Being a parent, it’s natural to wonder if you make any sort of difference. How can we know if we’re making a difference in our children’s lives? What actions of ours will really make a difference?
In a coloring book, it doesn’t matter how simple or complex the drawings are; they always seem flat, lifeless, and two-dimensional. But when color is added, it brings life and dimension. Until color is added, the outlined characters merely exhibit potential. Color brings completion.
Kids are a lot like those outlined drawings. The house they live in, the things they own — the bikes, balls, toys, or clothes — the schools they’ve attended, and the training they’ve received are only black boundary lines on a white background. If that’s all there is, the figures remain flat, lifeless, two-dimensional. What may be missing are the colors of self-worth, spiritual and emotional security, self-image, and confidence.
6 Ways You Make a Difference
My high-school Latin teacher always challenged us to “name six” whenever we tried to answer one of her questions. She wanted six examples or reasons for every answer we gave, which helped us understand all aspects of a topic. Below are six ways you can make a difference by being a parent. There will be some overlap between the six, but I hope that by looking at these issues from various perspectives, you’ll gain a fresh appreciation for the impact you can have.
1. Making Your Kids Feel Worthwhile and Accepted
We communicate acceptance to our children when we let them be themselves. For example, let a four-year-old act like a four-year-old. Not expecting perfection or even advanced behavior says, “I accept you now, not only after you change or grow up.” And such acceptance without conditions is essential to a healthy self-esteem.
Even when there are grass stains, a broken window, spilled syrup, or stupid behavior, our proper attitude toward the inner person within our children nourishes the good feelings they need about being accepted.
When we focus on our kids in a positive way, helping them develop confidence, it affects every aspect of their lives. Being around for our kids during the day, being available, dispels loneliness. Smiles and hugs are comforting. Signs of approval encourage and strengthen. They create comfort zones. And including them in our activities makes our kids feel they’re worthwhile.
Show Acceptance By Accepting Others
When your children feel accepted and see you readily accept others, they’ll accept others more easily. They’ll feel confident to reach out. Since our boys grew up in a pastor’s home, they met many guests, from missionaries and nationally known speakers to battered mothers and other people in crisis. Many of these people have lived with us for seasons. It’s been fun to see how the boys have been influenced by our acceptance of them and others.
We’ve also noticed that making each of our sons feel accepted while growing up minimized the natural temptation to compare themselves to one another or to doubt themselves. From the beginning, they were built differently and had different interests and skills. But because they felt accepted within our home for who they were, they didn’t feel the need to match up to or best one another.
Believe it or not, I’ve also found that how you accept your children will be reflected in how your children accept you. A friend’s daughter works with high-school girls. Again and again, she sees girls pulling away from their parents when they leave the house. She told her mom, “I know why I didn’t have that problem. You accepted me.” And as a result, she can accept her mom as well.
2. Making Your Kids Feel Important
Every time you make a choice regarding your kids, you send a message. If you can’t make it to a game, your kids might think it’s not important to you. Don’t have time for the concert? It probably doesn’t matter much to you.
Just the opposite happens when you do make the effort. How many times have you heard an adult talking about the impression made by a mom or dad who never missed a game, always came to the concerts, or always had time. Those are lasting impressions that will make a lifelong influence in who your kids become.
How we spend our time, with or without our children, speaks loudly and clearly. Every time we make a sacrifice, it’s remembered.
You never know exactly what will register with boys; mine remember French toast. For some reason, my making French toast for breakfast on game days using real French bread seemed like a sacrifice and spoke volumes to them. It has become a family memory.
Affirmation of any kind lingers long after the event. It fosters a sense of importance and self-confidence. It enhances healthy self-esteem and emotional security.
Many parents are so busy that the kids aren’t sure where they fit in their parents’ hectic schedules or list of priorities. The pace, the demands, the trips to day care and other places can be overwhelming. Children need a haven, a quiet, safe, comfortable setting where they can make mistakes without ridicule, try without competition, enjoy a relaxed pace, get special attention, and experience boundaries.
3. Making Your Kids Feel Cared For
Something as simple as a daily routine can contribute to a child’s sense of well-being. Clean clothes say “I care.” Food in the refrigerator says it. Good home-cooked meals say it. Help with homework or chores say it. Having a regular expected bedtime is important for learning the value of routine. Tuning into their stories at bedtime speaks it loud and clear. Allowing open schedules without structure can lead children to expect chaos and accept it as normal.
We’ve got to have a high-touch approach to our kids’ lives rather than a high-tech one. Nowadays, technology can become addicting and distract our children and us from what’s really important. It’s true that it’s a great tool, but we all need to have time-outs from our screens so we know what it’s like to really connect. Our kids need many emotional touches during a day to assure them of our care. These are times when we listen, give guidance, draw boundaries, lend assistance, empathize with others, show support, and just participate in their world. While we can certainly check in with our teens by texting to show we care, we need to remember that these interactions are limiting. They don’t allow for eye contact or facial expressions, and your face shows love better than an emoji.
