By Curtis Peter Van Gorder
Mothers give so much. Their entire lives are a gift of love to their families. We journey far from our beginnings, and then something tugs at our heartstrings and draws us home to rediscover who we are and where we came from.
I sat down with my mother a few months before she passed away and asked her some questions about her life. If you haven’t ever done that, I suggest you do. It’s sure to help you appreciate your mother even more.
Mom told me much about her life and dreams, both fulfilled and unfulfilled.
“Do you have any regrets?” I asked her. “What would you major on if you could live your life again?”
She answered by showing me something she had written in her journal: If I could, I would find more country lanes to walk, bake more cookies, plant more spring bulbs, swim at dusk, walk in the rain, dance under the stars, walk the Great Wall, wade along sandy shores, pick up sea shells and glass, glide through fjords in northern lands, sing country ballads, read more books, erase dismal thoughts, dream up a fantasy.
“Is there any message that you would like to pass on to your children and grandchildren?” was my next question.
Again she flipped through her journal and found the answer already written there: Stop waiting to live until your car is paid off, until you get a new home, until your kids are grown, until you can go back to school, until you finish this or that, until you lose ten pounds.
Flipping a few more pages she came to this entry: Pray for what you wish. God loves to answer because answered prayer deepens faith and adds glory to His name.
And again: Savor the moment. Savor your walking and talking with friends, the smiles of little children. Savor the dazzling light of morning that holds the multicolored way. Savor God’s great earth, rolling hills, the birds, the blooms, the diamond dewdrops glittering on a crab apple tree—all His wonders from His hand.
Excerpted from Activated magazine. Used with permission.
Before you have children, it’s common for many to have high ideals of what kind of parent you want to be, how you want to raise your children, and what goals you want to shoot for. It isn’t long, though, before these expectations are popped by reality. You realize pretty quickly that you can’t be everything for your child, that it’s impossible to be perfect and live up to all the expectations you’d laid out for yourself, that it’s unrealistic to think you’re never going to fail.
Forget about perfection. You’re never going to attain it. “Perfect” doesn’t factor into parenthood. So instead of striving to be a perfect parent, which you’ll never be, enjoy being a parent who’s loving, fun, happy, humble, concerned, prayerful, and human.
You can love your children to pieces, even if your room is untidy. You can have fun, even if you have baskets of laundry to put away. You can be happy, even if your child is having behavioral problems. You can be humble enough to ask for the help of others, and humble enough to admit that you can’t do everything.
Kids love parents who are natural. No child wants a parent who is stuffy, rigid, and a perfectionist. Children enjoy being with those who are fun, and who do interesting stuff with them—and, of course, with those who love them. So be that type of parent.
Make your child’s life full of interest, variety, and fun. Everything you will ever teach your child will be better and more easily learned when you have forsaken unrealistic expectations—both for yourself and for your child.
Teach your children the thrill of learning. Allow them the rush of exploration. Make room for them to experiment, even if it means that they will sometimes fail. That’s part of growing up. Your job as a parent is to be a guide, mentor, and counselor, and also to lead and help guide and direct them within the choices that they make.
Enjoy being a parent. Enjoy your children. Laugh when they laugh. Sing when they sing. Feel their hurts and sorrows with them. Your children will learn to love life if you show them how to. They will learn motivation rather than perfection, if that’s the quality you manifest. This is not something that can be learned in a textbook. If they see it in you, they will want what you have.
§ Successful parents strive to be the person they want their children to become. There are no formulas for parents. You can’t “program” children like a computer and be guaranteed of the result. But children are great observers and imitators. They watch, listen, and absorb values and habits from the people who have the greatest influence on them—their parents. So successful parents resolve that they will set the best example they can for their children.
