5 Suggestions to Make Family Time More Effective

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Frankly, I wish it happened more often, but I am always encouraged when it does.

Occasionally a young father will come to me wanting to know how to be a better husband or father. One thing they specifically ask is how to take advantage of the time they have with their family and to be more effective with the family’s time together.

Time seems more at a premium these days than ever in my life. Time has always passed quickly. It has always been valuable, but today’s family time seems more stretched than ever. So many distractions, activities and interruptions face busy families.

Wise parents realize the need to make the best use of the time they have together.

To be candid, our family never excelled at “family devotions”. Having a weekly Bible study and prayer session together just never seemed to take root in our family. We tried them — and we did some — but we were far more intentional with the unstructured time we had. Reflecting now, we have two young men as sons who love Jesus, are active in their church, and strive to serve Christ vocationally.

From what we learned — much by mistake and all by grace — we learned a few things about making the best use of our time as a family.

Here are 5 suggestions to make family time more effective:

Begin with a plan for your home and each child

You seldom hit a target you aren’t aiming to hit — certainly less likely to hit one you haven’t defined. Just as adults may have a plan for their career or finances, parents need a plan for operating their home. It may help if it is written, but should definitely summarize the major goals you hope to accomplish in your home. Because each child is different, I also believe parents should have different plans for each child. Ask yourself:

  • What do we want our children to be like some day?
  • What kind of people do we want them to be?
  • What should their character be like?
  • How can we best encourage them to get there?
  • What does this child need from me most — right now, at this stage of their life?

You’ll find your family time more effective when you have a plan, because it will consciously and unconsciously help focus your attention and energies on the things that matter most when you are together. And, here’s the flip side — without a plan you waste a lot of energy on things which really won’t accomplish what you say you want to accomplish.

Major on the majors, not on the minors

I found my boys were more willing to talk, listen, and interact with us when they weren’t always worried if they measure up to our approval. Children feel burdened under the yoke of rules. It weighs them down trying to stay within the lines. Some things matter and some things don’t. Figure out the non-negotiable issues and primarily concentrate on them. I tended to lean towards character issues as majors and individual preferences as minors. You’ll choose what these are for your home, but everything shouldn’t be major. Majoring on everything produces very stressed-out, perfectionist children, who always seem to struggle to meet other people’s expectations of them. And, when this is the culture of your home your time will be less than effective. It made it easier to concentrate on bigger issues they would carry into life — character, moral type issues.

Make the guidelines in your home easy to figure out

There does need to be rules. Children need guidelines to follow — again, especially those that focus on the major things you want to accomplish in them. Talk about the rules you have for your home and be sure to tell the children the why behind those rules, as much as they can understand. Be consistent in carrying out the rules in the home, in a firm, but loving way. If you’re not going to enforce a rule — don’t have one. Children shouldn’t have to guess how you’ll respond to an issue. As children learn your heart and ways, they can better trust you, which will help them enjoy themselves around you and rely on you for your wisdom and input as they get older. That’s really the overall goal we were were seeking in our time as a family. We knew we were raising them to be adults. The bond we built with them when they were young has directly impacted our relationship with them as adults.

Be purposeful with your time

Look for teaching moments as they are presented and keep your desired outcomes in mind as you parent. For our family that was often at dinner time — which we tried to make happen most nights in spite of our busy schedules of work, ball, school activities, and church. It also involved me kicking or throwing a ball, even some nights when I was tired and all I wanted to do was lay on the couch with a remote in my hand. I’ve never seen effective parenting accomplished while in front of the television. (Ouch!) If you want more effective family time, take advantage of the time you do have and be intentional, implementing the plan you have for your family. Children won’t always be available to you, especially as they get older. As much as you can, to be an effective parent, always strive to be available to them when they want you to be.

Surround everything with grace and love

We wanted our home to be a “fun” place for children to be. We wanted to belly laugh often and have special memories of those times. That required lots of grace and love. I tried to remember, as a dad, I was many times modeling Christ for my children. Much of their understanding of Christ would come from their relationship to their earthly father (and mother). I’ve been given so much grace shouldn’t my children reap the benefit? Great families realize everyone makes mistakes — parents and children — and so they give multiple chances, forgive easily, and reconcile quickly.

Obviously these are just suggestions. Implementing them in your home will be different than it was in my home, because you are different and your children are different. Thinking through your parenting in a more systematic, intentional way will make you a better parent and help your time as a family be more effective.

What are some suggestions you have for making family time more effective?

An Encouragement To Be A Dad (Happy Father’s Day!)

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Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table. Psalm 128:3

The role of a father is so important in the home.

God bless the fathers of the world today!

A friend told me once about an incident at her daughter’s house. Her son-in-law was really excited about finishing a book in a series of fiction novels. He was so anxious to finish the latest release that he stayed up most of the night, doing nothing other than read. Normally very interactive with his family, this night he did nothing but read. Seated comfortably in his favorite chair, his back was to the rest of the house. The first time he got up was well after midnight. He was startled to stumble over something on the floor — one of his sons. His son was sleeping behind his chair, just to be close to “Daddy”.

