Parenting is hard work, but don't get discouraged -- remember this

With three young children, my wife, Monica, and I are in the middle of the “parenting experiment,” still learning, failing, and growing along the way. So, why would anyone take parenting advice from me? I’ve spent the last 11 years leading one of the world’s largest young adult ministries, and it has given me a unique view into the results of other parents’ parenting. I have interacted with tens of thousands of twentysomethings who are fresh out of the nest, and I’ve seen the impact various parenting styles make on young adults. I’ve closely observed some extraordinary kids and sibling groups and have had the privilege of learning from their parents’ examples. As a result, I believe the following to be true:

  • Extraordinary young adults often come from extraordinary parents.
  • Extraordinary parents often share common practices.

Below is a list of ten habits of extraordinary parents. My prayer is that by sharing what I’ve learned from many outstanding parents, we can all resist the temptation of passive, ordinary parenting and do better.

1. Extraordinary parents see children as blessing

Ordinary parents see children as inconvenient little nuisances who get in the way of their preferences. When I became a father, I was an ordinary parent. Monica wanted children quickly after we got married. I wanted to enjoy each other, make money, and see the world. When we did start a family and begin to experience sleepless nights and plenty of tears, I felt justified in my prior resistance. Then, I read Psalm 127, where God says children are a blessing. In fact, if I see children as anything other than a blessing, I am missing the very heart of God. The truth of Psalm 127 allowed me to find joy in parenting and treasure the time I spend with our kids. Do you see your children as a blessing?

Psalm 127:3-5: "Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them."

2. Extraordinary parents teach boundaries

There is fierce competition for who and what influences a child’s heart – from smartphones and movies, to friends and social media. Ordinary parents are afraid of their kids getting bored and allow their children unfettered access to iPads, phones, Kindles, movies, and other media. Under the guise of “not prying,” ordinary parents let their kids date far too early in life; stay overnight with families they know very little about; and sit naively by while their child’s iPad, phone, and computer become gateways to explicit content. Extraordinary parents work hard to protect what information and influences are stored in their child’s heart. Extraordinary parents known that pornography addiction often begins early in childhood, and they monitor access to media and technology. Extraordinary parents have boundaries with and for their kids, and in doing so, teach their children how to protect their hearts.

Do you teach your kids about boundaries?

Proverbs 4:23: "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it."

3. Extraordinary parents make the most of moments

Ordinary parents outsource discipleship and spiritual instruction to their church or the school. Extraordinary parents look for teachable moments everywhere, from meal times, to drive times, to bed time. Extraordinary parents ask kids questions and listen carefully to the questions they ask. They model faithfulness and teach their kids God’s plan and purpose for their lives. Extraordinary parents know that God’s “Plan A” is for parents to pass on His values to the next generation. Extraordinary parents know that discipling their children is God’s highest calling in their lives.

Do you make the most of MOMENTS for teaching your children? Strategically focus on four times with your children – morning time, meal time, drive time, and evening time.

Deuteronomy 6:5-9: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates."

4. Extraordinary parents live as examples

Ordinary parents tell kids that following Jesus and knowing God’s Word are important, but their actions say that work, possessions, sports, and pleasure take priority over the Lord. Ordinary parents urge their kids to respect authority, then routinely bash their boss, government leaders, school administrators, and the police officer who issued them a ticket. Extraordinary parents understand that when children observe hypocrisy at home, it can completely turn a child off to faith. I’ve had the privilege of meeting many young adults whose extraordinary parents woke up early each morning to study Scripture; they had moms who left sweet notes and Bible verses in their lunch box; their fathers wrote Scripture and words of encouragement on the bathroom mirror for them to read. Those extraordinary parents know that modeling an authentic relationship with Jesus is the most important thing they could ever do as parents.

Your actions teach children what you really think is important. The best thing you can do for your children is to have an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 11:1: "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ."