§ Successful parents enjoy being parents. They enjoy parenting not because it’s easy or instantly rewarding, but because of the sheer joy and privilege of cooperating with God in shaping another unique and precious life. Any parent of grown children will tell you “they grow up so quickly.” Successful parents remind themselves of that and try to savor every day with their children. They immerse themselves in their children as much as possible and just enjoy them—even the days of dirty diapers, illness, and disappointments. They don’t just love their children, they like them and look forward to spending time with them.
§ Successful parents don’t expect perfection, either from themselves or their children. Parenting is an art, not a science. Successful parents understand that, like themselves, their children aren’t perfect either. This frees them to love their children unreservedly.
§ Successful parents don’t fear occasional failures. They understand that mistakes are a normal, even healthy, part of parenting. They make the best decisions they can, and when they’re wrong, they learn from their mistakes and try to do better the next time.
§ Successful parents don’t expect to have smooth sailing. Children have their own opinions, personalities, and preferences. Inevitably, they cause us to say, “Where did that come from?” or “What were you thinking?” Our responsibility to provide them with limits and guidance will sometimes clash with their growing desire for independence. Successful parents aren’t surprised by difficulties and conflicts; they expect them. But successful parents understand that their responsibility to their children is not to always please them or make them happy—it’s to make the hard decisions that will be for their best in the long run.
§ Successful parents don’t go it alone. No one has the experience or answers to every parenting challenge. Successful parents aren’t reluctant to seek out the wisdom of others. They know that, at the end of the day, the decision is theirs, but before they get there, there is plenty of wisdom along the way waiting to help them.
§ Successful parents try harder. They face the same pressures we all do—demanding jobs, spouses, and children who need them. But they live by this rule: “You get back what you put in.” They have a clear sense of priority for their family and are willing to put in the time to achieve it. They give more than the “average parent” so their children will be more than just “average children.” These parents work at nurturing and developing themselves to be the best parents they can be.
(Richard Patterson, Jr. Confident Parenting in Challenging Times. Tekna Books. 1999)
Photo copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos
I grew up around creeks, lakes, and rivers, but when I was sixteen I went to Atlantic City, New Jersey, and saw the ocean for the first time. At the boardwalk the night we arrived, I walked out on a wooden pier. As the first thunderous waves crashed beneath my feet, I grabbed the railing, terrified. Since then I have had a cautious fondness for the ocean. I've never been a strong swimmer, but I love the look of the ocean, the feel of sand between my toes, and even the weightless feeling of being lifted from my feet and carried about by gentle waves—as long as I have something buoyant to hang onto.
So when we spent a summer near the beach and my two teenage sons developed a keen interest in boogie boarding, I could relate. I was happy to see them securely tethered to their boards a hundred yards out in the water, waiting for that perfect wave. But as time went on, they got braver and braver, insisting that the perfect wave was to be found further and further out to sea. I would sit on the shoreline watching the dots that were my sons in the midst of all that blue ocean and try to control my anxiety.
Sometimes a mistake parents make is letting worry be the guideline for deciding what their children are able to do. If something causes the parents to worry, they won't let their children do it. Worry seems almost a necessary part of parenting. It is a sign of love and concern. It is also a warning signal that it's time to pray. I think worry can actually be a good thing when it causes us to channel our negative, anxious thoughts into a prayer that can help bring about a positive outcome in that situation.
It is our responsibility to train our children and lead them in the right direction, but at a certain point we need to pull back and trust God to keep them from serious harm. As children grow, they need to be able to learn through an ever-broadening range of experiences; they need to learn to take responsibility for themselves, and they need to learn to pray themselves when "out in the deep blue sea."
It gives them a sense of security, though, to know that their parents are "on the shore," still looking after them and still vigilant in prayer—like the time when one of my sons experienced a moment of sheer panic after a wave caught him off guard and knocked him for a loop, and the cord that tethered him to his boogie board slipped off. He thought he was going to drown, but he remembered that I was on the beach praying for him, and he called out to God himself. He knew in that instant he was going to be okay, and he was.
