The struggle – but necessity – of thinking into the future

No question. It’s hard to think that far in the future for most parents. I know it was hard for me. But fortunately, my husband and I landed in a lecture that deeply affected our thinking on this when we were but five months into parenting.

At this lecture, a group of Stanford academics and researchers were sharing the results of a huge multi-year study they had done on American families. (Even though this was conducted in the U.S., I believe the conclusion I share here is universally applicable, by the way.)

A key result of this study — and our biggest takeaway — was how the relationship you one day have with your adult kids depends intricately upon what happened during the key parenting years of ages 6–12.

These are the memory-making years, what most of us would look back to when we remember our own childhood. This is not to dismiss the first five years. Of course, those matter, and they do lay a foundation. Nor is it to say the teen years aren’t important.

Photo by Blake Barlow on Unsplash

But it’s in the 6–12-year range where parents have the most memorable influence and impact on their children. After that, kids turn more towards their peers and increasingly media (social and otherwise) for connection and influence.

And that influence during the 6–12-year-old range can be for better or worse. This is a significant time when self-esteem, self-worth and identity are formed. When kids learn you are safe, you esteem them, you care what they’re feeling and what they have to say, and you give them your love especially in the form of TIME, then they respond well. When you don’t, the consequences often become apparent later.

For me, personally….

Honestly, I was quite afraid I would mess at least one or more of my kids up, especially dealing with them as preteens and teenagers. Certain things happened in my own upbringing that messed with my mind and made me feel as if I would repeat those same mistakes vís-a-vís my own children.

In fact, I believe it’s grace (from God) and a solid husband steering the ship that made all the difference.

I cannot deny how fortunate — blessed, really — I’ve been. I know the road through the teen years especially can be rough, and this is doubly true for single parents and/or situations where abuse and violence characterize a household.

But even in the most extreme family environments, there are three key elements to parenting effectively, and these can make-or-break the relationship you will have with your adult kids someday.

Presence…Awareness…Evaluation: The trifecta of strong parenting

If you are present with your children as much as possible — truly there with them, encouraging them, respecting them, being a safe place for them, and expressing your love to them whenever you can — the long-term return will be so worth it!

On this issue of respect, I’ve often seen parents “talk down” to their children. You know what I mean. It’s “that voice.” The I’m-the-one-in-charge-and-you-better-not-forget-it voice. 

I’ll confess: I have used it. But I cannot remember a single time when it brought about fruitful return. Oh, yes, it might have brought immediate compliance, but using it sowed a tiny seed of bitterness in the heart of the recipient.

Thankfully, I learned over time how much “that voice” doesn’t work. And I changed. And so can you.

What you need to do most is to become aware of yourself as you parent your kids. This is the key to parenting well — and to almost everything. Awareness of the moment and yourself in it. And awareness of how you interact with your kids — to really think what they’re hearing.

Developing this on a day-by-day basis — and then evaluating yourself at the end of each day to learn and grow — could be the single most valuable set of skills you develop as a parent. And, I assure you, as you do this, you are planting seeds for a healthy and fruitful return in your relationship with your child(ren) down the line — and likely, in the moment, too.

Try it. Your parenting journey is really too short, and your relationships too valuable, to miss this!

Caroline DePalatis has worked in the field of international education and service for 25+ years. A graduate of Stanford University & the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, she’s still doing much of what she was trained in: bringing people of the world together. A committed Christ-follower, Caroline longs to shine the Master Designer’s awesome creativity expressed through the cultures, languages, peoples and places of our world.
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Caroline DePalatis has worked in the field of international education and service for 25+ years. A graduate of Stanford University & the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, she’s still doing much of what she was trained in: bringing people of the world together. A committed Christ-follower, Caroline longs to shine the Master Designer’s awesome creativity expressed through the cultures, languages, peoples and places of our world.

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