Trisha and I got married the summer before my second senior year of college. I squeezed four years into five. (Anyone else on that plan?) Four months after we got married, we found out Trish was pregnant with our first son, Micah. Now, almost 18 years later, we are preparing to send him off to college.
We had no idea what we were doing as parents … and still don’t at times. But looking back, I wish the 40-year-old me could give the 22-year-old me some advice. If I could sit down with the 22-year-old me a few months before our first child was born, here are four things I’d tell myself to write down and revisit when I was tired or discouraged as a parent.
1. Time is more valuable than possessions.
There have been so many seasons in my life that I have thought what my kids needed from me the most was stuff. Shoes. Clothes. A bigger house. A nicer room. The next upgrade of electronics. I have been tempted and at times have made the mistake of cheating time for gifts.
What I’ve realized over the past few years is that my kids just really want me … more than anything I can buy them, they desire time with me. Time communicates value. What I give my time to is what I care about the most. They want to know I care about them more than anything.
2. Desire heart transformation more than behavior modification.
There is no doubt that behavior is important. There is no doubt that I don’t want to be that dad in line at the grocery store … you know that guy … whose kid is on the ground screaming and crying cause he wants some Skittles? Behavior is important. But more important than how my kids act is who they are becoming as young men. I often equate outward appearance with inner heart change. I don’t want to teach my boys to be fake and to pretend. I want them to desire heart change more than acting like good kids.
3. It’s OK to not have it together all the time.
There is a lot of pressure as a parent. There are times that fear overtakes me. There are times that I blow it and I wonder if my kids will drop out of high school or join the circus because I just messed up. What I have learned is that my kids need me to be real more than they need me to be perfect. Admitting failure as a parent creates a culture of grace in our family. I want our boys to know that they don’t have to be perfect to be loved. They don’t have to have it all together. This is a place that they can admit failure. It is in our weakness that Christ is made strong.
4. The “next” season isn’t better than “this” season.
I spent time wishing for the next season, and missed out on the uniqueness of our current season. I remember just wishing everyone would sleep through the night. Now, I wish I’d savored them not sleeping through the night, because I don’t rock anyone to sleep anymore. If you have kids under age 7, the odds are you are exhausted. Parenting is exhausting. But don’t miss what is now with your kids because you are too busy wishing for what is next.