How to Parent: 23 Years of Parenting Experience Summed Up in 2 Words

For months, Dawn and I have talked about writing a series of advice posts about parenting. We’ve been through one strong-willed toddler, one semi-rebellious teen, and one very depressed middle-schooler, three kids in all. Our parenting journey includes some short-term government assistance, an unexpected and difficult career transition, several years of parenting while medicated, and miraculously, lots of joy-filled memories for all five of us.

The Hetricks in Sugar Cane, 2002

[The Hetricks at the Mountain Farm, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, 2002.]

But, as I’ve struggled to summarize what we learned from experience in a simple, how-to-parent intro post, I finally decided that our 23 years of parenting experience can be boiled down to just these two words:

Grow. Up.

Not your kids…

You. The parent. The one who’s supposed to be the adult.

How NOT to Parent

When our son, Hans, was a freshman in high school, he did something he shouldn’t have (or didn’t do something he should have I forget which). And I lost it.

We were standing in our family room and I was yelling at the top of my lungs, “What were you thinking? Etc. Etc.” I was out-of-control hot. And I remember Hans was furious to tears and refused to face me. He just turned his back to me and stood there. And I deserved it.

Tell me: Who was being the adult in that situation? Who was exercising self-control? Who was acting like a child?

How to Be the Worst Parent Ever

If you want to contend for Worst Parent Ever, then all you have to do is stay the same as I was in that moment. Don’t grow up. Don’t learn self-control. Don’t learn to control your anger or lust or greed or laziness. Don’t learn selflessness. Don’t learn ungrudging sacrifice. Don’t learn to be faithful to your promises to your kids, your God, your spouse, your employer, your church. Don’t learn to prioritize relationship-building in your family. Don’t learn to care about what your kids care about. Don’t learn to treat them as respectfully as you expect them to treat you.

Don’t admit your mistakes to them. Don’t confess your sins to them. Don’t ask them to forgive you.

Don’t read anything about becoming a better, wiser parent. And certainly don’t give a second thought to what the Bible says about your responsibilities as a parent.

Just be the un-grown-up, you-centered you. You’ll be a lousy parent, and your kids just might grow up to out-do your lousiness.

How to Grow Up

I realize that all of the above seems very negative, perhaps over the top.

I’m sorry. Really, I am. But my observation of myself (and others) and study of Scripture has taught me the sad truth that parenting is an ever-repeating cycle of broken, sinful people raising broken, sinful people in their own image and likeness. Consider Noah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David for starters.

In other words, we tend to pass on our baggage, despite our best intentions. At least, this is true of me and my average family.

And so, I need the good news of God’s forgiving grace to heal my brokenness and deliver me from the consequences of my sin. Hans needs the same grace of forgiveness to heal his brokenness—brokenness I’ve contributed to for 23 years—and his children will need it to.

How can we grow up? Grace. Grace from a forgiving God offered in Christ to those who recognize their desperate need for soul-healing.

People who receive His grace learn to live on it like milk and honey, bread and wine. They depend on it like air, and learn to give it to their kids. They learn self-control and respectfulness no matter how their offspring offends them. They learn to confess their sins to their kids and ask their forgiveness. And in the process, both parent and child receive a small dose of God’s healing touch.

Growing Up Takes Time

This isn’t to say that grace is a quick-fix for immature parenting. It takes time. After the yelling episode with Hans, I confessed the sin of losing control of my anger to him. I asked his forgiveness. Eventually, I think he did. (Here’s post on why forgiveness is hard.) But, for the next several years I also set to work growing up by making a regular prayer of Ephesians 4:29, asking God for the grace to speak graciously to all my children.

For me, growing up has taken all the years our kids have been with us, and grace hasn’t finished its work yet—not by a long shot.

But, it has begun. And now that I think of it, I guess Dawn and I really need four words to summarize what we’ve learned about parenting:

Grow up in grace.

I recommend you start while your kids are still young.

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.—Jesus (Luke 5:31)

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10 thoughts on “How to Parent: 23 Years of Parenting Experience Summed Up in 2 Words

  1. Really good thoughts. Far too often I’ve been guilty of disciplining the kids out of a self-centered heart, desperately striving to save my pride, ease the inconvenience and pain, just get a little peace and quiet, rather than directing them toward the grace that is theirs as believers in Christ. “Grow up in grace” is a pretty good summary. A great resource I might recommend is Elyse Fitzpatrick’s book, “Give Them Grace.” It will be particularly helpful for those with younger children, although frankly it was probably the best book I read last year and our youngest is 14.

    • Thx Roger. I haven’t read that book, but was impressed by an inter view of her I heard last summer. Thanks for mentioning it.

  2. This is an amazing post! Your words are inspiring! “Grow up in Grace” are really the perfect words. I have learned a lot from this article and I am really grateful to have come across your brilliant post. I am hoping to read more of your works Lon. Thank you so much for sharing this! :)

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