What an impact a father has on his family!

The statistics of fatherless homes are astounding. Sobering. Scary even. (Read some of them HERE.)

One of the greatest gifts I could give my boys when they were home was to simply spend time with them in the backyard. They loved to pass a ball together. I fully believe God used these times to mold their character and help shape them into godly young men.

Children love to spend time with their fathers. They long for male attention, male interaction, and a father’s approval. They learn from dad how much they can accomplish and how secure they are in this world. They learn to love in strength. They learn to take risks and get up after failure. And, so much more.

Fathers, please, don’t neglect your greatest responsibility. I know the world is demanding much from you these days. I know you are tired from the pressures and stress of life, but your family’s health depends so greatly on the important role you play.

I know men who would love to be a dad if God allowed and I know those who have lost their dad or never knew him. It’s a deep pain. I know moms who had to play both roles. I know those who have lost children. Can’t imagine. If you have the opportunity — or if you’re dad is in your life — take advantage of the blessing.

I’m praying for you! Happy Father’s Day!

7 Ways to Parent with Grace

family lifestyle portrait

Cheryl and I had a model for our parenting.

Whenever I say that to people they hear “complicated”. It wasn’t. We aren’t complicated people.

Simply put, we attempted to implement grace into our home.

Our boys are now grown — in their mid-twenties, but we have seen the fruit from our methods. We have two amazing sons. They love Jesus, they serve others, and they respect their parents. (And, they are self-supported. That’s a good thing.)

Our heart is now to help other parents learn from things we did wrong and things we did right.

Grace-based parenting is one thing I believe we did right.

For an easy definition: Grace-based parenting attempts to parent children the way God parents us — by grace. It makes sense to me — if God leads us by grace we should lead our children by grace. I read in the Scriptures that grace teaches, graces protect, grace encourages, and grace redeems. Grace even disciplines and corrects. Oh, the power of grace.
We are not under the law — but grace.

Grace-based parenting does not mean that we let our children do whatever they want to do. It doesn’t mean there were no rules in my house. (My boys would say Amen to the last sentence.) It didn’t mean we released them to sin.

The apostle Paul dealt with these same concerns regarding grace-based living. (Romans 6:1-2)

To the contrary, I actually believe grace parenting has led to a stronger walk with the Lord for each of the boys. They are now young men, honoring Christ (and their parents) with their lives.

Basically with grace-based parenting we had some basic principles with which we parented. We considered these often.

Here are 7 ways to parent with grace:

Set clear boundaries. 

Children need to know what is expected of them and what the limits are in the home. They will test these — primarily because they intrinsically want to know how real they are. When they do, enforce the boundaries, but do it with grace. For example, one of these boundaries for us was respect. My boys could speak openly and honestly about anything with us — anything — but I expected them to respect Cheryl and me in the way they responded and talked to us. Another solid boundary was honesty. Punishment was more severe if they did wrong and lied about it than if they confessed.

Recognize the individuality of the child. 

You can’t parent all children the same with the same results. Some children require more structure than others do. Make sure the boundaries set are appropriate for the needs of the child. One of our boys needed more structure than the other boy. His boundaries had to be more defined. He also needed illustrations to help explain to him the boundaries. The other boy just needed a clear destination — a path for him. He would get there in his own way.

Have certain goals.

I am not sure our boys ever knew, but we had goals for them every year for improvement. For example, we concentrated on building their patience. We tried to encourage more honesty in them. Basically, we talked about where we saw our boys — what we saw they needed — and together we planned an intentional effort. That was grace to them — as we intentionally imparted truth into them by stories, Scripture and by example — even when they just thought we were throwing a ball together.

Major on the majors, not the minors.

This is huge. There should be some things, which everyone understands are non-negotiable items. We tended to let these be moral or Biblical issues, such as lying, cheating, disrespect, etc. If the issue affects the child’s character then it is a major issue. These major issues are handled sternly and thoroughly. Of course, they are still handled with love, but we made sure the boys knew we were very serious about them. The minor issues — those which do not affect the child’s character, are not to be ignored, but can be handled less severely. Leaving clothes on the floor or forgetting to take out the trash may feel “major” at the time, but it isn’t likely going to help determine who they are as a person years from now. This will eliminate much of the “nagging” children often feel parents do.

Consider the heart.

We always tried to determine the reasons behind our boy’s actions before deciding on discipline. A pure heart was always treated differently from a rebellious heart. Remember you are trying to mold a character for life. Scripture says that we should monitor and protect the heart above everything else. (Proverbs 4:23) If your child’s heart is pure and wants to do the right thing, instructing them in the way they should go may be better than harsh discipline. If their heart is bent on rebellion that should be handled much stricter.

Give multiple chances and forgive easily.