5. Extraordinary parents ask for forgiveness

I interviewed some of the most extraordinary young adults I know, and one thing I heard consistently was, “When my parents made a mistake, they asked for forgiveness.” All parents make mistakes. The difference is that extraordinary parents own their mistakes and ask for forgiveness. Many ordinary parents are too prideful to recognize or admit their own failings and flaws. Some of the humblest young adults I know learned humility from parents who modeled it, regularly asked for forgiveness, and turned their mistakes into memorable, teachable moments.

When is the last time you’ve asked your child for forgiveness? If a month has gone by, it’s probably too long.

Ephesians 6:4: "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord."

1 John 1:8: "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."

6. Extraordinary parents discipline consistently, calmly, and with care

“Thermostat parents” keep their kids comfortable at all times, avoiding the inconvenience of discipline and protecting their children from consequences. When ordinary parents discipline their kids, they use the shortcuts of anger, strength, and intimidation so a child fears the parent more than the wrong choice they made. Extraordinary parents approach discipline like a referee. Referees never get upset when a player jumps offside. The Ref clearly communicates the offense, calmly explains the predetermined consequence, and enforces it every single time. As I’ve ministered to young adults over the years, I’m convinced of this: Extraordinary kids were disciplined prayerfully, calmly, consistently, and with care.

How do you discipline your children?

Proverbs 13:24: "Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them."

Hebrews 12:11: "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."

7. Extraordinary parents pray persistently

Ordinary parents are constantly stressed out, wondering where they can turn to for help. Extraordinary parents understand that worry and prayer each require the same amount of energy. Extraordinary parents turn their concerns into prayers for wisdom and faith. Extraordinary parents know that worry is a waste of time and prayer is powerfully productive.

Do you pray persistently for your children? Prayer is the real work of parenting.

1 Samuel 12:23: "Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right."

Hebrews 4:16: "Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."

8. Extraordinary parents become students of their children

Ordinary parents live vicariously through their children, working to give kids the life they wanted, rather than the life God wants for their kids. Ordinary parents believe in one-size-fits-all in parenting. Extraordinary parents understand their kids’ unique gifts and their children’s struggles and sin patterns. Extraordinary parents are students of their children’s wiring. Parenting a child well starts with a deep understanding of how God made them, and the works the Lord has prepared them for.

Are you becoming a student of your children? Knowing their strengths, weaknesses, and struggles will help you to shepherd them as they learn to confess and repent from sin patterns and unleash their unique gifts for God’s glory.

1 Corinthians 9:22-23: "To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings."

Ephesians 2:10: "For they are God’s incredible creation, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

9. Extraordinary parents understand that their presence is the greatest present

It’s been said that rules without relationship lead to rebellion. Ordinary parents work to provide more “stuff,” when what a kid needs most is more of their parents' time. If there was a parenting scoreboard, spending time with our kids is how we’d earn points. Extraordinary parents know that when it comes to time with their kids, “where” is less important than “who.” Disneyworld “counts” just as much as tee-ball practice or a bedtime story. The shot clock is ticking, and when your children graduate and leave home, there will be no more ‘points’ to score. So, make the most of every opportunity to spend time with your kids.

Do you your kids spell love, T-I-M-E.? You cannot know your children without spending time with them.

Psalm 90:12: "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."

10. Extraordinary parents know that only grace makes parents extraordinary

Grace covers a multitude of parenting mistakes. Sometimes extraordinary kids come from broken homes or abusive backgrounds, and God redeems their upbringing. Sometimes great homes produce prodigals who have not returned. Obedience is not always defined by the outcome. Often, we take far too much credit when our kids do well, and too much blame when they don’t.

Do you know that only God’s grace makes extraordinary parents because grace covers a multitude of parenting mistakes? Let Him continue to parent you as you parent your children.

Isaiah 1:2: "I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me."

Parenting is hard work, so don’t go at it alone. Invite other trusted friends to speak into how you’re doing. No matter how you have fallen short as a parent, each day is a new opportunity to own your mistakes, ask for forgiveness, and reprioritize. We can be thankful for our children, teach them boundaries, make the most of teachable moments, exemplify faithfulness, discipline with care, pray, learn, and be more available. There’s an extraordinary parent in all of us.