It is possible to do better than our parents did.
It’s possible to erase generations of wounds, raising our own children in homes of love, support, and stability. If you fear your kids are destined for a life of the same pain you grew up with, let me be clear. You can do better. Your family can have a different story.
I know because I’m living proof.
My own parents both had difficult childhoods, and together they made specific, conscious choices to raise us differently than they had been raised. While our own family life was far from perfect, we grew up with love, laughter, encouragement, and grace.
I don’t mean to demean my grandparents or air sixty year-old dirty laundry. My four biological grandparents have long since passed, so I can’t ask them what caused them to make the choices they did. I have a feeling they were doing the best they could for their time, financial ability, and education. Nevertheless, things were difficult and my parents were not about to make the same mistakes.
Some days I think it cost Mom and Dad nearly everything they had– money, time, and sanity. But they stuck it out, no matter how grim things became, and now my siblings and I can still call the same phone number we’ve been dialing all our lives. Our two parents still pick up the phone in the house where we were raised.
Not many people can say that anymore, and that speaks to their dedication. Also, their pure stubbornness. But that’s another story for another time.
Here are the choices that changed our family’s future, plus a few I’ve seen work miracles in other families:
Get your family in church, and get involved.
Please don’t just drag your people into a pew at 10:30 on Sunday, then drag them back to the car at 11:32. I mean really go to church. Get to know your congregation. Sign up for ministries and a small group. Be part of the solution, not just the crabby people who gripe in the back row. Make daily Bible reading and prayer a part of your life.
The Holy Spirit has been mending broken families and relationships for a long time now, and your family is offered that same healing and love. If you have no idea of how to find that, a good, Bible-teaching church is the first place to look.
Get yourself help if you need it.
Do you struggle with depression or anxiety? Get some help. Your mental health is key to parenting well, and you aren’t doing this for you– you’re doing it for them. Your community has counselors, pastors, and psychologists who are trained and able to help you sort things out. Wouldn’t it be great to get through a day without the clouds of gloom or the shredded nerves of anxiety?
When you do get the help you need, follow through. Take the meds; keep going to counseling. Mental health is just like our regular health– it falls apart really fast if we don’t pay close attention.
Make your marriage a priority.
Our spouses cannot (and will not) survive decades of neglect while we focus on the kids. At best you’ll grow apart and find yourself sharing the house with a shocking stranger when the kids go to college. At worst you’re looking at years of fights, affairs, deceptions, and divorce.
Look at your spouse. Really look at him or her. Do you know what matters to them? What makes them sad, happy, or furious? Now ask yourself– do you even care anymore?
You will be doing your children a huge favor if you care, and then actually do something about it. Love your husband or wife for the person they are, not who you are determined to force them to be. Finding things in common, reasons to laugh, and joy in the daily drudgery will be something your children will take with them into their own marriages.
And do not underestimate the importance of time away together. Your kids will survive with Grandma or a friend while you go out to dinner or away for the weekend–lo, even a whole week. Do it, please. Your kid may scream a little while you leave them at the door, but a crying fit never killed a kid. But many a marriage has died because the kids became the priority.
Relentlessly prune selfishness.
I am a firm believer that all pain we cause others begins in one place: “Me first.” It’s the relentless kudzu of our souls, causing us to idolize ourselves, our comfort, and our personal happiness.
And listen, I’m the last mom on earth to advocate becoming your kid’s slave. We’re the parents; they’re the kids. We’re not here to meet their every whim until they become self-centered monsters who demand the world to fall at their feet.
Everyone needs time to themselves, a moment to drink a cup of coffee in peace, and time alone in the restroom. I’m not denying my love of tinkling in private.
But selfishness is a greedy, destructive beast. It’s really the reason marriages fail, parents speak words they never should have uttered, and Child Protective Services will never run out of clients.
- speak– consider the effect it will have. Are the words kind, gentle, and true?
- react– consider the experience of the person in front of you. What could they be facing right now that needs grace, not fury?
- choose– consider the consequences. Is the decision wise, mature, and the best for all members of your home?
- buy– consider the family finances. Will this be a blessing to everyone now and in the future?
You get the idea. Every choice has a consequence, and we get to choose our family’s experience at our hands. We have the ability to bring blessing or curses, joy or pain.
Your kids are watching you closely, and they’re directly feeling the fruit of your choices. You can do better for them. Your good decisions can rewrite their future, giving them the tools they need to be happy, successful adults.
Step by step, day by day, your family can have a wonderful, grace-filled life. I have all faith that you can give your kids the life they deserve.
(And I’ll be praying for you.)