As my kids grow up and move away, I think it's important that they know they have a mother who prays for them. That also reminds them to turn to God in moments of anxiety. I can't be there to hold them up, but He can. I can't meet all their needs or solve all their problems for them, but He can work miracles when they exercise their faith and pray.
Excerpted from Activated Magazine. Used with permission.
David B. Berg
The secret to raising happy, well-behaved, and well-adjusted children is actually quite simple—love. It's knowing how to apply that love that isn't always so straightforward or easy. Here are eight tips that are sure to help.
Teach your children to be motivated by love. Teach your children from a very early age to put love into action by being unselfish and considerate of others' feelings and needs. The following paraphrase makes a great starting place in teaching little ones to be motivated by love: "Treat others the way you would like to be treated."
Promote honest, open communication. If your children know that they can expect you to react calmly and lovingly no matter what, they will be much more likely to confide in you. And if you build a relationship of mutual trust and understanding while your children are small, they will be more likely to keep that line of communication open when they reach their preteen and teen years and their emotions and problems become much more complex.
Put yourself in your children's place. Try to relate to your children on their level and not expect too much of them. Also remember that children tend to be more sensitive than adults, so it's important to be extra considerate of their feelings. We all know how demoralizing it is to be embarrassed, hurt, or slighted by others, so realizing that such unpleasant experiences can be even more traumatic to children should cause us to do our best to spare them from such incidents.
Set a good example. Be the best role model that you can be—not by trying to appear perfect in your children's eyes, but by being loving, accepting, patient, and forgiving, and by striving to demonstrate the other virtues and live the values you want your children to have.
Set reasonable rules for behavior. Children are happiest when they know their boundaries and those boundaries are lovingly and consistently enforced. A spoiled, demanding, and irresponsible child becomes a spoiled, demanding, and irresponsible adult, so it's important that children learn to take responsibility for their actions. The goal of discipline is self-discipline, without which your children will be at a great disadvantage later in school, business, and the social world.
One of the best methods of establishing the rules is to get your children to help make them, or at least to agree to them. It takes more time and patience to teach them to make the right decisions than it does to punish them for their wrong ones, but it goes a lot further.
Give praise and encouragement. Like the rest of us, children thrive on praise and appreciation. Build their self-esteem by consistently and sincerely commending them for their good qualities and achievements. Also remember that it's more important and bears far better results to praise children for good behavior than to scold them for bad behavior. Try to always accentuate the positive and your children will feel more loved and secure.
Love unconditionally. God never gives up on us or stops loving us no matter how far we've strayed, and that's the way we ought to be with our children.
Pray for your children. No matter how hard you try or how well you do at everything else, some situations will be beyond your control or require more than you have to give—but nothing is beyond God's control or His power. He has all the answers and can supply every need. "Ask and it shall be given" (Matthew 7:7).
Originally published in Activated Magazine. Used with permission.
Your children will never forget the special times they spend with you. Aren't those some of the memories you treasure most from your own childhood—when your parents showed their love in the form of time and attention?
Children thrive on personal attention, and if they don't get it, just like the rest of us, they feel bad, unimportant, or even rejected. You don't always have to spend a great deal of time with children to make them know you love and appreciate them, but you do have to spend some—and the quality of that time is just as important as the quantity.
Time spent with your children is not only the greatest gift you can give them, it's also the greatest investment you can make in them. Nothing else will make a more lasting difference in their lives. As someone once wisely said, "Your children need your presence more than your presents." Play with your children, read with them, hold them, encourage them, enjoy them. Go for walks or just sit around together and talk. Ask questions and listen to their answers--really listen.
If you're like most parents, you have more demands on your time than you can possibly meet, and time with your children gets crowded out when emergencies come up. You rationalize that there's always tomorrow for them, but your children need you today.
Determine how much time you need to spend with each of your children each day or each week, and schedule it. Consider it a top priority, an appointment that must be kept. If a genuine emergency happens, you may need to reschedule your time with your children, but don't cancel it. If you find that you frequently have to postpone your time with your children, rethink your priorities and plan, and come up with another plan that will work.
