My wife, Karen, and I had only been married for two years when we took a job as houseparents for a group of 10 middle and high school girls. Basically, we became their surrogate parents.
Sure, we were still essentially newlyweds at the time, but knew this place and this home was where God wanted us. For the next nine years, we had more 72 girls go through the different homes we supervised.
Many of the girls came from living situations broken by divorce, physical or emotional abuse, extreme poverty, fatherlessness, parental drug abuse and criminal activity. Many of them never experienced the safety of an intact family, the involvement of a father, or even healthy behaviors and relationships.
I like to think that we were able to help many of these girls during those nine years, but I can say with confidence that Karen and I also learned some valuable lessons – lessons that made a lasting impression on us as both spouses and parents:
Care for your spouse. Karen and I learned very early in our time as houseparents that if we didn’t care for each other, we were useless to the children in our home. We came to this realization when our relationship with each other became very stressful and we ended up in counseling.
I will never forget a conversation we had with one of the older teen girls in our home whose family had experienced multiple divorces and brokenness. She told us that even though we tried to keep our personal difficulties behind closed doors, she and the other girls were very aware of what was going on. She expressed appreciation that we fought for our marriage and each other and that it gave her hope. In the course of that conversation, Karen and I walked away with another key lesson …
God uses us despite ourselves. God knew exactly the kinds of parents your kids would need. You! He chose you – with all of your weaknesses and shortcomings. I am reminded of the passage in 2 Corinthians 4:7-10: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”
Parenting is about holding fast to God in the joys and challenges, the ups and downs of parenting; knowing that every day we have Him to guide and direct us. We don’t need to be perfect parents … we just need to be broken and conformed to His will and plan.
Stay the course. Be consistent in your expectations and love for your children. Help them process life and with their decisions and choices. A weekly family meeting is a great way to stay consistent and connected with what is happening in the family. It is also a great way to affirm your children while holding them accountable.
Have regular time together. In his book Sparks, Dr. Peter Benson writes that only 37 percent of teens say their parents know and nourish their “spark” – what Benson defines as your child’s skill, talent or special interest. Benson goes further in describing a spark as “a prime source of meaning, self-directed action, and purpose in our lives.”
Psalm 139 tells us that not only were we intimately created and formed, but that our days are ordained before one of them came to be. We have been created for a purpose. Our role as parents is to help our children come to understand who they are in Christ, and to know and nourish their gifts. This requires regular time together. Go out for breakfast or coffee and just talk about what is going on in their world. Look for opportunities to bless and affirm them.
Karen and I were forever changed by our early experiences together. As parents, how we live out our faith and life will leave a lasting impression on our children and even future generations. My hope is that as you engage the hearts of your children, they and you will be forever changed as well.
What lasting impressions are you leaving for your children?