The Heart of a Parent

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There is no job as important, rewarding, or life changing like that of parenthood.  What an awesome joy and responsibility it is to hold a new life in your arms.  How you handle this responsibility will not only affect your life but also a future that you will never see.

This job comes with no guarantees.  That perfect bundle of joy comes with a will of its own and will make choices in the process of growing up that you will not be able to control.  Some of these choices will give you great joy, some will wound you deeply.  It is part of the part and parcel of the privilege of parenting.

Why talk about the heart of a parent?  The reason is simple and profound.  In your heart is the root of your parenting tree.  That root will produce fruit after its kind.  If you make sure your root is healthy, you set the stage for healthy, delicious fruit to be borne in your children.  A healthy root provides for a reserve against the drought and storms that life will throw at your family tree.

The heart of your parenting drives and colors everything you do for and to your children.  Even implementing something like a chore system.  If the motivation, the heart behind the chore system is unhealthy, it will never bring forth good fruit.  You can run all the checklists, do everything by the book and get completely different results from someone who outwardly appears to be doing the same thing.

So, how do we prepare our hearts to be effective, loving parents that see good fruit in our children?  The first key is to truly understand what parenting is and is not.  Our society today offers poor images of successful parents.  This leads to frustration and anger because many times our expectations do not match reality.  It is vital that you understand this truth:

Parenting is at its core a life of unselfish service to those who are often incapable of understanding or appreciating your efforts.  My wife and I have had the privilege of having four children.  They are all individuals, very different from one another.  I have often said, "I didn't realize how selfish I was until I had children."  Like all parents, I fail many times in my parenting.  Almost always when I do I have lost track of this truth.  Instead of me being there for and ministering to my kids – I am asking them (most of the time unconsciously) to come through for me and meet my needs.  Let's give a real world example to drive this home.

I was an eagle scout and my dad's side of the family has been involved in scouting back to my grandfather who was a scoutmaster.  I was thrilled that my son took to scouting and shared my love of the outdoors.  Without a whole lot of encouragement on my part he quickly became a life scout, one rung away from achieving his eagle rank.  Then he stopped making progress.  Moreover, when ever I would try to help him, push him, or encourage him to finish, I would meet excuses, resentment, and a felt distancing in our relationship.  This was very painful for me.  I had hoped he would continue to accomplish this goal because he had said he wanted to.  What was going on?

The truth is many things were going on.  The most important in terms of my role as my son's father was, why did I want so much for him to reach this goal?  Was it truly his goal or was I subconsciously, asking him to come through for me?  Did it make me proud to see him succeed? You bet!  Did it make me feel good?  You bet!  Was I manipulating him so I would look good?  I have to say yes.

How do I know?  I could tell by the fruit. One of the biggest traps we parents fall into is parenting so that we look good.  This is parenting that is selfish at the root and will yield the fruits of selfishness in our children.  When I move into my child's life truly out of a heart of unselfish desire to help them, it will not produce the undertow of resentment and resistance that I was meeting.  When you manipulate others into doing what you want, even if it benefits them initially, you will reap a harvest of resentment and rebellion.  No one likes to be manipulated.  I had to repent, share my insight with my son and then give help as my son asked for it.  Was this hard for me? Yes.  But it was what my son needed at this time in his life.  What he needed most from me was my confidence in his abilities.

Another trap is to parent motivated by a desire for our children's approval.  This is also at the core selfish.  Do you say regularly, "my child is so ungrateful".  Or "I can never please Johnny".  These are warning signs indicating that you are asking your child to come through for you.  Instead of giving them what they need from you, you are giving them whatever they want so you can receive their affirmation.  This can be devastating in its results.  A child needs the security of parents that provide consistent values that are reflected in appropriate boundaries for the child.  Without these boundaries and lives that model these values, children never learn self control and are truly lost in a sea of confusion and are left to the tragedy of their own selfishness.  This is the most destructive type of parenting.  Both the parents and children are robbed.

Healthy parenting has these characteristics:

  • It is unselfish
  • It is based on meeting the child's true needs, not wants
  • It is in tune with the unique qualities of your child.
  • It gives without expectation of return.  There are no strings attached.

Sounds like a tall order.  It is.  Expect that you will make some mistakes,  However, if you choose to be motivated from a giving serving heart, your errors in execution will be easily forgiven.  Children are very forgiving when they feel your love rather than your manipulation.  Being this kind of parent will necessitate you drawing on resources greater than you possess but is worth it!

Howard, the founder of Successful Family Chores, has numerous academic credentials. His greatest asset however, is his experience raising 4 children of his own! He knows first hand, both the frustrations and the joys of parenting. It was his love for families that motivated the creation of Successful Family Chores.  To read more of his articles, visit  Successful Family Chores 

Copyright © 2003 Howard Davis Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.

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