God has given Cheryl and me so many chances. Shouldn’t we do the same for our children — especially if we want to model the heart of God for our children? After punishment is decided upon, make sure the child understands why they are being punished. You may not be able to fully explain at the time, but go back to the child afterwards to make sure you have not broken their spirit or closed their heart to you. They should always know that you love them, that you would never forsake them, even when they have done something wrong. They should never question your commitment to them even in your anger. Give love liberally, just as God gives it to us.

Be a “fun” parent.

Children should enjoy having a good time with you. That’s true even when they aren’t fully living up to your standards. You want your children giving you access to their lives later in life. We wanted our boys to honestly be able to say they lived in a fun house. At the same time, we wanted to witness their character being molded into the image of Christ. We laughed so much in our house and under this model. There were rarely days where life was no fun in our home, even during some of the most stressful times in our lives as parents. There will be some days that are no fun — but if children are living within the boundaries of your home, don’t take the stress of your world out on them. When you’re home — be home — and have a good time being there.

Our boys quickly learned the concept of grace as they grew in our home. They understood that we were holding them to high standards, but that we would extend to them lots of grace.

10 Suggestions for Raising Godly Children

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Most of the believers I know have a strong desire to raise their children to be godly; to be passionate followers of Christ.

Years ago, before I even had children, God laid on my heart to develop a plan for my fathering. Though at the time I didn’t put this on paper, over the years I have begun to write it down in an effort to encourage other parents to have a plan for their parenting in the area of spiritual development.

That plan was covered in previous posts — this is an expansion of that — but in addition to having a plan, we thought through as a couple actions which could help attain our plan for parenting.

You can have the best plan in the world but with no steps to implement them they will just be pretty words on paper. That’s true in every area of our life, including parenting.

One of the things we wanted to see was our children following after Christ. We wanted to instill godly principles in their life. These are some specific suggestions we thought through for the spiritual development part of our plan. You can use a similar approach but alter them  to fit your own plan, life situations, and the individualities of your children. This is what we did. And, by God’s grace — and so far — with two adult children who love and serve Jesus — it is working.

Although, I would say these should be good suggestions for any parent.

Here are 10 suggestions for raising godly children:

Realize that raising godly children does not usually happen by accident. It will require proper planning and implementation. You can’t just “hope” for the Bible to impact the life of your children. You’ll have to work at it daily.

Know what you want your child to look like as adults. Ultimately, as I said before, we wanted our boys to be like Christ, so He became the primary model we used. We talked about Jesus often. He was no stranger in our home — not just a Sunday occurrence.

Define for them what it means to be a Christ follower. For me that definition is one who knows what God requires of him and is willing to do whatever it takes to meet that requirement. We wanted our boys to understand that was not just a term it was a life mission.

Strive to live like Christ personally. I realized early in parenting that our boys would each, in many ways, be copycats of both of us — but especially me. Because of that, we were conscious of the fact they must see us willing to live out our own definition of who a Christ follower — being willing to walk by faith, even when we didn’t understand all He was doing — which was often. We had numerous hard seasons of life when the boys were little. We wanted them to see us handling the stress of life by seeking Christ’s input into our situations.

Have basic principles of spiritual growth that you want each child to learn. For me those were:

  • How to hear from God.
  • The importance of prayer.
  • What it means to be a student of God’s Word.
  • The act of surrendering to God’s will.
  • To apply Scripture to daily life.

Find practical teachings from God’s Word. Boys seem naturally attracted to stories about action, even violence to a certain extent. Of course, we wanted them to understand those things from a biblical perspective. And, the Bible is full of great stories. That meant looking at the characters of the Bible and how their lives represented Christ, how they heard from and obeyed God, and also how sometimes they failed to do so. Also, reading through Proverbs and Ecclesiastes was another helpful too to help implant wisdom in our boys. We talked about the stories of the Bible and how they impacted us today.

Individualize teaching time for the child. We seldom did the typical Bible study setting. We weren’t the weekly family devotion family. It simply didn’t work for us. We looked for teachable moments with our boys — for one boy, with me that was often while pitching a baseball together and for the other it was while kicking a soccer ball. Bedtime was another opportune time for teaching. It is amazing what children will do to delay bedtime, but if the discussion is productive We always felt their character development was most important. Dinner time was another opportunity when we could talk about the things of God.

Be purposeful to talk about the specific character traits you want your child to have. We decided each year what was most important for each boy to learn that year. We purposely brought up character topics, such as honesty or how to treat girls and discussed it with them during teaching moments when we had their full attention.

Be willing to grow in your own learning of who Christ is. Over the years, our understanding of who Christ is and how He relates to us and the world around us has continually grown. We allowed our boys to walk through those changes with us. We weren’t afraid to let them know we didn’t have answers or that we were wrong.

Pray and trust Christ. I know plenty of examples where parents did everything we did, yet they haven’t experienced the same results. Only God’s grace can really build godliness and every child has the ability to resist that grace. In the end, do all you know to do and trust God with your children.

I took personally that one of my responsibilities as a father was to see that these implemented in our home. I am thankful for a supporting wife who has worked with me to balance my role with her more nurturing role (which she is excellent at completing). So far our now adult young men are following after God’s heart in their own way.

