Two days ago, I walked around at a truck stop listening to my boys whine and complain that their daddy and I would not purchase them yet another toy. They are very deprived, you know, these boys of ours. Hudson, age 9, and Asher, age 6, never get to have any fun and have the meanest parents in the world. We do horrible things to them like take them to Colorado at least once a year for family getaways, provide them with every opportunity to participate in activities, and take them to Disneyland. We feed them too, just in case you get the story from them that they are “starving” at all hours of the day. We require homework to be finished before play time begins and help them learn how to treat others with respect, often by doing exactly to them what they just did to another human. Does this mean I will smack my child on the back of the head if he just did it to his brother? Yep. Does this mean I will spank my son until his butt is red if he just made anyone else feel less important than him? You bet your booty. We spank. I’m not sorry.
But listen to our boys as they walk through a gas station, and it would appear our children never get anything they “need” in life. So we continue learning how to parent through prayer.
I was frustrated listening to the, “But I’ve wanted one of these my whole life!” and the “Hmmmph. We never get anything!” But I kept walking. I have learned to laugh if I hear I am the meanest mother in the world. I have learned to say, “I love you too so much, handsome!” if the words immediately preceding my response were, “I hate you. You’re ruining my life!” It really doesn’t even bother me anymore. For one, the number of times this happens has seriously lessened over the years. There are only so many times (two I believe) that a young boy will slam a door in our home without having his bedroom door removed for four months.
There are only so many times a child will say, “I’m gonna go ride my bike to the neighbors!” and run out the door praying you don’t remember he is grounded only to realize that act just gets him grounded longer. Follow-through is something I used to suck at, and now I’m the follow-through queen! I have to be; these boys tried to eat me alive.
But the reality is that every single night, I pray for the strength to not let the “I hate you!” bother me, because I know my beautiful boys don’t mean it when it does happen. I pray for another day and another chance to be a great mom. I pray my boys know how much I love them and that I would do anything to help them grow to be respectful and giving Christian men. I know it’s all a part of growing up. So I pray for God to guide me and make me the best mother I can be.
But the next reality comes with the need for me to understand God can only do in my life that which I will let Him. He is there with me in every aspect, but I have to choose whether or not to see Him and allow Him to guide me. So while walking out of that truck stop, after listening to my boys complain that they didn’t have enough, I caught a glimpse of God and His real parenting advice.
I walked to our van and glanced to my right. I saw a man sitting on a bench adjusting his sign that read, “Need help. Please.” My boys hadn’t seen him, or they would have mentioned it; they would have stared and asked questions. But they were over their fits as they knew the gimmies had not worked, and they loaded into the van. As my husband finished filling up our van with gas, I recognized that this was one of those moments. What would I choose to do? Would I let God help me parent, or would I hang on to the hope that I could explain in words why the gimmies are not okay…again? So I remembered how well any parenting discussion has ever gone without actually showing what we are trying to teach.
I reached into my wallet and handed each boy a $5 bill. Hudson and Asher’s faces lit up with excitement as they looked toward the gas station. Was mommy letting them go back in to get that toy they have “wanted their whole lives?” I explained that this money was now theirs, so they could choose what to do with it. I explained that they could run back into the gas station for the toy. I explained that we were about to drive to the mall and they could spend their money there as well. They had options.
“It’s your money. So you pick. But I want you to look at that man. Please just look at him sitting there.”
Asher, in all his Kindergarten innocence, asked, “What does his sign say, mommy?”
Hudson answered, “It says, ‘Need help. Please.'”
Neither of my boys said another word, but they looked at each other in obvious agreement. They jumped out of the van together with the same excitement they had just shown on their faces when I handed them the money. Together, our 9-year-old and 6-year-old boys enthusiastically ran up to this stranger and each handed over their freshly received $5 bills.
Tears welled up in this proud momma’s eyes and my husband asked me what had just taken place. I watched the pride spread across his smile when I told him what our boys had just done without being told to do so. I watched the man gratefully receive the $10, glance at me long enough to give me a thumbs-up, and put his head down in apparent prayer. Our young boys ran back to our van and were so proud that this man had just said to them, “God bless your family.” And for the next 30 minutes, the conversation in our family van did not stray from the importance of being thankful and of giving when God places it on our hearts.
