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Parenting Issues Message Board

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Last week Lynn and I received letters from the Alabama Department of Human Resources stating that, upon investigation, we are both deemed suitable for adopting a child. Another hurdle crossed in our adoption journey.

I've been thinking a lot about parenting lately. On the one hand, it will be strange for us to become first-time parents at the age of 40-something. As we are learning about diapers, bottles, and safe crib toys our peers are paying their children's college tuition. However, in some ways, I think Lynn and I have an advantage. We've been married long enough to watch many, many couples raise children from birth to college age and in so doing we've been able to learn from their parenting habits.

I understand that it's much easier to sit in my comfy recliner in a quiet house on New Years Day writing about how I will parent than it will be to actually flesh it out. Nevertheless, I'll share with you my "long view on parenting." What do I mean by "long view?"

I have seen many people who appear to be parenting from the perspective that their responsibility is to ensure that their children have a happy childhood. I have a different view...a long view. I hope to be able to parent from the perspective that my responsibility is to ensure that my children have a good life. Yes, I want their childhood to be filled with fun, laughter, magic, music, and a full embrace of life. But I want to also, as much as is possible for me, lead my children into adolescence, adulthood, and a retirement of fun, laughter, magic, music, and a full embrace of life. This requires that I do things a little differently in the first twelve years than what I often see in the parenting techniques of others.

I'll begin with the physical. As soon as they are weaned off baby food and begin eating real people food, I want to teach them how to respect and take care of their bodies. This will have to begin with Lynn and me first (we are not good examples of this right now). But I want to teach my children to eat right. In our home, snacks, candy, soda will be occasional treats, not daily staples. There will be plenty of fruits, vegetables, grains and lots of fun experimentation on how to enjoy these things. Exercise will also be important. There will be time limits set on television viewing and video game playing. We'll nurture and encourage tendencies toward sports and emphasize lots of outdoor activity together as a family with the hopes that we can fend off the fitness-decaying electronic obsession of our day. Giving our children a solid start on physical health will reduce the likelihood that they'll have to deal with serious, preventable health issues later in life.

How about materialism? I hope to be able to teach my children to fully appreciate what they have, not crave more than they need, and have a deep sensitivity toward the needs of others. I've pretty much decided that when it comes to Christmas, Lynn and I will set modest limits on how much family members can spend on our children. Then, we as a family will match that dollar amount and buy gifts for children whose families struggle with the basic needs of life. If $300 is spent on our son or daughter for Christmas, then our son or daughter will pick out $300 worth of gifts for other children who may get nothing and then personally deliver those gifts. Giving our children this perspective on possessions will hopefully spare them from the adult sickness of entitlement-minded consumerism and set them on the path of nurturing their character more than their treasure.

Then there's the issue of their place in life. One of the things I most look forward to in raising children is watching their unique personalities, gifts, talents, and abilities emerge. Hints usually begin to present themselves very early on in life. I want to pay close attention to these and help our children to explore and nurture the things they have natural tendencies for. As my children enter the hormone fog of adolescence, I want to have already helped them nail down, to an extent, who they are as people so that they are as anchored as is possible when the coming-of-age assaults begin. Lynn and I stopped at her brother's house over Christmas and spent the day with them. In a spontaneous moment, with three of his children present, I looked at the oldest boy and said, "I'll bet in 20 years you will be a researcher working in Richmond, Virginia." I looked at the youngest boy and said, "I'll bet in 20 years you will be a graphic designer working for a design firm in Seattle, Washington." And then I turned to the oldest daughter and said, "And I'll bet in 20 years you are working for a theater company in Boston." I was kind of being silly with them, but the words I said came out of things that I've seen in them over the years and those prediction could very well turn out to be true. Helping our children to discover who they are from an early age will hopefully spare them the countless years of searching and aimless wandering that so many of us seem to experience.

I guess I'll end with the most important facet of life, spirituality. My most important task as a parent is to introduce my children to their creator, the lover of their souls, their savior, and their king. More than anything else I want to be able to nurture in my kids a fascination with and lifelong pursuit of God. I don't know what "church" will look like for us as a family, since I am anticipating a complete evangelical meltdown (but that's another post). But I want to be able to instill in the hearts and minds of my children that the most important thing in life is knowing God's love for them, learning to love Him, sacrificially loving others, and being anchored firmly in the Kingdom of God. This is the ultimate long view of parenting in that it prepares our children not just for a good life here, but life without end.

And now, all the parents reading have my permission to unite their voices and say, "Easier said than done, Bill!"

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