My role has changed from my boy’s primary teacher to one of a mentor or coach. I’m their friend — still their dad, but it’s different now. They call me regularly for advice. They want my input in their life. More than anything, however, I’m thankful for the godly young men they have become.

Do you have a plan for your parenting?

7 Tips For Surviving The Terrible Threes Of Parenting

Time Out

Talking to younger parents often reminds me of a parenting phenomenon that we experienced firsthand. Perhaps, if you’re children are older, you did also. It’s called the “terrible threes”. 

Ever have a three year old try your patience?

As with so many others (most it seems), it’s not the “terrible twos” that is a problem — it’s the “terrible threes”.

It goes something like this: One day your precious angel — the one everyone thinks is so cute — who was hardly ever a problem before — suddenly becomes a living terror at times. You don’t know what to do — how to respond — and how to stop it.. You have never dealt with such temper tantrums, back-talking, and outbursts of anger. 

If that’s your story — you may have entered the “terrible threes”.

Children cycle through many phases and it shouldn’t be too surprising if they go through a rebellious stage early in life. The terrible threes, or twos, as the case may be, most likely is the time when the child most openly expresses his or her independence. 

And, the more independent the child — the more difficult this time can be. And, the longer it might last.

He or she is exploring a new world, testing boundaries, discovering their own personality, and filtering through reactions of others. As with other phases the child will experience, this one is difficult for the child as well as the parent, but in this phase the child is the least mature in the relationship and their reaction, by the way, should be likewise.

Here are 7 suggestions for surviving the terrible threes:

Suffer through it!

I know. That’s not what you wanted to hear, but most likely, it will not last long. Perhaps not even a whole year. And, there is hope on the other side — if you act wisely at this stage.

Be consistent

This is not the time to give in to the child’s outbursts. That almost never works. This is the time to consistently follow through with prescribed discipline. The child is learning. They need to learn that outbursts don’t work in your home.

And, why is this important? Well, you’re raising them to be an adult. Are similar outbursts usually okay in high school — or in the workplace?

Keep loving 

As much as your child tries your patience, continue to always exhibit love to your child, even during discipline. Most likely they know when they are having a temper-tantrum. They are possibly even doing it for the attention it brings — wondering how you will react. Make sure they know and understand that even when you aren’t happy with their behavior — you will always love them.

Experiment

Use different discipline methods until you find one that works for this stage of the child’s life. Every child is unique. Some things work. Some things don’t. Again, you’re wiser at this point than them. Wisely experiment to find the right action to correct their action — or encourage better actions.

Remember you are the adult

Sometimes when the child is showing his or her worse side it is tempting to show yours. Don’t do it. Keep your cool. Be mature. Handle these days firmly, but calmly. Remember you are modeling behavior for your child. They are watching you — closely.

Teach your child

This phase can be a great opportunity to teach your child how to respond to disappointment and frustration — what an appropriate emotional response looks like. They’ll need that the rest of their life.

Don’t be afraid to share your situation with others

Often parents are embarrassed because of their children’s behavior during this stage of life. Grocery store visits can be embarrassing. Restaurant visits may be avoided. So, the parents hide the struggle. They falsely assume other parents don’t experience the same with their children. That’s a myth. The biggest surprise at this stage of your child’s life may be when you discover you are not unique in this struggle. Ask for help. Find a mentoring couple. That’s helpful at every stage of your child’s life — but especially at this one.

By the way, most of these are good suggestions in other phases of a child’s life also.

But, here’s a bonus one.

Enjoy!

Seriously, enjoy every season of your child’s life. They pass so quickly and each one has its own set of challenges. (And, it’s true, the challenges do get bigger — even into your child’s adulthood.)

The fact is that even the “terrible threes” can be filled with laughter and wonder as your child is becoming their own person. Zig Ziglar actually said to call them the “terrific two’s” (or threes). You sometimes get what you’re looking for in life. Marvel at what God has done and is doing in your child’s life. Even in the most difficult of seasons — children are a gift. A precious gift!

Praying for you parents! You’re probably doing better than it feels at times.

7 Suggestions for Raising Boys Who Welcome Your Input as Adults

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People ask me all the time for advice on raising girls, and honestly, I’ve got some, but they all involve a shotgun and long ankle-length dresses, so you probably don’t want that. Just kidding. I always wanted a daughter, but God gave me boys.

And, I think He knew what He was doing. Imagine that!

I’ve learned a few things about ministering to men — and understanding myself more — by raising boys. One thing I’ve learned is that boys are desperate for wisdom. They crave it. They want someone to speak into their life — save them from making the wrong decision.

But, equally true, they are often either too timid to ask for it or they just never know to do so.

(Someone told me guys seldom ask for directions either, but I’m having a hard time believing that one. :) )

I’m close to my two adult boys. We’ve walked through a lot of life together — mine and theirs. They are on their own, have good careers, and live healthy, productive lives. They love other people with grace. Best of all, they both love and pursue Jesus actively. I couldn’t be more proud as a dad.

