How To Be A Great Parent

3 Parenting Essentials

parenting essentials
Simon Matzinger
Did you have a great father growing up? Was your mother perfect?

Are you a good parent, intentional and aware of how you’re raising your kids?

 — If you are like me, your parents were far from perfect.

 — If you are like me, you’re realizing that you have much less control of how your kids turn out than you thought.

When you’re in the middle of raising kids, trying to provide food and a roof, not to mention an education, how do you do it well?

All the parenting books you read can’t get under your skin enough to scrape out some deeply ingrained flaws. Will you transmit them to your kids? Are there any parenting essentials you’re missing?

You probably already know this but here goes:

Great parenting begins with the parents’ relationship.

3 Relationship Essentials

You can do a lot to become a great parent and mitigate the effects of your imperfections and ignorance about child-raising. You can:

  1. DEAL with your history
  2. WORK hard on your marriage
  3. Make GRACE the guiding spirit of your home

Take an honest look at the baggage you’ve individually brought to the marriage relationship.

 After that, share with each other what you’ve discovered.

 Now that you’ve acknowledged what you’re both dealing with, let grace find its place in the center of your relationship and home.

Short Story

parenting essentials
Mohamed Hassan

Let me tell you a very short story. I recall one tender moment when my dad hugged my mom and she hugged him back.

I was maybe 8 years old. My heart wanted to explode with joy and a sense of well-being in that moment. It had nothing to do with me but I still remember them in the dining room doorway more clearly than many other memories I have.

It was a rare show of love and acceptance between my parents. If they had cared for each other this way on a daily basis, my childhood would have been a completely different story. Their broken relationship impacted me more than the hundreds of parenting mistakes they made.

But where did their brokenness come from?

Short History 

My mom grew up with some family dysfunction which she never dealt with as a child or as an adult. My dad had his own traumas and personal impairments which he tried to drown in alcohol. They brought these hidden forces to their marriage, which was a train wreck waiting to happen.

At the start, Mom and Dad had very few tools for maintaining their relationship. With 3 kids in quick succession and Dad’s desire for autonomy not going anywhere, their break-up 13 years later was inevitable.

Forty years after the fact, I am still feeling the effects of that crash.

Long Story Short

If you are like me, you’ve seen a lot of marriages going off the rails. Maybe yours is one of them. You may think the kids in these situations are too young or too busy to be affected by carefully hidden flaws and faults. We may hope they don’t notice the broken parts of us driving us toward total derailment.

But they did. And they do.

From the outside looking in, others sometimes spot the problems in the relationship long before the parents do. Hard to miss the disconnect between the story they are telling and the way they are living. Their body language says more than their words. Likewise, his extra drinks and her bitter jokes make us want to brace for impact.

parenting essentials
SeppH

Children riding on this crazy train know something is wrong, too. They may be too young to register in cohesive thoughts but their bodies and souls know it. Their cells vibrate in the fear and anger frequencies of Mother simmering in the kitchen. Father’s baloney smells up the house whether he’s selling it on the phone or right there in the living room.

History Lesson

If you are like me, you’ve had or have a few blindspots of your own in parenting.

My husband and I have 3 grown-up kids who’ve told us what it was like to be on board when Dad and Mom were conducting their lives like crazy people.

Some of the disconnects? Too much fear in the decision-making. A little too heavy on the helicopter parenting. Not enough practicing of what we preached. Just a couple of dumb thirty-somethings acting like we knew everything.

As a homeschooling mom, I’d thought my nurture plus their “perfect” education would equal all kinds of easy for them. Turns out they borrowed some of my baggage and even added some pieces of their own. No magic formulas.

Notwithstanding the personal flaws we must own apart from our parents’ influence, what hope do we have with so much history to overcome?

1. First Parenting Essentials: Name and Release Your Elephants

parenting essentials
Larry Li

Your number one priority is to DEAL with the forces that have shaped you. Each marriage has two individuals who bring some baggage to the bedroom, living room, and kitchen.

When we acknowledge and name the elephants in the room, they begin to shrink and find their rightful places. Then we can send them on their way to a sanctuary for worn-out animals.

My husband and I each lumbered into our relationship encumbered with our fathers’ alcohol addictions and our mothers’ anxiety. It took us awhile to begin dissecting and dismantling their effects even as we were raising our three children.

Recovery groups, counseling, bravery, and honesty gave us the traction we needed for growing up as grown-ups.

(I offer a small disclaimer: our work is never done. I think I will be working on growing up until the day I die.)

