My boys rock. I have five. As I write this, they’re between the ages of 16 and 21. I’m thinking a lot about one of my boys in particular right now. #4 is on his senior trip with three of his buddies at the beach. He just turned 18. Just graduated high school. Am I nervous? A little. Am I worried? Not really.
So far none of my kids are brain surgeons or rocket scientists. But from what I can tell, they’re men of solid character. Don’t get me wrong; nobody’s kids are perfect, and I know there’s plenty that goes on that I don’t know about. But in times when they had the opportunity to let me down, they didn’t.
The Best Parenting Advice Ever
When my kids were young, someone gave me some great advice. It was at church, and several of our peers heard it at the same time. We grabbed hold of the concept and have held fast to it, even to this day.
“We” is important. Don’t kid yourself, this isn’t something you can do on your own. Heck, parenting is always a group effort. Mom + Dad = a group. (Before you send me hate mail, I know all about single parenting, but that’s never the best method of raising kids.) The larger the group of adults supporting your kid, the better.
Here’s the advice in a single statement:
Surround your kids with other adults who hold the same values that you do.
It’s Not As Simple As It Sounds
This sounds reasonable, but it’s not as easy you might think.
First of all, you have to find committed adults. Committed means in it for the long haul. These can’t be your average highly-mobile, suburban parents. These need to be people with deep roots who will be around to watch your kids grow up. This could be a grandparent or an uncle, but it should also be someone outside your family. These people have to actively pursue a relationship with your kids. This is only effective if kids and adults have a genuine relationship with each other.
Second, they have to share your values. You’re committed to your world view. Right or wrong, you see the world a certain way, and if you’re committed to that world view, then you’re going to want to pass that on to your kids. When your kids hear multiple voices say the same thing that you do at home, it’s more likely to stick. Hearing messages about character and values not just from parents, but from other trusted adults gives the message legs it wouldn’t have if mom or dad preached it at home, by themselves. But it’s not always easy to find adults who share your values. There are a lot of men in my life: guys I work with, guys I play rugby with, guys who live in the neighborhood. I wouldn’t want most of these guys giving advice to my boys.
When It Really Counts
The younger you start this, the better. If a child grows up with adults he knows he can trust, then when it really counts, it will.
When does it count? Adolescence.
Think about it; when a kid becomes a teenager, nothing – nothing – his parents say has any value. Overnight they become idiots. He tunes them out and begins navigating the world on his own. But if there are other adults out there who he trusts, they will still be able to speak into his life. This is when the investment pays off.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called the men who have invested themselves in my kids’ lives to let them know of a big decision or crisis one of my kids is facing. “I’ll talk to him”, they say, and they do. It’s frustrating when your kid thinks his mentor is a genius for saying the exact, same, thing you’ve been telling him. But you move on, because it’s more important for your kid to hear the message, than for you to be right.
Where Do You Find These People?
You have to start with defining your values and what you want to pass on to your kids. The most important thing, for us, was for our kids to have good character and values that aligned with our religion, Christianity. Before you spit out your coffee, think about these core values of Christianity: peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control, honesty, love. If more families practiced these virtues, whether they were “Christians” or not, we’d live in a much better world. Naturally, we wanted to pass on these values to our children. So our faith community was the first place to start.
Second, it helps to find guys who are in the same place as you. We were fortunate enough to have several families with boys the same age as ours in our church. As I said earlier, we all heard the same advice at the same time and committed, verbally, to be that outside voice for each other. As our families naturally mixed together, there were more opportunities to connect. For us that meant lots of slumber parties, paintball fights, camping trips, work days, Sunday school classes, and one-on-one conversations. And when you’re all sharing life together, you provide your kid with peers who share the same values as you. In fact, several of the kids from that group are on my son’s senior trip. I trust them completely, because I have a close relationship with all of them.
Third, it helps to have some older folks as your kids’ mentors. Let’s face it; you should almost never trust parenting advice from your peers. It’s the blind leading the blind. When you call an older guy about a problem you’re having with your kid, often you’ll find that the problem isn’t near as big as you think it is. When prompting a mentor to give my kid advice, often it’s me that’s gotten what I needed. And there’s something about a loving grandfatherly figure that gives him authority with your kid. Instant street cred.
I see too many young families trying to parent on their own. Parenting is hard. I have the scars to prove it (literally). There’s no reason to do it by yourself. And besides, you have no idea what you’re doing. Put down roots. Join a community that shares your values. Find trusted, like-minded adults. Make a commitment. This is the long game. I promise it will pay off for you, and more importantly, your kids.