Gratefully, and the subject of this post, they still call me for the major decisions they make in life.

I didn’t have a great relationship with my dad when I was their age. I wanted the type relationship with my sons where they would always feel welcome and ready to learn from my experience. I’m blessed to say both my boys call me often, sometimes daily in certain seasons of their life. They want my help making life decisions. I can only credit God’s grace with that blessing.

Even still, I’ve observed there is something in them that wants to appear not to need the help at times. Something in a guy resists the need for help — even when we desperately need the help.

How do you get your sons to want to come to you for wisdom, long after they leave home?

I get asked that a lot. I have a few thoughts.

Here are 7 suggestions for raising boys:

Do activities they want to do – I spent lots of time with my boys, but I did that by assuming their interests. If it was baseball or wrestling, I loved and lived what they loved. I know dads who try to get their boys to love fishing or golf because they love fishing or golf. I simply chose my interests around theirs.

Stay close – Boys grow to become men. That sounds simple, but it’s huge to remember. They want to be independent. Some days they don’t want you around as much as others. (That may sound appealing for a moment when they are colicky as infants, but believe me you will miss them.) I tried to stay close enough that I was there when they were ready for me. Ephesians 6 says not to exasperate the children. I simply tried not to get in the way of their growth pattern, but to always be available when needed. I found I was “needed” more often that way. And, the funny thing, it almost seemed like they tested whether I was going to be there when they called.

Be fully present – Like all men I always had plenty I could be doing. I tried to let the boy’s time be the boy’s time. Children know when you’re not really being attentive. There were times my boys told me I needed to put my phone down. I listened. I wanted them to feel I was listening to what mattered to them. If my boys wanted to kick a soccer ball or throw a baseball, I did it, no matter how tired I was from a long day. And, it’s amazing how much more a boy will engage in conversation when a ball is involved.

Offer wisdom more than solutions – This is huge. I explained this more in THIS POST, but I tried to help my boys form a paradigm for finding an answer, rather than always giving them the answer. Honestly, this is harder. It’s easier just to do something sometimes. Give the answer and move on. Solve the problem. But they don’t grow that way. And, they learn to use you as a crutch, rather than develop into independent young men. Boys want to find their own way. They like solving the mystery, creating a new path, and discovering the answers on their own. I wanted them to always have access to me for the wisdom of experience, but to develop the ability to make wise decisions apart from me.

Love their friends – My boys knew their friends were always welcome in our house. They knew I’d fix them lots of pancakes on Saturday morning. They knew we stocked our fridge with every drink their friends might like, just in case our house was the hangout house for the night. They knew the doors was always wide open for anyone they brought through them. Honestly, we didn’t always approve of their choices in friends, but we talked them through it and tried to steer them towards better friends. But, we never turned away their friends. This did two things. It protected their hearts towards us. And, it helped them learn principles of grace. Over time we discovered that if we were building wisdom into their lives in other areas they would discern for themselves the wisest choice in friends.

Give solid boundaries – We were a house of grace, but boys need structure. Let me repeat that — before someone gets hurt — boys NEED structure. They need someone to tell them when they’ve gone too far in how they talk to their mom. They need someone who will counsel them when they are falling behind in school — and hold them accountable to do better. They need to know there is someone who will pull them aside and discipline them when they do wrong — and be consistent in that discipline.

Let them explore – Boys are risk-takers. Most likely we have steered it out of them if it’s not there. It’s innate. They use potty language and wrestle and bounce balls that break lamps and pee places you never thought someone would pee. They’ll jump off something and you’ll likely end up in the emergency room a time or two. But, that’s part of being a boy. And, discovering. And, growing courage and faith and the ability to be a man. Of course, there’s a line. And, I wasn’t great at finding that line. You can’t let them be too stupid (Although one of my favorite Proverbs says, “Surely I’m too stupid to be a man.”) But, you should let them be boys. That includes exploring. And, that’s a word to moms and dads.

There are probably other suggestions I could share, but if you are raising boys, you probably need to go break up a fight or stop them from jumping off something. We can talk more later. :)

What suggestions do you have for raising boys?

10 Ideas for Raising Children to Become Generous Adults

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I have had conflict most of my life between what I think I want and what I really need.

Most people share this conflict with me.

That conflict also appears in our children as well.

We don’t have to teach children to struggle with determining between wants and needs. It’s a natural response to life. And, if they need any help doing so — they can easily learn the struggle from us.

As parents we are the primary shapers of our children’s attitudes towards money, things, and desires. Our children will either be “givers” or “takers” in society and that will be greatly influenced by the life they live in our home.

How do we raise generous children?

How do we help our children (and ultimately ourselves) be people who genuinely enjoy living sacrificial lives — considering the interest of others — being givers rather than takers as the Bible commands us to do?

Here are 10 tips which we tried to practice in our own home. It has been amazing to watch our boys, now young adults on their own, having developed generous hearts towards others. They are far more generous than I was at their age.

