My wife and I have three kids who are all adults now. Two are married and one is a sophomore in college. So parents of younger kids often ask for any advice we might have. After some thought, I believe my wife and I do have some good advice for new parents.
Let me be very clear that we’re not experts and don’t pretend to be qualified to share parenting tips. But we do like to share the things we’d do all over again because they just paid such big dividends in our family.
So I will share three.
First, we would let our kids tear down our fences to build their own fences.
As parents, we establish boundaries—that’s what I mean by fences. And from day one, our kids are eyeing those boundaries. They want to tear them down, make their own decisions, and make their own boundaries.
The problem is, that’s scary as heck for us as parents, especially when our kids become teenagers. So we don’t let them have that freedom, and we keep making way too many decisions for them. But our kids will become wise as we give them the freedom to make their own choices under our watchful eye, not just after they leave home.
To put this into practice in our family, we told our kids that we consider them an “official” adult at 12 years old. Not when they get their driver’s license at 16, or when they’re a legal adult at 18.
At that point, we began to let them make every possible decision: when to go to bed, how to get themselves up in the morning, what movies to watch, how they will stay on top of homework. And that continued through high school. They decided how they would pay for a car, what parameters to set for screen time, how they would protect themselves against the pitfalls of pornography, and what boundaries to set in their dating and friendships.
Now, tearing down a fence is different from falling off a cliff. So there are limits. I’m not advocating for a free-for-all. But let’s not rob our kids of decision-making wisdom just because we’re afraid they’ll fall off the cliff.
This leads to the next thing we’d do all over again.
We would do whatever it takes to keep our kids talking.
We learned that we can work through anything together if we can Just. Keep. Them. Talking.
Our kids are just like us. We can make wise decisions and can work through anything if we talk it out, allowing others to offer the right kind of input.
Our oldest son is now a passionate follower of Christ, but for two years in high school he wondered if God might be a fable. We spent countless hours shooting baskets in the driveway as he talked it over, and over, and over.
Our daughter ended up in a long-term relationship in high school with the guy who is now her wonderful husband. At the time, you can bet we had some things to talk about! And it all paid off because they conducted themselves in such an honorable manner.
Our youngest son learned some tough lessons about which friendships to build (and avoid) during high school. Now he’s putting those lessons into practice on a university campus.
Getting our kids to talk is really more about us than about them. They need to know we’ll never think less of them. We can’t overreact in those first moments of trust or when trust is broken and we do have to lovingly confront. We can’t always give the answers, but we can always listen in a way that shows we love them.
Finally, the third thing we’d do again is make the most of unexpected moments.
No matter how much we plan things out, the most important moments as a family are the ones that come out of nowhere. The conversations that catch you by surprise. Pulling together to solve a problem or work through a conflict. Or just fun, unexpected, experiences that create these powerful shared memories.
The question is whether we’ll slow things down and make the most of them.
We discovered, quite by accident, that our yearly family camping trip created space for the best unexpected moments to happen. Great memories like getting caught in a snowstorm in the tent, or making spoofs of the Old Spice Man commercials. Long conversations around the fire under the stars.
Or working through challenges together. No joke, I think the biggest fight two of our kids ever got into was when our daughter went nuts on her brother because he wouldn’t stop farting in the car on a road trip.
What is so special about these moments? It is because shared experiences, especially when there’s emotion or vulnerability involved, form the deepest trust. In fact, all of this is really about building trust.
If members of a family lack trust in each other, they will spend their energy protecting their own interests. There won’t be any energy left for working together.
But if there’s trust and respect, we’re then on the same team, and it’s us against the world instead of you against me. When it’s us against the world, there’s almost nothing that can stop us.
Of course, there are no guarantees that our kids will make wise decisions all along the way, even when we do build trust and keep them talking. Ultimately, we have to trust that God loves our kids more than we do, and He will take care of them just like he’s taken care of us.
So, let’s commit to building trust with our kids as they walk into adulthood. Let’s give them space to build their own fences so they know how to make wise decisions as adults. Let’s help them feel it’s safe to keep talking so they don’t have to figure things out alone. And let’s slow down to make the most of the unexpected moments where the magic often happens.