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What Every Parent Wonders

Wise counsel for some of the hidden concerns you face.

Have you ever read a book or participated in a conversation in which someone shares something so personal and yet so universally true that inwardly you respond, That's exactly how I feel!?

As surprising as it may seem, most of us face similar challenges in raising our kids. Here are three of the toughest hidden concerns we don't often articulate but all share—and what to do about them.

There are so many theories on parenting … which should I follow?
Contradictory theories on parenting abound today. Visit any bookstore and you'll quickly notice that the number of books on family-related topics has increased. Family has become "in."

While we can readily dismiss some of the secular advice, wading through different "Christian theories" can be trickier. A Christian label is no guarantee.

Several principles have helped me wade through competing theories:

  • Don't swallow any one theory totally. Be wise and take what seems right and leave out what raises questions. No one person or group has the perfect formula for raising kids.
  • Avoid extremes. I see two extremes in parenting today: the "religion of self-esteem" and the "religion of regulations." A mom who leans toward "the religion of self-esteem" does whatever she can to keep her child happy, to build up his self-worth. She's likely to be soft on discipline for she doesn't want her child to be unhappy. But a child's self-worth is built when he knows that "no" means "no," not "maybe if I fuss enough."

On the other hand, a parent who tends toward the "religion of regulations" is one who becomes the "drill sergeant" when her child comes in from school. Greeting him at the door, she says, "Go clean up your room, then don't forget to practice your piano for thirty minutes, lay out your clothes for tomorrow, and … " There are rules galore in this household, and a child may feel as though he can never measure up or please his parents.

Each of us tends toward one extreme or the other. It's helpful to recognize that tendency and seek to grow in balance. Always remember that love and discipline aren't opposites. Both are necessary.

Have my parenting mistakes messed my child up for good?
Rachel and her husband, Todd, realized they had a problem when their nine- year-old daughter Annie exploded with, "You are the stupidest mom in the world. I won't do that. You're crazy."

For too long they'd overlooked Annie's back talk and rudeness, and their home was fast becoming a battle zone. But with the help of an older couple, Rachel and Todd began to realize they had to teach their strong-willed daughter respect. But Annie was already nine. Was it too late?

It's never too late to do what's right. Together, Rachel and Todd worked out a new strategy, then sat down with Annie to discuss their plan. "We realize we've made some mistakes in parenting, and we're going to make some changes in our household," they told her. "As of now, back talk is no longer permitted in this house."

They cited specific examples of back talk, then explained what punishments would occur if it happened. The next time Annie talked back, they followed through on their punishment. It took weeks, but she soon learned her parents meant what they said. Her language improved, and her respect for her parents increased.

We'll all make philosophical mistakes in raising our kids, but we'll also simply blow it. After all, there are no perfect parents. Our kids know that better than anyone else. But they don't need perfect parents, only honest parents who are quick to say, "I'm sorry, will you forgive me?"

Several days ago my teenage daughter, Libby, tried to share a painful situation with me, but I was preoccupied and unsympathetic. A few hours later, finally realizing the problem was mine, I went and put my arm around her.

"Libby, I was wrong to be so insensitive to you in our conversation," I said. "Will you forgive me?"

"Yes, Mom, I forgive you," she responded as she gave me a hug. "Thanks for asking."

Did I feel like going to my daughter? No. Was I embarrassed? Yes. But feelings shouldn't always control actions. I went because I knew it was right, not because I felt like it. We have to be willing to go and get things straight, then wait and trust God to bring the feelings of healing in his time. And sometimes, it takes a long time.

Remember, there is no mistake God can't redeem. Luke 1:37 says, "For nothing is impossible with God." He can redeem anything.

What if my kids don't continue in their faith?
This concern increases as our kids grow, especially as our children prepare for college. As we visualize our child on campus, we wonder, Will she be taken in by the allure of intellectual elitism? Will he be strong enough to resist temptation?

We cannot fully protect or insulate our kids. Instead, we can train them to be salt and light in a fallen world. Here's what you can do to prepare them for leaving home with a strong faith.

  • Make church attendance a non-negotiable. Go as a family.
  • Involve your teens in a vital youth group.
  • Use their summers for spiritual nourishment. Our teens need to be exposed to peers who are excited about their faith. Begin now to explore Christian camps or mission projects for your teen for next summer.
  • Determine to grow in your own faith. The model of a parent striving to grow in Christ is a strong message.
  • Pray, pray, pray. And enlist others to pray for your child.
  • Remember the prodigal son. Leave your welcome mat out so that even if your child strays, he knows he can always come home. Remember that God loves your child even more than you do and that he's at work in his life even if you can't see it right now.

Susan Alexander Yates is an author of numerous books. She and her husband have five children.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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