Advice for a Young Dad
When you get married, everyone seems to have their one-liner piece of advice. When you have children, I suppose people have paragraphs worth of advice. Some aren’t shy about providing their unsolicited counseling services. Others watch silently as we stumble through our rookie year as parents. There’s a lot of noise out there about marriage and parenting. Here are 5 things some wise folks have said to me about family that have changed my life:
- “Kids become what they behold.” I have read a great deal of social science in the area of child development, and most can be summarized with this statement. There is a healthy accountability for parents raising children. They are becoming like us. Yes, their understanding of marriage is being shaped more by what they SENSE from ours than what we teach them about theirs one day. Our habits become their habits. And (swallow hard) they even love the things we love. I sure hope striving by God’s grace to become more like Jesus produces deep satisfaction in me, and a life lived faithfully to God. But I have another reason…my kids are watching.
- “Your marriage is the most important relationship in the home.” It is hard to feel the truth of this until you’ve experienced your home transition into a little company. A growing home full of kids demands organization, patience, planning and adjusting. There are bills to be paid, places to be, minds to be taught and souls to be shaped. It is clear that God’s good design for children is to have a loving, present mother and father. Giving them that good gift from God seems to demand that we don’t give them other things; namely all the attention. I am thankful for wise men that taught me to (at almost all cost) date my wife and take her away for the weekend.
- “If you get dad, you get the family.” I remember friends of mine in ministry would make this point when talking about how important it is to reach, inspire, and equip dads. Many times, if you can inspire dad, the whole family will follow. But this lesson has been more of a personal (and painful) lesson for me. As I suspect is true of any young dad, work is stressful. There is pressure. There are challenges. Each year since having kids, I convince myself that this will be the year I will learn not to carry work home so that I can be 100% engaged and present when I get there. I’ve learned my own version of the quote above. It is, “how dad goes, so goes the family.” In other words, I’m learning each year that Dad sets the tone for the family. Even when I lie to myself that my stress, distance and impatience are hidden from them, the heart of my family is becoming as hard and lifeless as mine is when I fail to place my burdens with Jesus and live hopefully as a purchased son of God. If I want my home to be fun, full of grace, hope-filled, consistent, and purposeful…how dad goes, so goes the family.
- “Divorce is not an option.” Say what you will about the certain (rightful) biblical justifications for divorce found in Scripture. I see them, and agree there are justifications. But they are not commands. As a child of divorce, I have felt its sting as a teenager, a college student, a 20-something, and now as a dad of four kids. It is an enduring, stalking kind of pain that morphs and moves but does not disappear. Our marriage has strife. We disagree vehemently. And (go ahead, give your obligatory gasp), we are even ugly to each other sometimes. We love each other. When cultivating our marriage feels like work or when it doesn’t seem quite like the fairy tale we imagined, I have great peace because divorce is not an option. I don’t know where we will be in 20 or 30 years…but I know we’ll be together. I don’t know how our kids will turn out, if or where they’ll go to college, but they’ll know where to find us when it’s time to come home. I don’t know if they’ll marry or bring us grandkids, but if they do, they’ll visit Mimi and Doc’s. And my kids can show their kids that there is joy and deep satisfaction in a self-sacrificing committed marriage for better or for worse.
- “Start with the end in mind.” George Barna once conducted a study of parents who have raised “spiritual champion” children. The thing those parents had most in common was that they had a plan. As I have watched my children grow and the culture change, it is clear that parenting without purpose will produce a child who is discipled by the world. Children discipled by the world, whether age 15 or 50, will inevitably find themselves lying in bed at night, looking at the ceiling and wondering why they feel completely empty. I hope God will graciously help me raise my kids to know the depth of their sin, and therefore the wondrous extent of God’s grace. They will know the joy of loving God and serving others. I am not preoccupied with their grades, athletic achievements, or college options unless those are part of them becoming all they are to become in God for His purposes and glory. As a culture, we are watching a generation of confused kids. They are confused about gender. They are confused about family. They are confused about life. I envision four kids coming out of my home who are not confused. They have planted their lives firmly in the hope of the Gospel and experience the flourishing of a life poured out for God’s purposes. And so, we build. By God’s grace, we build them to that end.