Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Sissy Goff, David Thomas, and Melissa Trevathan's new book, Intentional Parenting: Autopilot is for Planes (Thomas Nelson, 2013).
Parenting can keep you so busy that you fall into a pattern of simply reacting to what’s going on around you. But you can’t be the best parent God wants you to be that way. If you’re intentional about parenting – choosing wise ways of responding to your children rather than just reacting to them – you can fulfill all of God’s good purposes for your parenting.
Here’s how you can be an intentional parent:
Keep God’s purposes for parenting in mind. Through the process of parenting, God is working not just in your children’s lives, but also in your own life. God intends for you to grow into a more spiritually mature person as you learn to apply His wisdom to the challenges of parenting.
Get to know more about yourself as a parent. Parenting reveals lots of valuable information about who you are as a person. Seek to learn more about yourself so you’ll have the perspective you need to improve your maturity, which will then improve your relationship with your kids. Ask three people who know you well and will tell you the truth these questions: “What have you observed about me as a parent?” “What are the strengths I bring to parenting?” “What are the struggles I bring to parenting?” “What do you enjoy about being in relationship with me?” and “What are the challenges about being in relationship with me?” Then pray about what they say, asking God to help you grow in specific ways.
Study your children. Get to know each of your children’s God-given temperaments well, and ask God to teach you how to work creatively within each child’s temperament rather than against it when helping him or her develop.
Make sure that your life is showing your kids the right story. God intends for your life to show your children what real faith in action looks like. Ask yourself: “What kind of story am I living in front of my children?” “Does my life speak about the things I believe and the people I love?” and “Am I living a life of faith in front of my children, or just talking about it?”
Be a patient parent. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you develop more patience. Some strategies for expressing patience in your parenting include: breathing deeply to calm down when angry, listening carefully to what your kids say, approaching stressful situations with a sense of humor, being realistic about your children’s capabilities and your expectations for them, assuming the best (not the worst) about your kids, allowing downtime in your children’s schedules, remembering what life was like for you as a child, and learning what triggers you to lose your patience so you can deal with those situations wisely.
Be a grown-up parent. Parenting will trigger unresolved issues from your own childhood, so be aware of what those issues are, and expect that when those issues come up in your parenting you’ll feel and reason like a child. Process the situations that trigger your issues with a trusted friend, family member, or professional counselor. Pray for the healing that you need from God to resolve your childhood issues well.
Be a balanced parent. Balance love and fear by identifying what you’re most afraid of as a parent, as well as an area where you could trust God more. Balance discipline and relationship by having clear rules and loving relationships with your children and identifying an area where you want to be more consistent in enforcing consequences. Balance boundaries and freedom by figuring out specific ways you’d like to help your children become more independent, creative, and resourceful through letting them learn from their own decisions. Balance your emotions by choosing a place you can go when you feel emotionally charged, giving yourself some time and space to reflect and pray so you can make more thoughtful parenting decisions. Balance your time by making time in your schedule regularly for enjoyable activities that build stronger family bonds. Balance the support your children need from you with support from other trusted adults who care about them, such as teachers, coaches, grandparents, and friends from church.
Be a consistent parent. Think and pray about which values you want to communicate to your kids, and why. Some values to consider are: faith, family time, serving, relationships, honesty, respect, good manners, healthy eating, gratitude, and kindness. Then choose the top three values that you want to be foundational in your home and ask God to inspire you with ideas for how to consistently communicate those values to your children. Consistently assign your children household chores to help them become more responsible. Discipline your kids consistently, giving them clear rules, boundaries, and rewards so they know what to expect and can learn and grow well.
Be a playful parent. Make time regularly to play with your children, because doing so helps relieve tension and builds stronger bonds between you.
Be a connected parent. Get to know what each of your children is most interested in right now. Then ask God to show you how to build deeper connections with them by exploring their interests together. Aim to make your kids feel emotionally safe with you.
Be an encouraging parent. Try to take every opportunity God gives you to encourage your children. Some ways to do that include: focusing on their strengths, noticing their efforts regardless of the outcome, giving them chances to contribute, helping them take small steps toward their goals, celebrating their accomplishments, and listening to them.
Be a spiritual parent. Show your kids what it looks like to depend on Jesus every day by putting your faith in action. Read the Bible; pray; participate in a local church; and model gratitude, discernment, and trust.
Be a merciful parent. Just as you receive mercy from God when you make mistakes, give your children mercy when they make mistakes. Let them experience consequences but also mercy and forgiveness. Avoid lecturing them; instead, allow them to learn directly from their experiences.
Be a hopeful parent. Combat common, discouraging myths about parenting by reminding yourself of these truths: Every child and every family sometimes struggles; it’s more important for your children to respect you than to like you; your family has great sources of support nearby (such as your church and your children’s schools); consistently parenting with love and logic will bless your children; suffering produces good things even in kids’ lives; and God has given you everything you need to parent your children well.
Be a free parent. Despite the constant pressure you’re bound to feel as a parent, you can enjoy freedom when you stay focused on Jesus and keep entrusting your children to His care.
Sissy Goff, MEd, LP-MHS, is the counseling director for children and adolescents at Daystar. The author of five books, she is a frequent radio guest and contributor to magazines. Sissy has a master’s degree from Vanderbilt University and is a sought-after speaker for parenting and teacher training events.
David Thomas, LMSW, is the counseling director for men and boys at Daystar. A popular speaker and the coauthor of five books, he is a frequent guest on national television and radio, and a regular contributor to ParentLife magazine. David and his wife, Connie, have a daughter and twin sons.
Melissa Trevathan, MRE, is founder and executive director of Daystar Counseling Ministries. A graduate of Southwestern Baptist Seminary, Melissa has taught graduate courses, spoken to various churches and schools across the United States, and been a guest on television and radio programs throughout the United States and Canada. She is a popular speaker for parents, teachers, and kids of all ages.
Whitney Hopler, who has served as a Crosswalk.com contributing writer for many years, is author of the new novel Dream Factory, which is available in both paperback and ebook formats. Visit her website at: whitneyhopler.naiwe.com.
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