' " So, I turned to the Bible for example. There were societies in ancient times that permitted and practiced polygamy. But there is not one example in the Bible of a happy and harmonious home where this was practiced. By example, we ought to see polygamy was not right — never intended by God. On almost every subject, there are examples — either negative or positive — in the Bible.
You Only Have One Chance
If you have small children, spend all the time you can with them, showing them positive examples of the right way to live. The years will quickly go by. Children who are toddlers today, tomorrow will be graduating from high school. The first thing you know, you will be concerned about college and marriage. And you'll wonder where the years went. Our married daughter recently told us something we had not known before. Some years ago we were transferred in our work twice in 11 months. It had been hard on the family. But there were some good things to come out of it. Our daughter was 15 at the time. Because of the new job, we spent considerably more time together as a family than we ever had before. Last Father's Day she wrote, "Daddy, I never really knew you until we moved to Colorado. I'm so glad we had the chance to spend some time together." Of course, it was rewarding emotionally to realize that family love we shared. But there was also a deep hurt that I had not spent the proper amount of time with her and the other children when they were younger. In many ways, I would love to have those years over again — but there is never a second chance when it comes to time. How many families have had to learn that working long hours, advancing in position or earning more money can produce one of the least desirable fruits of all — the loss of one's own children? What if parents become prominent surgeons, successful attorneys, respected professors or corporation presidents? So what? So what, if along the way they lose their children, maybe their marriage and perhaps their health? What has been gained? We all desire to work hard and obtain the best for our children. But if reaching the top of the corporate ladder means sacrificing children and family, it just isn't worth it. Now when I am asked by young couples, "What is the ONE most important point in child rearing?" I have an answer. I still say there are no magic formulas. And successful child rearing will require old-fashioned hard work. But if you want to know the greatest gift you can ever give your child, I'm sure it is your time. Begin now to give that precious gift to your children.