A high-touch approach can take many forms. Use your creativity while looking for even more ways to make a difference in your children’s lives. Every time you become involved in the daily routine and needs of your children, you send the message, “I care about you.” When you make continual sacrifices to meet your children’s needs, you speak volumes of the same message. And your care feels so much better and meets deeper needs than the care of a paid sitter ever could.
Being available is one of the most important ways to make someone feel cared for. A friend still remembers the pain of not being available to her child at a critical time. She was working and couldn’t be located when her son was badly injured at recess. What did he need more than anything? The security of having his mother there to comfort him in his pain. What could substitute for her? Nothing. When bad things happen to your children, you’re the most important person in the world, and being available is the most important job you can have in the world.
How is it, then, that otherwise-intelligent parents feel they’re showing their kids they love them when they constantly send messages to the contrary? They’re too busy for their kids, too heavily scheduled, too stressed, or too tired to be interested. Or they have other things to do that are just too important to take time for the “little things.” But little things add up.
How would you feel about someone who said you were important but didn’t act like it? Or if someone tried to buy you off by giving you gifts to try to fill the gap? “I love you, but I don’t have time for what’s important to you” is a very confusing message. It hurts.
Your Role is a Higher Calling
4. Helping Your Kids To Develop Good Attitudes
We need to give our best efforts to teach our children good attitudes. As your children grow up in your home, watching your example, what kinds of attitudes are they developing toward relationships, for instance? Are they viewing marriage as a positive commitment? Or are they becoming leery of entrusting themselves to a spouse? Are they learning to commit themselves to someone, to accept others unconditionally, to think the best?
When kids have good attitudes, good actions usually follow. If you have trouble with bad actions in your home, don’t just discipline the actions; get to the root of the attitudes. And remember, attitudes are more caught than taught. What attitudes do you model when it comes to work, chores, caring for the family, sacrificing for others, authority, civil leaders, taxes, and your neighbors? Before you condemn your kids’ attitudes, make sure you examine the example you’re modeling.
5. Helping Your Kids To Develop Good Responses
How we respond to the crises, threats, and inconveniences that come our way show our kids the real us dealing with the real world. And every example we give them helps determine how they will respond to their own real world.
One time when our boys were little, we decided to earn extra money for something special. So we rose at dawn and drove to nearby berry fields to join the migrant workers harvesting the crop. After working about 30 minutes, the foreman approached us. He yelled at me as he wagged a long finger, “Get out of here, lady! We don’t ever want to see you and these kids again!”
I was crushed, embarrassed, and insulted. I had no idea what we’d done wrong. We needed the money we would have earned, but I gathered the boys, set down our berries, and quietly started for the car. A moment later, the foreman came running up to us. He had mistaken us for another family that had caused trouble, he said. Now he apologized profusely and begged us to return. Because of our calm, respectful response, it became obvious we weren’t the guilty party he had mistaken us for. It was a lesson our kids have remembered in their own response to difficult situations in the years since.
6. Helping Your Kids To Develop Good Patterns
Kids watch, listen, and question all we do in determining their own patterns and philosophies of life. They establish their work ethic from how we work. Kids learn priorities from how we spend our time and resources. They learn about God based on how we live out our faith. They watch how we handle everything, first to determine their own beliefs and later to question them to see if they’re valid.
May we not rationalize the negatives of our behavior as we parent our kids. Remember, the Bible tells us “the heart is deceitful . . . and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9).
Our culture is also deceitful: Don’t let its subtle messages mesmerize you into thinking that being a parent is a waste of your intelligent being. What messages are you hearing, and from whom? Take stock and remember your goal: developing children with solid self-esteem, character, and purpose.
You and I do make a difference by being a parent. Moment by moment, as our children live and learn under our care, we influence the colors that add depth and richness to their lives. Our coloring greatly affects the final picture.
You Make a Difference By Being a Parent
Although we need to do all we can to nurture our children, we cannot guarantee the outcome of their lives. As our kids become teens and young adults, they have the freedom to make their own choices. Some of those choices may be unhealthy, even if we have taught our kids good patterns and lived out our faith as best we can. Even God’s children, Israel, repeatedly walked away from Him and disavowed His influence. Yet in spite of this possibility, we are called to show our children God’s way to live, knowing that our influence does have a major impact.
Right now, by being a parent, you have the power to be highly influential. You make a difference! Can you now begin to imagine the incredible difference you can make in your children’s lives? Isn’t that exciting?