This one took 18 years to write.

Recently, one of our dorm guys asked for my best parenting advice. He's not a parent yet--he's not even dating anyone, actually--but he'll make a great husband and father someday.

It's a huge question, really, and one I'm not qualified to answer. The verdict is still out on my parenting, since all three of my kids still live at home. But I've been at this parenting gig for almost 18 years now...what is my best advice?

I've read a thousand parenting books--should I tell him my favorites? These four come to mind:

We had two rules that we recited (with hand motions!) every morning at breakfast. Should I tell him those?

  1. "Love God and love people." (I stole that one from Jesus.)
  2. "Obey the first time, every time, with no complaining." (I stole that one, too, but I can't remember from where.)

Our family also regularly reviewed our "Three Reasons for Spanking," which I stole from Kaylene Idleman, the wife of the former president of the college where I now work. Does he want to hear those?

  1. Disrespect
  2. Disobedience
  3. Dishonesty

(Should I show him the paddle we used, and how I decorated it with all three kids' names printed in happy dot letters, along with the text of Proverbs 23:13? Probably not.)

We read family devotionals and celebrated monthly family days--"Stormy Days", we called them--and we took each kid on one-on-one dates. All of it, by God's grace, helped Nathan, Anne and Molly become who they are now. But how can I boil it down into advice? What's most important to tell? 

I finally landed on two things:

1. Remember the end goal. Andy has said since our kids were tiny, "We aren't raising kids. We're raising adults." Because of this, as Stephen Covey wrote, we must "begin with the end in mind." What's the ultimate goal for my kids? To be popular in high school? To play professional sports? No. More than anything else, I want them to be whole, capable adults who love God and people. That end goal is why I made them scrub toilets and sort laundry. It's why we gave them their dollar allowances in dimes...so that they could easily give a tithe to our church...so that someday budgeting and giving will be second-nature. It's why they went to church every week and fed our neighbor's cats and wrote sentences like "I don't hit girls" 100 times when they were unkind. It's why I made them read all those library books and memorize poetry and Scripture...because their minds were being formed and they were learning how to learn. It's easy in parenting to get sidetracked by things that seem important at the time, so...always remember the end goal!

2. Talk. My kids joke that I'm a closet-Jew (I do tend to make them celebrate more Jewish holidays than Christian ones), and as such I based my parenting philosophy on Deuteronomy:

  • "...do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them." (Deuteronomy 4:9)
  • "...Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." (Deuteronomy 6:7)
  • "In the future, when your son asks you...tell him." (Deuteronomy 6:20-21)

Talk. I really don't know another way. Good parenting takes a lot of words, so talk a lot. Talk when they're babies, because how else will they learn to speak? As they grow, listen to their words, and be intentional with your own. Talk about the Lord--where you see him at work in the world and how they can join in. Talk about how much you love them, no matter what. Talk about their stories--their heritage, their roots. Talk up your spouse as a hero. Talk about the wrong things you see around you and on television--things like greed and disrespect and deceit. Point those things out, so they won't become accepted norms. Talk about sex--not in a one-time, awkward conversation after it's too late, but often and in age-appropriate ways, even when they roll their eyes. Talk about the reasons behind your rules, pointing to Scripture as much as possible. Even talk about your expectations when you go places: "When we're in the library, we'll walk slowly and use whisper voices so we won't disturb the people who are reading..."   

And, when you're tired of all the talking, announce that it's "Room Time," and make everyone read those library books on their beds until you're ready to talk again.

Later, I'll think of a dozen more profound things I should've told him, like how much hard work he's in for, and how nothing will exhaust or terrify him more, and how he'll never have a more crucial ministry or privilege. But that's all I've got for now. With consistency and intention and truckloads of God's grace, remember the end goal, and talk a lot.