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The Four Seasons of Parenting

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by Jamie Roach

It was a cool fall morning in Northern Missouri and we were visiting my oldest daughter who was away for her freshman year of college.  (It seems like just yesterday I had her nestled in my arms feeling the warmth of her breath on my face.) My wife and our four kids all sat huddled together around an oak table sipping coffee and hot chocolate while the warmth of the nearby fire seeped into our cold bodies. 

My wife and I sat listening to our kids as they were telling stories and laughing together.  The love flowing between them was infectious. Genuine acceptance and irrevocable belonging hung in the air.  I slowly became aware that this beautiful and sacred moment was a gift. My wife and I sat there cherishing it together. There were no other people we’d rather be with.  Somewhere along the arduous road of parenting, our children had grown up to become our best friends. The phrase “a community of love” came to mind.

It hasn’t always been this way.  I have discovered that as parents we journey through at least four different seasons with our children.  Each season is crucial to the development of our children and asks something different from us. Those four seasons are:  Parent as Servant, Parent as Tour Guide, Parent as Coach and Parent as Friend.

servant

In the first season, the primary role of the parent is as Servant.  During the first years of your babies’ lives life, they can do nothing to help themselves.  You must serve them, literally dying to your own wants and desires. You feed them, bathe them, change them, clothe them, hold them, and carry them.  You do everything for them. Your only respite is locking yourself in the bathroom! However, do not underestimate the shaping influence this servant love will have on the formation of your children.  In this first season of parenting, we model the type of love we hope to see emanating from our children some day.  

tour guide

In the second season of parenting, the primary role of the parent is Tour Guide.  During this season, parents are doing a lot of hand-holding and finger pointing. Together we explore the world and the way it works. It is critical to remember that our actions speak louder than our words.  As parents, we lead by example. You literally take your child by the hand and say, stay close. You show them how to read and write.  You teach them how to share and play well with others. You teach them who they are, to whom they belong and what life is really all about.

coach

Somewhere around 6th or 7th grade, your child begins to pull away.  This is normal and a clear indication you are passing into the third season of parenting, that of Coach. During this season, children are learning all about the autonomous self.  They need and want space to explore and discover. They test what they have learned up to this point in order to keep that which is credible.  As a parent you listen, counsel, support and guide them. It is perhaps the most confusing, complex and frustrating season. If you listen carefully, you will hear your child say, “get away from me” and “don’t let go of me” at the same time. Like birds about to test their wings for the first time, they are both scared and excited.  Everything is changing as they begin the transition into adulthood. The way they look, feel, think, act, and relate to others must all be renegotiated.  They need you to mentor and coach them through this difficult process. Your answers will not mean as much as your presence. They need space, but not too much.

friend

The final season of parenting typically occurs sometime after your child has turned 16.  Your child is no longer just a child but has become a close Friend.  They can think for themselves and act on their own. (Moving to this season without walking through the others is tempting but is a huge and costly mistake).  You cannot be your child’s true friend until you have first been their servant, tour guide and coach.  During this final stage, a parent does well to trust the work they have done up to this point. You know you have reached this stage when it makes sense to say, “I’m not going to tell you what you should do. What do you think would be best?”

If these seasons don’t line up with your experience right now, don’t worry. Every child and every family is unique, and parenting isn’t about being perfect but about being present. There is not a harder or more rewarding job than raising children.  Realize there are seasons you will go through, but there is joy to be discovered in each one. And remember when you feel like you are entrenched in the harsh cold winter months, spring is around the corner and the warmth of the sun will be on your face before you know it.

NOTE: Feeling stuck in your parenting? In a difficult time? Youthfront staff is happy to talk or meet with parents anytime to provide coaching or just a listening ear. Feel free to contact us anytime at jroach@youthfront.com.

ABOUT JAMIE ROACH: Jamie has served on the staff of Youthfront for 33 years, working with students, parents and youth workers. His passion is seeing people formed into the image of Jesus Christ. Jamie is an author, communicator and spiritual director. He received his Master of Divinity degree from Nazarene Theological Seminary and is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Counseling. Jamie loves Nebraska football, reading and hanging out with his family. Jamie and Lea Ann have four children, Megan (28), Haley (26), Logan (23) and Sophie (20).  

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