LIVE, LOVE AND LEAVE
Advice for Raising Healthy Children…
“It is not the parents’ job to provide a smooth highway for their offspring, but a clear roadmap for the children to follow.” I leaned forward and eagerly absorbed what the gifted Bible teacher of our couples’ class was saying. Our daughters were young, and my husband and I needed all the help we could get. The speaker emphasized that in order for children to mature into healthy adults, parents need to teach them three basic ingredients—how to live, love and leave. We must teach them how to live abundantly, pursuing their interests and giftings. We must love them lavishly, so they can love lavishly in return. We must prepare them to assume responsibilities, in order that they may leave properly. My husband and I set out to instill these three ingredients into our girls. We were deeply committed to raising healthy children.
Good Advice: Early in our parenting years, we were having dinner with friends, who were also in the process of raising three daughters. Their girls were about ten years ahead of ours and each excelled in their individual fields.
“Why do each of your daughters have such different interests?” I asked.
Our friend, a theology professor, explained a familiar Scripture to us, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not turn from it.” (Pr. 22:6 NIV).
“I thought that meant if we raise our children ‘right,’ they will never rebel.”
Our friend smiled. “Well, not exactly.”
He explained that the more accurate interpretation means parents are to encourage their children in the way they are “bent.” Training involves helping them identify their aptitudes. Training them means encouraging as they develop those natural “bents.”
A Worthy Goal: With newfound insight into the verse, we endeavored to accomplish that daunting task. We traveled countless miles on East Texas country roads going to drama festivals, dance classes, art lessons, church mission activities, camps, choir trips, and piano lessons before we determined the direction in which each daughter was bent.
The oldest excelled in leadership and drama, winning numerous drama and leadership awards. She served as her class president her junior and senior years in high school.
The middle child answered a call on her life in dance. When she was a little girl, she would whirl and turn and leap through the house instead of running. That was our first clue! She obtained a scholarship in dance to college, received her degree in dance, taught dance for twelve years, and even though she is now married and has three children, is still involved in dance ministry in her church.
Early on, the youngest daughter exhibited a strong “bent” toward administration and organization. The two older girls began to depend on the youngest to plan activities. We encouraged her by giving her responsibilities of planning events at home and at the conference center we directed. Today she is a Certified Meeting Planner by profession and was for many years the conference manager of a nationwide ministry.
Helping our children discover the “bent” of their lives, enables them to respond intelligently and confidently to God’s call on their lives.
The Importance of affirmation: I grew up in an emotionally cold home—no hugs, no kisses and very little affirmation. During my childhood, I do not remember my father ever hugging me or telling me he loved me. I did not feel accepted or loved. I determined that when I married and had a family of my own, it would be a Christian family with lots of love, hugs and kisses to go around on a daily basis. My children were going to know they were loved and accepted.
Hugs are as vital to the health and development of infants as food and water, according to decades of research by a Harvard scientist. Mary Carlson, a neurobiologist at Harvard Medical School, measured stress in Romanian children raised in orphanages or attending poor-quality day-care centers. She concludes that the lack of touching and attention stunted their growth and adversely affected their behavior.1 All children, male and female, need to be loved and touched physically by both parents on a regular basis.
Loving touch: When our youngest daughter was junior high age, she entered the realm of needing to be “cool” and began to shy away from our hugs. During a family retreat at the conference center, the speaker, a family therapist, addressed a question from grandparents who had adopted their teenage granddaughter. The granddaughter had begun thwarting her grandparents’ expressions of love toward her. They retreated, not wanting to force the issue. The counselor encouraged the couple to continue to express their love to her physically. “She will get over it,” he said.
I am so grateful I heard that wise counsel. We continued to express love to our youngest daughter physically. She got over it.
We never outgrow the need for physical affection. Even today our grown daughters cuddle up to us, sit on their daddy’s lap, stroke and pat our hands. Appropriate physical affection from parents conveys to children, “I love you. I accept you. You are safe. You are loved.” Frank A. Clark said, “A baby is born with a need to be loved—and never outgrows it.”
Parents have the awesome responsibility of teaching their children what love feels like so they can experience the love of God. Only through the love of the Heavenly Father can that deep hunger and thirst in our lives for love and acceptance totally be filled. As parents, we must make it a priority to demonstrate to our children on a daily basis how to express and receive love, so they in turn are able to do the same.
Cutting the apron strings: Training children to leave the nest begins the moment they are born. Throughout their childhood our goal should be to slowly wean them from our care and instruct them how to stand on their own. The first cut of the apron strings begins as we wean them from the breast or the bottle, potty train them, show them how to dress themselves, take them to school, and teach them to drive.
Giving them choices in small things as they get older are mini-steps to maturity. Sometimes allowing them to make selections, such as clothing and hairstyles, is difficult, especially when those decisions do not reflect our personal preferences. Sporting earrings in all parts of the body or displaying tattoos may offend our sensibilities. But long hair and bell-bottom jeans, mustaches and mini-skirts, or whatever was the current fad of our teen years probably was not our parents’ choices for us either. However, the opportunity to make decisions for themselves concerning minor issues is important in the maturing process and the struggle for independence.
When each of our girls entered seventh grade, we opened a checking account for them and attempted to teach them to manage their own money. We gave them a lump sum for the semester to buy clothes, school supplies and for spending money. They were not always successful, but hopefully they were on their way to learning how to manage money.
Emptying the Nest: Children should be taught the importance of leaving home with the blessing of the parents, whether a young person departing for college, pursuing a career or marrying and starting a family. I heard a pastor say that every marriage problem can be traced to either leaving improperly or cleaving improperly. I am not sure I would be ready to make that blanket assessment. However, in the role of pastoring a church, my husband and I deal with a fair number of couples in marital stress. We do find that leaving the family of origin without the approval of the parents contributes significantly to marital upheaval in a large number of cases.
Not only must our children be prepared to leave properly, the parents must be willing to let them go. The time to push the baby birds out of the nest to fly on their own comes oh-so-slowly and—suddenly. The passage brings a measure of sadness, but it is a healthy season of life, for both the parents and the children.
When the time comes for our children to leave the nest, I suppose all parents wonder if we have taught them everything that they need to know to weather the storms of life. Will they make wise decisions? Will they manage their finances well? Will they make good moral choices?
None of us are perfect parents, nor do we have perfect children. But God is a faithful Father and will redeem our human failures as we seek his leadership along the perilous path of parenting. It has been said that there are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings (Hodding Carter). Endeavoring to teach children how to live, how to love and how to leave does indeed offer our children strong roots and wings to soar. These three ingredients are primary in preparing them to be healthy, mature, responsible adults who will be able to contribute meaningfully to society and to the kingdom of God.
I would love to hear what great pieces of advice my readers have heard and tried to implement in your personal parenting journeys. Please share your own jewels of wisdom below or ask me any questions that came to mind as you read this article.
*The Harvard University Gazette: “Of Hugs and Hormones,” June 11, 1998.