At church this morning, our pastor’s message was, “Give and you shall receive.” He was referring to our annual stewardship campaign—natch. But it occurred to me that the same principle applies to parenting. Last night Peter and I were chatting about “kids today” with Kal Habr, the owner of Crocs’ 19th Street Bistro. Kal is originally from Lebanon and deeply committed to his family.
During our conversation, we agreed that the amount of time parents invest in their children is usually proportionate to how successful the kids become. Of course, there are exceptions. But as a rule, the more involved we are in our children’s lives, the more likely it is that they will grow up to be productive and happy human beings. We all hope for this goal for our kids, but sometimes things don’t go as planned.
It’s hard to be a perfect parent. When my sons were going through their turbulent adolescent years, I was frequently absorbed in my own activities, moreso than I should have been. It’s easy to be distracted by life, isn’t it? Especially when your kids suddenly begin having their own opinions and ideas about how they want to spend their time. Sometimes it’s easier to just back off and let them figure out the right path to follow.
But if we back off too much, they might head down the wrong path. The truth is our jobs as parents never end. We have to be vigilant at all times, even when our kids go through difficult stages. The world is a complicated place, and our kids need us more than they let on.
This is where giving and receiving comes in. When our kids are infants, we feed them, we change diapers, we wake up at night, and we devote a lot of energy to making sure these helpless creatures survive. When they’re toddlers, we watch over them and keep them safe. In elementary school, we meet their teachers and help them with homework. We take them to sports activities and dance classes. They seek comfort and advice from us on dealing with friends and coping with teasing bullies. We are there for them.
Then the teen years come along. Maybe we feel like we’ve been giving so long we can take a break. Maybe our teens cop an attitude, which makes it easy to justify backing off and giving them more freedom. But we can never stop caring about them, monitoring their behavior, and staying informed about their friends and their whereabouts. Like all human beings, kids become tempted to experiment and try new things. Don’t look the other way. Stay vigilant. And by the way, keep all alcohol, medications, and tobacco locked away if there are teens in your home. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
The bottom line is the more time you invest in your kids, the more values they learn and the more committed they’ll be to following a path you would approve of. Put your phone down, turn off your computer, and spend an afternoon with your child, whether he’s 4 or 14. Go for a hike in the woods and talk, really talk. Have you noticed that conversation is becoming a lost art? Kal says he sees families come into his restaurant, and parents and kids sit and look at their phones. No one talks. It’s really sad.
This holiday season make it a point to have some conversation with your loved ones. If relatives are visiting, share favorite family legends. If you run out of ideas for what to talk about, ask everyone to write down a few topics on scraps of paper and pick one out of a hat. Here are a few to get you started: “What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?” “If you could vacation anywhere in the world, where would you go?” “If you could have changed your career path, what job might you have wanted to pursue?”
So have fun talking this holiday and remember to keep tabs on your kids, no matter what age they are. You brought them into the world, and it’s your job to help them grow into happy, productive citizens. Good luck and God bless!