And, let me be clear. The fact that they turned out that way is all grace. God has blessed us greatly. But, we have been intentional to live out Biblical principles — and we have learned that they work when applied “generously”.

Here are 10 ideas for raising children to be generous adults:

Have fun and be generous parents.

The story is told of Jesus and the disciples attending a wedding. The party had been going for a while when something tragic happened. They ran out of wine. That was a serious problem to the host of the party. It was a huge cultural embarrassment to run out of food or wine. Jesus took some big barrels of water and turned them into the best wine the people had that night. The people were overwhelmed.

The Bible says that was the very first miracle Jesus ever did. As culturally important as weddings were in those days, it still sounds like God met a want, rather than a need.

It is very clear that God is not trying to keep us from having what we want or from having fun in life. God is not opposed to blessing us with things we want, but may not even need. We should not be afraid to do the same with our children. If we can afford to, and if our children are living within the boundaries set for our home, we should not be afraid to give them gifts they simply want, but may not even need. (I thought I would start with an easy one first.)

Help children understand the difference between a need and a want.

It is understandable why it is difficult to raise children who understand the difference between a need and a want when we as parents struggle with the same issues. This will take a lifetime of teaching.

As much as God wants to bless us with wants, if we study the Bible, God seems far more interested in helping fulfill our needs than He does in giving us everything we want. In fact, God never promises to provide our want list, yet He does promise to meet all our needs. (Philippians 4:19) Granted there are some that take verses like this out of context and teach that God gives us everything we ask for, but that doesn’t line up with the rest of Scripture.

The problem from a Biblical perspective is that we have a messed up system of determining need verses want. That thing inside us that chooses good over evil, better or best, need verses wants; is broken.

When we apply Biblical understanding, most actual needs go beyond just enjoyment for today or even just for me. For something to fall into the category of need it should provide some lasting value to society or at least to my own character. Needs, beyond basics such as food and water, become things like righteousness — and love, and joy, and peace, and contentment.

We can even ask ourselves, does this “thing” benefit someone more than just me? Does it add value to someone’s life or to my own character? A true need, in this context, almost becomes something that money cannot buy.

We should consistently invest Biblical principles into our children — helping them understand the things that matter to God. Helping children develop a hunger for things they need — as much as, or even more — than things they want.

Provide needs. Bless with wants.

It is important that parents consider their system of meeting needs versus wants. Of course, that begins with a proper understanding ourselves of needs versus wants.

Consider this question: Which gets more attention in your home?

Does having the latest technology take a bigger role than teaching children to be good citizens and to generously love others?

Does being the best on the traveling soccer or dance team have a higher priority than finding ways to serve others?

Either answer is your choice — you’re the parent, but if a goal is raising future generous adults — you may have to consider some of the places you spend your energies and resources. When it comes to encouraging generosity, consideration should be given to use of time and money.

Our boys never did without basics needs. And, by needs here I’m even referring to housing, clothing, food, etc. They had plenty. But, there were probably things they wanted that they didn’t have. In how they spent their time, we let them choose what they enjoyed doing, but, we also limited the number of outside activities our boys could participate in at one time.

And, we looked for opportunities where we could give back to others. We prioritized our time. And, we prioritized our “stuff”. We didn’t try to keep up with everyone else in terms of the “toys” they had. Having to wait until a birthday or Christmas for something they really wanted wasn’t unusual to them.

Help children make wise choices with their own money.

One of the primary reasons children should have access to their own money is so they can learn the value of it. Our children were always more careful spending “their” money than they are spending ours.

Talk with them about how they should spend their allowance, birthday, or even money they have earned on their own. Help them learn what the terms budget — and savings — and investment. And, tithe is still not a bad word either. Ultimately, they should give some to God, save some, and spend some for things they need or want (based on the system you have for meeting these in your home.)

We also freely discussed our own finances in front of our boys. We allowed them to know things like when things were tight financially and when we were giving to others.

Consider the “big picture” of your child’s life.

As a parent, we are a primary molder of our children. The choices they make in life — what they desire most — will largely be impacted by us early in their life. Their desires in life will be greatly shaped by the life they live in our home. (That’s a scary thought — isn’t it?)

I heard a statistic once that children these days get 90% of everything they want in life. That doesn’t seem like the statistic for most of our adult want lists, does it? I can’t verify the statistic, but it sounds about right for most children I know — probably even for our own. The problem this creates is that somewhere children are going to face a stark reality in adulthood — when we seldom have all that we “want”.

We have all heard stories of children of privilege who got everything they wanted in life, but who cannot seem to stay out of trouble as adults. They have no real sense of direction; no set of values to guide them, because they got everything they wanted in life, but nothing that they really needed!

We kept these principles in mind as we parented. We were raising them to be adults. That one thought changed our paradigm many times.

Spend more time, energy and attention meeting needs than wants.

At Christmas time, birthdays, and other special occasions we ask children what they “want”. There is nothing wrong with that.