2. Next Parenting Essentials: Get to Work on Your Marriage!

The saying goes, if you are coasting, then you’re going downhill.

How parents relate to each other is of utmost importance. If kids know Mom and Dad are solid, they walk their own paths with a bit more confidence. If kids can trust the love Dad and Mom have for each other, they are likely to trust in their own ability to love and be loved.

But we married people know that stress and time can jangle the nerves and loosen the love we once had for each other. We are going to have to work at it if it’s going to last. No matter what the movie stars say, I say we’d better get some good tools for the long haul. Gotta keep the wheels greased because the friction is inevitable.

Get counseling. Ask hard questions. Tell hard truths and don’t be so defensive!

You’ve got this because people have been making marriages work for a long time. Find those people and ask them how it can possibly be done! Put lots of tools in your marriage tool box and then use them.

Read more on how your relationship impacts your kids

and the ways our parents affect our relationships.

3. More Parenting Essentials: Grace is a Superpower

parenting essentials
Mohamed Hassan

GRACE is essential for any lasting relationship. It is impossible to have a good marriage and solid family life without that 5-letter word for getting more than you deserve. Gifts for the bratty. Kisses for the prickly people.

The reason for hope even if you think you’ve already done too much damage:

 — Grace is a superpower.

 — Grace works forwards and backwards, bending and softening the boundaries of space and time.

 — Grace hangs out with other commendable characters like Mercy and Humility.

I’m sorry,” “forgive me,” “I forgive you,” and “I love you” are their constant conversation.

These 3 characters can mend a multitude of wrongs. Their love steps back over time boundaries and transforms what once was bad into the shape of a blessing. They move magically through space, waving wands that heal wounds and turn scars into touchstones for others.

True Story

I have a friend whose 25 year marriage should have been history 10 years in. Her name isn’t Grace but it should be. Her response to his adultery, after her initial shock and anguish, was an attitude of “let’s start over from here.”

Instead of condemning him and leaving, my friend stayed. She offered forgiveness and grace in huge quantities. She began to look at her part in the mess. And together, they began the slow and painful work of sifting through their baggage in the wreckage.

 Grace, mercy, and humility permeate their home to this day because together, they found — and still find —  a way to stay. This has had an immeasurable impact on their children.

End of Story

If I had refused to look at the sickness I brought to my marriage 30 years ago, would I be married today?

If I had refused to compromise and not let my husband’s needs and desires soften my hard edges, where would we be now?

 If I had let resentment and un-forgiveness simmer in my kitchen, would the smell and stench have overwhelmed the entire household?

Yes, our kids did get some of the brokenness their mom and dad brought to the relationship. However, the honesty we brought to our struggles, the work we did separately and together, and the grace we gave each other on a daily basis were like fresh layers of blacktop. They smoothed over some of the roughest bumps on the road.

It’s OK if you are already in the midst of parenting. Even if your kids are grown, there’s hope because it’s never too late to work on relationships. Being honest and humble with our grown up kids keeps the door open for unexpected graces to drop by.

Here’s what I’m saying: Great parenting is not easy, pretty, or tied up in a lovely bow. But it’s good, solid, and strong. Like a sturdy train on a steel track with a gentle grade.

  1. DEAL with your history
  2. WORK hard on your marriage
  3. Make GRACE the guiding spirit of your home

(related post: Closer to Free)

24 thoughts on “How To Be A Great Parent”

  1. Christine,
    My heart has related your your music/lyrics & now your life story & the life lessons learned along the way.
    This “article” advice – hit home in my heart, under the mess of clutter – that has numbed some emotions (code-word for hardened or slightly crusty-heart) – just to cross the next finish line or to-do & brace for the calloused comments in raising my teenagers.
    My heart is exposed – to be refreshed & get real & savor these years & season it with more grace.
    Thank you, for your voice – in word & in song,
    God Bless you!
    In His Hope,
    Juliana

    • Ahh, yes, Juliana, a good reminder for me, too. Gotta keep my heart open and exposed. Thanks for reading and responding : )

  2. We have two grown boys, and watching them parent with their wives is a real joy! We’ve had to apologize and ask for grace for “epic fails” as we did our best at parenting, and pray that they remember happy memories to balance it out.
    I never heard my parents apologize, or say they were sorry; problems just got buried under the rug. So we tried to model that for our sons. To think that you’re gonna be good, or even mediocre Mamas and Daddys without ever making mistakes is setting yourself up for feeling like a failure. Knowing how to say, “I blew it…please forgive me” is a GIFT!!!

