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I’ve been intently watching people parent their children for twenty years now. There seems to be a significant lack of parenting wisdom today, so here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

Children can’t give you anything, so don’t expect it. Children are incapable of meeting the needs of adults, so it is a mistake for an adult to expect a child to meet their needs. Even teenagers (especially teenagers?) are still maturing and remain incapable of meeting the emotional needs of their parents. Parents who need their children to meet their emotional needs create unhealthy relationships which cause many problems for both the child and the parent. If your child periodically meets an emotional need, rejoice, but it is a mistake to expect our children to meet our needs while they are still children.

Give your children your whole heart. Since the seventies selfish parenting has been in vogue. That’s not to say that people don’t love their children, they just love themselves more. It seems to me that the definition of love is doing what is the other’s best interest. Loving our children means doing what is in our child’s best interest. When we withhold even a small part of ourselves and do what is in our own best interest, our children know. They feel it. They know when we’re are completely theirs or not. That’s not to say that we give our children whatever they want—that’s hardly in their best interest! The most effective parents withhold none of themselves from their children, giving every bit of themselves. This is how to create a safe and loving environment.

Don’t fake your faith. Children are nothing if not genuine, and they know when we’re faking it. They haven’t yet discovered that faking it is the way of the world. Every child compares what their parents say to what their parents do and they learn at a very young age that it isn’t what we say that matters, but what we do. Talk is cheap, even for a two-year-old. What they want to know is whether or not we really believe this Jesus stuff. They want to see how it works. They want to know that it makes a difference. If Jesus makes a difference then live like he does so they know where to find truth. If Jesus doesn’t make a difference then just say so and stop wasting their time. Too many are disillusioned with the Christian faith because they were raised by parents who didn’t take their faith seriously enough.

Ask for forgiveness. Guy Doud said that every parent must teach their child to forgive so that one day their child can forgive them. I used to think I could live with without regrets, until I had children. When you make a mistake look your child in the eye and say, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” There are few things more powerful than the humility of a parent.