Most of the time we already know what they need. We don’t have to ask them if they need to be honest people. We don’t have to ask them if they need to have character, love others or be generous. We do not need to ask them if they need a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We know they need those things.

We need to ask ourselves if we are spending as much time and energy helping them get what they need as we are trying to buy them what they want. Let’s be honest, providing for a want is more fun sometimes. But we must be willing to sacrifice even what makes us feel good as parents in order to do what is best for our children long-term. We need to give them what they need.

It’s much more fun to give them wants, but it is far more valuable to give them needs.

Model healthy personal choices between needs and wants.

I think we teach our children to value the need more than the want by first modeling it for them.

We cannot ask children to do something we are not willing to do ourselves. Children are smarter than that. Today’s generation is far more interested in truth and integrity than earlier generations. This generation despises hypocrisy.

If children see parents saying one thing and doing another, they will reject that as being truth. We need to model and teach our children the proper concepts concerning money. Ultimately teach them that we are to be responsible with what God has allowed us to have. (When we had to use our credit card for purchases, for example, we usually explained to them why and that we would be paying it off quickly.)

Children need to see their parents giving sacrificially of their time and resources. Volunteering at a soup kitchen may be a better activity for an upcoming special occasion than opening a bunch of gifts.

Keep children properly grounded in a material world.

Children need to know that the universe does not revolve around them. Our world as their parents may revolve around them, but the rest of the world thinks otherwise. Children need to have created times in their life where they have to wait for something they want. Teach and model for children a life that puts others needs and wants ahead of their own.

Don’t give children everything; even if you can afford it.

If children are encouraged by example to have a love of money — a love of stuff — chances are they will never have enough possessions in this world to be satisfied. (Read Ecclesiastes 5:10)

Plant within them a love of God, a love of people and a love of life and they will want to bless others — and the joy of their life will be much greater.

Regardless of how wealthy a family is children should not be so “privileged” that there are no longer any items on their “want” list. When this happens the child has a hard time developing a heart of giving, because they are often too consumed with acquiring more “stuff”.

We have to model simple living sometimes for our children. IT IS OKAY TO SAY NO TO YOUR CHILD! In fact, that may sometimes be the exact thing we need to say. Every trip to the mall should not produce a new toy! (Okay, I know number 9 hurts!)

Teach and model a love for God.

Above all else, perhaps the greatest thing a parent can do to help children be generous people is to help them desire the things of God more than the things of this world. God is a generous God. The more we know and love Him, the more generous we become.

Parenting is hard. And, we all make mistakes. Here’s a prayer your way. Be intentional. We need great parents. We need generous people.

5 Things I’d Do Differently If Raising My Family Again

Little Girl on a Swing

What would I do differently I were raising my family again?

I’ve been asked several times recently for my advice on raising a family.

The only advice I have is from personal experience. My boys are grown. On their own. Self-sustaining. Independent young men. But, everyone who knows them is impressed with my two adult sons. They are incredible.

But, I’ve been honest with all of them. Cheryl is too when she’s asked. It’s all been grace.

I do have the opportunity, however, of looking back on that experience. Parenting looks different to me now than it did then. Isn’t that how all of life works? We can only see what we can see, and when we are in the middle of something, it’s harder to see the whole picture.

And, if I had it to do over, I’d do some things differently.

Not every thing. I have great adult children. The best, in fact. Seriously. Let’s compete. I’ll win.

Okay — it’s not a competition, but if it were — just saying. :)

But, if I had it to do over — I’d do a few things differently.

Here are 5 examples:

I’d control more early. I’ve said this before and I get push back, but so much of life is built upon how those beginning years. And, every parent knows things that are best for the child early, that the child may not choose correctly left on their own. You have much control early in life. Parents often act like they have no control — they do. I’d control what they watch. What they listen to. Whether they attend church — or not. I know — bad dad. You may not think you can’t, but you can. There will be days when you can’t — and shouldn’t try — to control them. While you can — do! And, I don’t know that age when you have to move from more control to more influence, but I know it isn’t 3. I’d give them a strong foundation to pull from their rest of their life.

I would limit outside interruptions. There’d be less travel ball and outside activities. And, just less everything where lots of other people were involved. I know. That would be unpopular. Families are always on the go it seems. But, I’d make sure there was less time with a coach and more time with us, the parents. And, that’s just it. We are the parents — and those parenting opportunities pass too quickly anyway. And, it seemed the dynamics of family always changed when others were around. It often became more about others than about us as a family. And, it’s harder to really parent well in those settings. I’d be more selfish with our family time so I could increase our individual time with our kids.

I’d be more selfish with my time too. My personal time. My play time. And, my work time. I’m not saying that would be popular with my friends or even with my work — but I would be more concerned with my influence on my kids than what other people think.

I’d plan our week around church. Okay, you think this one is self-serving to me now. And, I know it’s not as culturally relevant anymore, but I’ve never met a family who was sorry they did this. (Including us.) I’ve met several families who — when it was too late — wish they had.