  3. Thanks so much for your post, Christine! I can relate to ALOT of what you shared. I came out of a broken home and it took many years to let go of all the junk and learning to help raise our children opposite of how I was raised. I learned it can’t be done alone. And that I’m not and never will be a perfect parent. But who is?
    Thankfully I have an amazing husband who has helped me through it. He introduced me to your music years ago and it really helped me get through some hard times. I don’t know how many times I listened to your tapes- yes, tapes! 🙂
    Thank you for your openness and honesty.

  4. Christine,
    I have followed you and your husband’s musical career since you first began and loved the depth of your lyrics. And now, loving the depth of your writings – you have a beautiful way of making one feel like they’re sitting in the kitchen with you, chatting about life. My husband and I have been married for going on 18 years – we got married late in life. Neither one of us had previously been married, nor do we have any kids. However, your post definitely confirmed and struck home with me regardless. This past year-and-a-half have nearly broken both of us, with one or the other almost walking away. It makes it equally painful when one spouse is not a believer. You are spot on about bringing baggage into a marriage – that MUST be dealt with. Regrets? Yes. Choice to stay? Yes. Grace? Definitely. Another lesson learned for me sounds so simple: Love. The greatest of these is love. The 2nd reason why we are put on this earth to begin with: love. (The 1st being to Glorify God.) So easy to say {most times}, hard to do {some times}.
    So thank you for eloquently writing your heart that spoke volumes to me and didn’t make me feel so alone. Keep on….

  5. Christine, this is really good! My wife and I have been married nearly 39 years, with 5 grown kids and 6 grandkids so far. I offered marriage counseling to countless couples in 25 years as an Air Force Chaplain. Your observations are spot on, and your recommendations, though challenging, are direct, very practical, very spiritual, bring hope, and, clearly are very helpful! Thank you so much for sharing!

  6. Regarding children, my wife and I have three grown up boys and over the years, the most important task as parents has been to be there for them, especially when they have experienced trouble in their lives. The following prayer (author unknown) addresses this constant aspect of parenting:

    “Saint Joseph, I come to you with my concerns for the welfare of my children. I recall your anxiety when, to your surprise and Mary’s, Jesus was not among your relatives and friends on your return to Jerusalem. I too, worry about my children. Many dangers surround the youth of today. Help me to remove the barriers that may come between my children and myself. I love my children and desire good and wholesome things for them. Good Saint Joseph, watch over my children and inspire me to know how to speak and act in love. Saint Joseph, foster father of Jesus, pray for me. Amen.”

    • Yes,I agree: being there for our grown kids, not necessarily solving their problems but being available, is so important!

  7. Thank you Christine. I especially resonate with what you say about grace- a constant conversation of “I’m sorry”, “please forgive me” and “I love you”. That definition is remarkably similar to the ancient Hawaiian practice of ho’oponopono.
    There was very little grace expressed in my nuclear family and I find I have to be open everyday to giving and to receiving it to approach a life well lived. All these years later it doesn’t come naturally or easily.

    • Yes, Pegs, it feels deeply ingrained to react from our growing up lessons. I guess that’s why we need mercy and grace every morning to try again : )

  8. Christine everything you wrote really resonated with me. There is so much truth and wisdom wrapped in such a simple package. I’m so pleased you take the time to share and help us through. We so often leave the box closed of our dirtiness and baggage so we don’t have to deal with it or even believe that it is dirty inside at all! This post helps us open the box and gives us courage to look inside and start to make progress dealing with things that we have put off for so long.

    I LOVE your tag-line: Finding life in the bigger story. So true.

    “…I’m in pursuit of a meaningful life, I’ve got issues with faith, fear and freedom…”
    That sums up where my wife and I are at now. We also have 3 kids (teenagers) and we struggle to figure out our purpose in the bigger story. The core need to live a meaningful life. Struggling with faith, fear and freedom too. Thanks so much for your heart and your music.

    • Brett, thanks so much for your honesty. Knowing you and your wife struggle with these issues makes life more meaningful already!!

  9. Hi Christine. Just got a Holy Spirit reminder that I hadn’t read this yet. It was really deep and I truly resonated with what was said. In the early days of my marriage I once joked with my wife that we collectively had more hang ups than a wardrobe. We’ve come a long way and have 4 kids, 3 of whom are nearly adults. Like you said one thing our kids love to see is their mum and dad being at ease with each other. We all need grace and plenty of it to live in harmony. Thanks for the inspiration and wisdom!

    • Ian, I like the picture of your wardrobe of hang-ups! Thank God for the grace and love to cover a multitude of hang-ups. I am thrilled to hear of your 4 kids with parents who love each other!!

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