When older children are having problems, they need even more of your time and you need to be even more attentive. Don't be too quick to offer solutions or advice, and try not to sermonize. Hear them out completely before you say anything, and help them reach their own right conclusions, if possible. Then pray and take time to hear God's still small voice in your heart and mind. He's always ready to answer your questions, and you'll be amazed at the solutions He will give.
Many parents of grown children will tell you that their greatest regret is that they didn't spend more time with their children when they were small. You'll have to sacrifice other things to do it, and in the beginning you may feel it isn't the best use of your time, but keep it up and you won't be sorry. Every minute you give your children is an investment in the future. The rewards will last for eternity.
Being there for your children makes a great difference in their lives, even when you don't think you are doing a lot for them or accomplishing much.
Taken from Activated Magazine. Used with permission.
Courtesy of Ann Landers
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you hang my first painting on the refrigerator, and I wanted to paint another one.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you feed a stray cat, and I thought it was good to be kind to animals.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you make my favorite cake just for me, and I knew that little things are special.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I heard you say a prayer, and I believed there is a God I could always talk to.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I felt you kiss me goodnight, and I felt loved.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw tears com to your eyes, and I learned that sometimes things hurt, but it’s okay to cry.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw that you cared, and I wanted to be everything that I could be.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I looked – and wanted to say thank you for all the things I saw when you thought I wasn’t looking.
If you want a happier family and happier family life, here’s how: Include Me in everything you do.
I’m not talking about dry, formal, somber religiosity—anything but! You just might be surprised at how much fun I can be! The benefits of including Me are too numerous to list here, but I’ll give you three.
One: I’m full of ideas. My Father and I created this world together—the first-ever family project, if you will—and you’ve got to admit, we came up with some pretty good stuff! If we made it all for you and want you to enjoy it to the full—which we did—don’t you think I can show you better things to do together than to sit semi-comatose in front of a TV?
Two: I can relate. I can relate to every generation and know better than anyone how to bring generations together and keep them together. Don’t forget, I’ve been at this a long time. There’s no situation you face that I haven’t helped others deal with before, so consult with Me the moment you begin to have problems on the home front.
Three: More love. Isn’t that what you want most for your family—love? I am love—the very spirit of love—so where I am, love is. The Bible says that in My presence is fullness of joy, and at My right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). I have so much love to give you and yours—more than you could possibly imagine and much more than you can contain. It’s here for you any time, all the time, just for the asking.
I’m at your beck and call. Just say, “Jesus, thank You for being a part of our family—the head of our family. Be with us now in what we’re about to do.”
We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.—Stacia Tauscher
You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance.—Franklin P. Jones
Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.—Rabindranath Tagore
There’s nothing that can help you understand your beliefs more than trying to explain them to an inquisitive child.—Frank A. Clark
There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million.—Walt Streightiff
Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.—Elizabeth Stone
Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children, and no theories.—John Wilmot
To bring up a child in the way he should go, travel that way yourself.—Josh Billings
It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it myself.—Joyce Maynard
Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.—Robert Fulghum
If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.—C.G. Jung
Children have more need of models than of critics.—Carolyn Coats
Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children.—Charles R. Swindoll
What a child doesn’t receive he can seldom later give.—P.D. James
If you want your children to improve, let them overhear the nice things you say about them to others.—Haim Ginott
In bringing up children, spend on them half as much money and twice as much time.—Author unknown
What’s done to children, they will do to society.—Karl Menninger
You have a lifetime to work, but children are only young once.—Polish proverb
Kids spell love T-I-M-E.—John Crudele
The guys who fear becoming fathers don’t understand that fathering is not something perfect men do, but something that perfects the man. The end product of child raising is not the child but the parent.—Frank Pittman
Excerpted from the Activated Magazine.