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Understand the four seasons of parenting….and enjoy the journey.

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 back into our cold bodies. Family  April 2013

My wife and I sat together 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: Serving, Leading, Mentoring and Befriending.

In the first season the primary role of the parent is servant.  During the first 4-5 years of your baby’s 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!

In the second season of parenting the primary role of the parent is leader.  During this season parents are doing a lot of teaching and instructing.  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.

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 mentor. During this season the child is 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, council, 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.

The final season of parenting typically occurs sometime after your child has turned 16.  This is the season of befriending.  Your child is no longer a child.  They can think for themselves and act on their own.  They are now ready to know you and relate to you as a friend.  (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, teacher and mentor.  Once your child has reached this stage, your ability to shape and mold has greatly diminished.  The concrete has set and to reshape it is going take a jackhammer.   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?”

There is not a harder or more rewarding job than raising children.  Realize there are seasons you will go through and 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.

Next: Shaping our children into greater Christlikeness in each and every season.

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