I’d get less upset about minor annoyances. Each of my boys did things that upset me at times. And, I often over-reacted. (Please don’t tell them — although they’ve outgrown them.) Like squeezing the toothpaste tube in the middle or always waiting to go to the bathroom to the most inopportune time — even though we asked a dozen times before. (See, minor.) But, they have outgrown them. And, it wouldn’t matter anyway. They are minor now and looking back — they were minor then. I would react differently to the minors, so I could major on the majors — things like character — that really matter — then and now.

Those are quick thoughts. Parenting is hard. I’d never want to put more pressure on a parent than they already feel. Each parent has to own their parenting.

But, quick thoughts are needed in parenting. Parenting happens fast. But, the results of parenting last generations.

7 Suggestions for Parenting Adult Children

cheerful family

I was talking to another dad recently. We were comparing notes. Both of us are empty nesters. We recognized — equally — that being the parent of adult children is sometimes more difficult than when the children are still at home.

That’s hard for some parents with teenage children to believe — isn’t it?

Or the parent with multiple children still in diapers — right?

But, it is — sometimes.

When adult children  leave the home you don’t have much control over their lives — you are no longer “raising” them — you influence them.

The “raising” part was mostly done when they graduated from high school. Maybe even when they got their driver’s license. Parenting moves primarily to influencing when they are away from you more than with you and when they can pretty much do what they want to do when they are away from you.

That’s why it’s important to grab their heart early so your influence sticks. And, still, sometimes it sticks and sometimes it doesn’t and there’s little you can do about that when they are on their own. But, it doesn’t lower your concern for them, your desire to help them, or your thoughts about them — hence the hardness at times.

So, what should the parents of adult children do?

Well, I’m still fairly new at this one. And, I’m learning, but I have learned a few things. And, I’ve learned a few more from countless hours spent with other people’s adult children. And, the parents of adult children who are struggling with their adult children.

I can’t tell you how many strained relationships, bitterness, hurt and even anger I’ve witnessed over the years with adult children. I know some young adults who, though they still speak, avoid their parents influence because of the way it has been offered to them. I know some parents of adult children who are miserable watching their adult children make bad decisions, but not knowing how to reach them.

Thankfully, I have a wonderful relationship with my two adult children. They are two of my best friends. But, I’m careful. I want to protect my influence in their life. And, I know the lines are delicate at times.

So, I offer these thoughts with reservation — knowing that I don’t know it all — but I do have some “experienced” thoughts.

Here are 7 suggestions for parenting adult children:

Speak reservedly – Don’t share every opinion you have about how they should be handling their life. That’s a key word. It’s “their” life. And, they may not tell you in so many words, but most adult children want to live their life. Just like you probably want to live yours. You can share on occasion — especially when asked or you know they are about to make a major mistake — but if you share everything it will eventually be noise not influence in their life.

Model – Be the maturer one in the relationship. That makes sense, right? You’ve got more experience, shouldn’t you have more maturity? I’ve known parents who give the silent treatment to their adult children because they didn’t call when they should or perform as they expected. Is that the mature response? And, does it work? It may guilt a response but it doesn’t promote growth and health in the relationship. Model the behavior you think your adult children should have. They will likely follow actions more than words.

Pray – Pray like crazy for your adult kids. Intercede for them. You don’t even have to tell them you are — although occasionally I suspect they’d like to hear it — even if they act like they don’t. In fact, when you’re tempted to worry about them — pray for them. It’s far more powerful and one of the best ways you can influence them.

Remember you were once this age. That’s a key. Remember what it was like to be their age. You wanted to explore. You had dreams. You were scared at times. Confused. Not sure what steps to take. Some days you were just trying to hold it all together. You didn’t know everything. You were still learning. (Hopefully you still are.) You got aggravated at parents at times. And, those parents got aggravated at you. Remember? Try to identify with them by remembering you at their age again. You can influence them better if you can identify more with their season of life.

Keep the door open. Always. As soon as you close the door — when you draw hard lines on the ground or place strict rules upon the relationship — it will be much harder to open the doors again. That doesn’t mean you have to let them take advantage of you. There may be some non-negotiable issues, but let those be rare. Be generous with grace and forgiveness. Remember, you’re trying to develop a long-term opportunity to influence them.

Love them more than their life. You may not love all the decisions they are making. You may even think they are making a mistake. Again, if there’s an open door to share your insight — share it. I find writing a letter is sometimes the best way, especially if communication is strained. But, the fact is again, you are not raising — you’re influencing. And, they may or may not accept your influence. So, love them — generously and unconditionally — more than you love the decisions they are making with their life. And, make sure they know how unconditional your love is also. It will guard your influence — if not now — in the future.

Guard the heart. Yours and theirs. You want to protect the opportunity to speak into their life for years to come. Be careful making statements or doing things you may later regret.

Hopefully, if influence is protected — if they can understand your intentions towards them are good — you can speak into their life — from your success, your failure, and your experience.

I’m still learning, so what insight do you have for me — those of you who have had adult children even longer than I have?