FIRST-PERSON: From babies to teens
FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) -- When we first began to have children, I truly loved the birth through preschool years. I was confident in what I was doing and the calling God had on my life. Yes, there were stressful times, but overall, I was in control.
However, my kids continued to grow and soon the wheels started to fall off.
Naturally, the kids began to develop their own strong opinions, and outside activities and influences increased. It wasn't long before I was questioning every aspect of parenting. Life seemed to be getting more complicated and I was overwhelmed.
Thankfully, a wise friend spoke truth into my life on a day when I was struggling the most. "Just go back to the basics of parenting," she said.
After much prayer, I began to realize that what children need growing up doesn't change that much. Our circumstances change and the world around us changes, but at the basic level, even teenagers still need a lot of what babies need.
Over time, we finally found a new groove through the elementary years and now are riding well through the pre-teen/middle school years. When I feel uncertain if I am giving my kids what they need, I go back to these basics:
Shower them with unconditional love through personal contact.
We constantly snuggle with babies. Before rest, after rest, reading time -- they are always in our arms. Well, it's hard to carry a 16-year-old in your arms, but the need for loving hugs doesn't change.
When I was going through middle school and high school, I remember my mom waking me up by spending five to 10 minutes just talking to me about the day as she rubbed my back to wake me up. I knew we were usually hurried in the mornings, so one time I asked her why she took the time to do this. She wisely answered, "When you are awake, you are always moving, and we always have somewhere to be or something to do. Waking you up is the only time I get to sit down and love on you."
Pre-teens and youth need genuine, loving touch just like they did when they were younger. Studies show that a good hug can calm negative emotions much better than a lecture or fighting. Make the effort some time in your day to rub your son's back or play with your daughter's hair. Give hugs freely. Those actions will go further to strengthen your relationship than you realize.
Make sure they get enough sleep and good nutrition.
When our children were younger, we controlled everything, especially when they went to bed and what they ate. Even if they fought bedtime or were picky eaters, I was aware of it and adjusted accordingly. The other day, my daughter came home from school complaining of a headache and feeling tired. That combination did not bode well for a peaceful afternoon. Later that evening when I was doing dishes, I realized that her water bottle from the day was completely full. That means she did not drink anything between 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. No wonder her head hurt -- she was dehydrated. Similar effects can happen because of lack of sleep.
Because our older children are much more independent and are not under our constant care like they were when they were younger, it is easy to lose track of their diet and sleep patterns. However, continuing to pay attention to those nuances in their lives will go far in keeping them healthy and emotionally ready to face the challenges of the day.
Little children are just silly. They walk around with their hair in a mess or mismatched clothes or their Batman cape all day and we just laugh it away and say how cute they are. However, as they grow they begin to take themselves more seriously -- sometimes too seriously.
In pre-adolescence and adolescence, much is developing in our children and the opportunities to become embarrassed, stressed or frustrated are abundant. This is where we as parents need to pray for divine wisdom. We must be able to discern what is worth taking seriously and what is better to laugh off and let go. Sometimes the stress of the moment is not worth the lasting damage to a relationship or your child's self-image. Sometimes an issue that seems so important in the moment is really just as fleeing as a child with mismatched clothes.
One day they will not want mix-matched clothes (or messy hair or dirty socks) and change will happen in its own time. But in the meantime, laughter is a good way to lighten the mood and communicate that no one is perfect, showing abundant grace.
I parent with much greater humility than I once did and have come to embrace sometimes the messiness of growing up. I constantly come back to those basics to make sure I am loving my kids well all the years they develop. It might look different depending on the age of the child, but a good hug, a good meal or nap, and a good laugh can be exactly what your child needs today.