When I brought my brand new daughter Candice home from the hospital (after the nurse slammed the door and we drove off), I was completely overwrought with my lack of parenting skills. Even the thought of spending the first afternoon alone with her while my husband went to get the pictures developed was terrifying.
Fast forward 26 years. Candice is an accomplished Stylist married to a US Air Force Soldier named Quintin. She’s a Mother to my grandson Max, has 2 dogs and 2 cats and real responsibilities. She’s making her own way in this world.
In thinking back on my parentings skills (or lack of), I was amazed that it wasn’t what to do about a fever or how to do the laundry that are the most valuable gifts we give our children. The gifts that really matter the most are intangible…faith, love, hard work, fun.
Gift #1: The Gift of Dreams
Even human being is born with a dream. Not just small dreams. big ones. Ask any child what their dream is and they’re tell you. They don’t hesitate. As we grow, people deflate our dreams and tell us to “get realistic”. That’s perhaps the most debilitating things we do to humans. Steal and kill their draems. I met a cashier at a clothing store who was majoring in political science. I asked her what she was going to do with that and she said “I don’t know.” Her minor is theatre. When she talked about theatre, she lit up. When I asked why she was majoring in political science when she really loved the theatre, she said it was because her parents’ thought she needed something secure, and theatre wasn’t.
Gift #2: The Gift of Work
Work is therapeutic. Doing work you love is joyful. My generation of parents spends an inordinate amount of time “making it easy” on our children. Simple things like chores and family responsibilities are sometimes non-existent. Children learn through work. Mowing the law. Scooping the cat poop. Helping with dinner. We spend too much time running our children to events and too little time teaching them how to work.
Gift #3: The Gift of Enthusiasm
Charles Kingsley said “we act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all we need to make us yhappy is something to be enthusiastic about.” Toast with orange juice glasses on the first day of school, a theme for the family vacation (ours was “No Worries”), being each other’s cheerleaders. Children pick up on our zest for life…they know whether we’re really living or just existing.
Gift #4: The Gift of Faith
Building life on a strong spiritual foundation is the greatest gift you can give your child. It’s more than singing “Jesus Loves Me” and going to church on Sunday morning. It’s a total trust and reliance on someone we can’t see or touch. Turning the details over to God and letting him lead the way.
Gift #5: The Gift of Fun
Fun is a gift that cildren are naturally born with. As adults, we minimize the need for fun or we settle for passive fun like watching videos or surfing the internet. We compartmentalize our fun into Friday and Saturday nights. What happened to building a sand castle or making a race car out of a box, or playing football with the neighborhood kids? Fun in the first person (doing it!) is always better than watching someone else’s fun.
Gift #6: The Gift of Discipline
Last Friday I spent the evening with a family who I believe is parenting with great insight and grace. My friend asked her 8 year old son to leave us alone so we could work on a project–after the 2nd request she looked him square in the eye and said “I’m not asking you, I’m telling you.” He promptly wheeled around and left the room. She never raised her voice or even looked mad. She simply looked determined. Had he not left, she was prepared to follow through. She has 3 kids are are delightful, well-mannered and loving. Consistent disciple is one of the keys.
Gift #7: The Gift of Love
Total unconditional love. Love and acceptance even when we don’t like their behavior or their decisions. Hugs and kisses. Saying “I love you” and meaning it. Letting them know they can always trust us. Bedtime prayers. Showing up when we say we will. Taking care of their needs and teaching them through our own actions how to become independent, happy adults.
Gift #8: The Gift of Marriage
Children need two parents. You can’t minimize the need for two, even in an era of single parenting and divorced families. Parenting is a tag team event, when one of you is worn out and fed up…the other parent can step in. One of you can be the marshmallow while the other one of you can be the disciplinarian. At a wedding reception I attended, the father of the groom challentged the bride and groom to never make a decision without asking themselves how it impacts the other. Good advice for anyone, whether you’ve been married 24 years or 2 years. Children need unity and their parents are who they need it from the most.
Every child desperately needs the 8 gifts of successful parenting. When they receive these priceless gifts, they can build their life on a solid foundation and aspire to happy, successful living. Which of these 8 priceless gifts have you given your children?