How would you respond if someone said, “I have a really hard job for you; in fact, it’ll be the hardest job you could ever have. It’ll stress you and exhaust you and bring you to your knees regularly. But if you can commit to absolutely pouring yourself into it for five or six years without giving up, you’ll almost certainly be able to move into a sort of ‘maintenance mode’ after that, and you’re nearly guaranteed great rewards that will grow exponentially over time for the rest of your life. Are you in?”
On the one hand, such a job sounds incredibly daunting. But for almost-certain, high, long-term dividends, most of us would probably go for it.
What if I said the job at hand is parenting?
Parenting is, indeed, the hardest job any of us will ever undertake. Meeting our kids’ day-to-day physical needs is exhausting enough, but when we account for the bigger picture – the fact that we’re also responsible for helping them become well educated, emotionally healthy, relationally grounded men and women of strong (godly) character – we may want to throw up our hands in defeat before we’ve even begun. After all, how on earth can we possibly begin to “guarantee” that sort of success?
And it’s true that the guarantee is never 100%. Kids do have free will and some go astray no matter what we do. But there is hope, and it lies in the proposition above – i.e., making a commitment to absolutely pouring one’s self into the task of parenting for the first several years.
My kids are teenagers now. And I’ve been privy to watching the growth and development of a few hundred kids to whom I taught English for nine years before my own children were born, as well as dozens and dozens more via church, family, and community connections since. And in all of that experience, I’ve seen one common denominator across all sorts of social and cultural differences: when parents have determined in a child’s first five or six years to devote the vast majority of their time and energy to relationship-building and character-development, they lay the foundation from which the rest of the child’s youth and young adulthood can be solidly built with relative ease. Conversely, parents who feel they can just “phone it in” for the first few years – waiting until a child is older to set standards or planning to rely on school teachers to do their work for them – have found themselves and their kids in very dire straits.
Even though my kids are nearly grown, it actually seems like yesterday that I was in the throes of changing diapers, cleaning up baby puke, managing temper tantrums, and picking up toys that multiplied like rabbits on steroids. I know how exhausting it is – and how thankless the task seems. But if you’re committed to helping your kids develop a willing-good character, please know that making that commitment to give it your all in the first few years really will pay off. Parenting doesn’t end when a child turns five or six, of course – my mother-in-law attests to the fact she still worries about her 40- and 50-year old “kids” – and plenty of work goes into raising children between the age of five and young adulthood. But it is very true that, if you can aim for consistency in terms of your expectations and relationship in those early years, it does get easier and the rewards do come.
Photo Credit: Penn State