Lesson learned. Parenting triumph. But it wasn’t us; it was God. He gave us an opportunity to teach, and our boys stepped up to the challenge we then handed off to them. Just like God had given us an opportunity to make a move for good, our boys received their own opportunity and listened to their hearts.
We asked for God’s help, and He gave it to us. We ask every night when we pray. We simply had to choose, and I truly believe it gets easier to choose to let go and let God the more you allow yourself to see Him. As a teacher, now turned college instructor, for more than 9 years, I can tell you with confidence that none of my best lessons have ever been planned.
Teaching is about showing; it is about being a living example of what we pray our students learn from us. Parenting is the same, and God is the best teacher any of could ever imagine. Think about it. God is our Father. He is a parent, and He knows what we need. He will not lecture us; He will show us. So will you choose to let Him help you parent? Parenting gets easier when we realize it has nothing to do with us.
So my real parenting advice, that has nothing to do with us as parents, comes from my own experience as a Christian, as a teacher, and as a mom:
- Admit that none of us have a clue what we are doing and we need a guide. I joke all the time that I’m still looking for my boys’ individual users’ manuals. But when I really think about it, I do have a guide. So while I don’t always get the answers I want when I want them, I do have the best guide in the world. We have to open our eyes to seeing those opportunities to do good and be good examples for our children. Notice the word “good” everywhere? It’s easier to parent when we remember God is only good. Use that as a starting point. Have something nasty to say about that other human? Do yourself a favor and don’t do it in front of your kid. Our kids turn into us. So try hard to accept none of us are perfect and we need help. Because guess what? Again…our kids turn into us. Realize our flaws and we will help our kids realize they aren’t perfect either; they need God to be their guide too.
- Look for opportunities to teach, not to preach. This comes straight from my “teacher toolbox.” I often have to throw the rulebook out the window because better opportunities arise that will truly help my students make the connection with what I want them to learn. But me preaching to them doesn’t do it…ever. So become a teacher and lead by example. Seek out opportunities to teach and allow your children God-driven, guided times when they can make good choices and learn life lessons themselves. The opportunities are there because God will put them there. Choose to use those opportunities and let God guide your parenting actions.
- Learn to forgive yourself and your significant other for parenting mistakes. We are all learning and will never stop. We don’t have a child and immediately become an amazing parent. We learn as we go. Ever heard of that story when Jesus died for our sins? Did you know it’s true? Did you know God recognizes us as broken and in need of a Savior? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to truly learn how to forgive yourself and those who have wronged you? It’s very freeing. The reality is that you are not hurting anybody but yourself by not forgiving. Let it go and move on together placing the good of your child first. You’ll be a better parent.
- Parent together. There is a reason God places such an important emphasis on the marital unit before parenting. And I get it, many are not married or are single parents. But most have a relationship still, even if that relationship is only there every other weekend. I don’t know what it’s like to not love my husband, but I do know what it’s like to love my child. And I know that the best gift I can give my sons is to be a loving and respectful wife to their daddy, especially where parenting is concerned. Hudson and Asher deserve to know I respect their father and he respects me right back. We are a team.
- Put the attention back where it needs to be, on God. Life has a way of getting in the way. We let others’ parenting tips, mistakes, and triumphs guide our actions. We let social media make us feel inferior or superior. When in reality, the only view that truly matters is His. Are your parenting actions driven by the goal that your kids will grow to love God above all else and love one another? Accept that none of us are anything without Him. Don’t we want our kids to learn that?
While parenting, just like everything else in life, is not easy, it is simple. But it is only simple when we realize parenting has nothing to do with us. We have to let God guide us. Do I know that my boys are going to turn into amazing men who love God, who love their wives, who focus on the good, and who work hard to help others? Nope. I have no idea what I’m doing. But I do know that I have faith in knowing God is in control and I am not. So I don’t worry about my boys’ futures because I know it is in God’s hands. My job is to teach my children to live for God and let Him be their guide, and I will teach by example in my parenting. I am learning right along with them. Parenting is the hardest job I have ever had, but giving it to God is making it so much easier. I live with hope because God has given me that hope.
Learn more about Jeremy and Bailey Koch and our book, “Never Alone: A Husband and Wife’s Journey with Depression and Faith” on our website. Follow our blog at www.jeremyandbaileyblog.com.