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Parenting for the Next Generation

Joelle and I have been raising, homeschooling and hanging with our children for the last 20 years. It hardly seems possible that our eldest, Micah, is nearly 20 years old. Surely it couldn’t have been but a few years ago that I was teaching him to ride a bike. Alas, it is true, our children do grow up with or without us. I now find myself teaching Stephen, his four year old brother, to ride a bike—without the training wheels!

Stephen wants to ride with the rest of the clan to the top of the Pilchuck tree farm and go mountain biking. If he only knew how much uphill there was compared to downhill he might change his mind! The other day we stopped into see Mark at the Arlington Velo Sport to pick up a bike and Stephen got the vision for some new wheels. Funny, it seems that Micah got the vision for some new wheels as well, ones that could generate a little more horsepower than his legs could—a 1979 black Chevy T-top Camaro. Hey, that was the car I wanted when I was in high school! Now, 30 years later, they are affordable for him, but for me impractical. Hmmm??? Maybe things really don’t change, just their price tags do.

One of the first lessons I learned as a parent was to teach our children “no” early and that it is not negotiable. Many parents argue with a two year old and far too often the two year old wins. If a child learns “no” early there will be less arguments (now I didn’t say no arguments, just less), which means there will be more pleasant interactions. Doesn’t that sound nice?

As I enter into this new phase of transitioning children from parent-dependent to independent, I have been learning a lot. When I chose to farm, back when we had six children, I did so because it gave me the opportunity to be more involved in the raising of my children and to have them work with me. Our focus was family—we did things as a family and with other families. It was easier as a parent to navigate this world of young children because they were totally parent-dependent. As my oldest is moving on and his 18 year old sister and 17 year old brother are close on his heels, Joelle and I have had choices to make. Do we hold back or do we release? We have learned to do both—to hold where they want us to hold and to release where they want us to release. The goal of parenting is not to keep our children back for ourselves, but to launch the next generation, to see them stand not fall, succeed not fail, to love that which is good and do good. This is not easy for us, but it is easier because we built a relationship early, played together, worked together, laughed together and went to church together. And now that they are adults we still do those things, just less often together.

Sure we miss them, but aren’t they supposed to grow up, hopefully marry, have their own families and their own lives. My job is to impart whatever I can into them for the short time I am privileged to parent them. I understood the process, after all, I went through it. But now that I am experiencing it as a parent, I have been thinking about it more intentionally. If I am going to be a successful parent and raise children that become good citizens, who are focused on blessing others, I need to not only model that but also involve them in it—at the grocery store, gas station, ball field, church, etc. And I need to gradually decrease in their lives and they need to increase. They need to make more decisions as they get older, yes good and bad ones. But I want them to practice making those decisions while they are still at home, so when they do move out they will have already been making life type decisions for awhile.

We still have little ones to raise and they will be gone before we know it, but I am committed to seeing them develop into what they were created to do with their lives, which means that I have to recognize their strengths and strengthen them and recognize their weaknesses and strengthen them. But I can’t do that if I am still heavily pursuing my own personal dreams, passions, hobbies. At some point my own personal goals have to decrease and my children’s goals (not my goals for my children) need to increase in my life. And at the same time I have to recognize when it is time for me to decrease in my parental role to allow them to pursue their dreams.

Many of you are parents, I want to encourage you that it is not a mistake that you are raising children and the children you have are going to need your insights, perspectives and experiences to negotiate the adult world and no one is more qualified than you to help them succeed. They are a gift to you and you are a gift to them.