Parenting While Thinking Ahead

One of the major struggles I've seen in women who have a hard time transitioning to the "empty nest" time is the fact that they never really thought their kids would be gone. They didn't think of their kids as future adults. They didn't put parenting in terms of raising MEN and WOMEN. It was just "my baby", "my little girl", "the kids", etc.

Now, I know-- it's easy to do, to just think of them as they are... and when they are little, those times of having adult children seem SO far away. But we, as Christian parents, must be more visionary than that.

We try to be very intentional about assessing where we are in parenting. By that I mean, every so often (at least once a year), we'll evaluate... "OK, he's almost 6... so we're about 1/3rd of the way through parenting Ethan... is he on track for that? His behavior? His integrity? His heart? Are we getting through to him in the best way for his personality? Are we building resentment or bitterness in his heart in any way? How does he deal with anger? Emotions? How does he view God? How does he view marriage and children? Does he have an innate respect and love for the Word of God? Are we raising him up to be a responsible, godly man? Does HE know that that is his purpose in life?" The answers to these questions give us direction for what might need to shift or change in our parenting and training of him.

The other thing we do is this: we put our time with him in perspective.

We've been through almost 6 years with him... in six MORE years, we'll be 2/3rds through- and then we only get 6 more beyond that. That may sound like a lot. But think of trimesters in pregnancy-- at first, it all seems to go so slowly, but then suddenly, you're in the middle of the 2nd trimester, and then one day, you realize, "oh goodness-- we're at 36 weeks! We've got to set up the crib, pull down the burp cloths, get all the clothes washed and ready... we're almost out of time!" I don't want to treat parenting that way... trying to squeeze it all in to the last year or two, realizing that my time with each child is almost up.

We think futuristically, in a sense. What I mean by that is this: we project current behaviors and attitudes into the future. A lack of respect for mom now will likely translate to a lack of respect for a wife later. A haughty attitude now will often mean job loss and disappointment later in life. A sullen, disinterested countenance now may translate into depression and dissatisfaction with adult life.

We try to think of our sons as future husbands and leaders of their homes (though they are now only 5 & 3)... and we try to encourage our daughter to nourish her feminine and mothering characteristics. With each child, we have to look at what are HIS strengths and HIS weaknesses, and help him deal with those. We look at what are HER strengths and HER weaknesses, and help her grow and shape her character to deal with those things. We will be harming them if we are so short-sighted as to just think that "if I just hang on, that whining will stop in a year or two"... or "she'll be more helpful once she's a little older and out of this 'difficult phase' ". We must look BEYOND now, to see what our action or inaction will produce in them for years to come.

Here are some specific questions that help me to think about my children like this:
  • What end result are you shooting for, and is that end result biblical? (It helps to write down what you want your son or daughter to look like when they are an adult.)
  • What qualities do you need to be working on NOW in order to get to THAT goal? (We have to be intentional about encouraging worthwhile things and discouraging undesirable things.)
  • Are there things that you're doing now that will hurt his/her future? (i.e., Are you so conflict-avoidant that you don't make her take responsibility for her failures or disobedience?, Do you do all of the chores and are thus teaching your children that homelife is a free ride for them, and setting them up for marital arguments?, Do you speak against your spouse or deride marriage?) We must be careful to not set our children up for future failure as an adult. (A great book that talks about this is "Boundaries with Kids" by Cloud & Townsend.)
So, these are some ways that we try to train up our kids, remembering that one day they will in fact "go".

What do YOU do to prepare your kids for their future, and to prepare yourself for your kids' growth into adulthood? How do you keep yourself from thinking of them merely as your kids or babies, but as separate people who will one day leave their father and mother (you) and cleave to a husband or wife?


Terry said...

I read "Boundaries With Kids" a few years ago and you've inspired me to pull it back out again. This is a great post, Jess. And you're right. Now that my kids are entering the "third trimester" (ages 12 and up, great analogy, by the way), I see that there are things we could have done better or should have done sooner. I can also begin to see the fruit of the things we've done well. We're trusting God for the rest. Thanks for sharing this. I can attest to the truth of what you've said here.

Jeannie said...

awesome topic and well said! I wish my parents and my in-laws had raised my husband with this train of thought. It would have certainly made the transition a little better for everyone involved.

JB @ Titus 2 Journey

Melissa said...

Hi Jess,

I really appreciated this post. I have a 15-month-old and am pregnant with our second (due in April). You mentioned the importance of avoiding short-sighted thinking such as, “If I just hang on, that whining will stop in a year or two." The whining issue, specifically, is one that is a big struggle for me right now. Is it reasonable to expect a 15-month-old, when told he can’t have or do something, to accept it cheerfully? How do you go about training a toddler not to throw a fit every time he is told no?

Jess said...

Hi Melissa,
Thanks for your question. Here's how we deal with tantrums:

CHILD: fuss, fuss, whine, whine, arch their backs, throw themselves onto the ground, scream, whatever.

MOM/DAD: No, no, Jimmy. No fussing. (Pick child up, stand them up on their feet.)

At this point, child either:
(a) stops fussing/whining/arching back (at which point we say, "good, Jimmy, I'm so glad you decided to change your attitude.")
(b) continues fussing/whining/arching back, etc. (at which point we pick up little Jimmy and quickly take him to his crib, removing any toys/water/blankets/etc, and saying, "no, no, you get five minutes. We don't have ugly attitudes.")

Others deal with these things in different ways, but we've found this to be a fair and effective way to deal with tantrums. It gives the child an opportunity to change their attitude (increasingly effective as they "get" the process... that each time they fuss, they get taken to their crib for "five minutes"-- which, by the way, is just a euphemism for "a couple minutes, while you change your attitude"). It also gives the child no "reward" for the tantrum/fussing. They don't get more of mommy's attention, they don't get a snuggle, they don't get rewarded with a toy, etc. And once we do it consistently, they begin to "get" that A gets B (whining/fussing gets removal from social interaction).

Once this happens consistently, fussing and tantrums virtually become non-existent, only rearing their ugly heads very occasionally. (Which will, of course, be met with a quick removal from the situation.)

By the way, when this happens in public, we used the car seat for five minutes. I would take the child, lock him into his car seat, and then sit up in the front seat and go about my business (happily reading a book or balancing the checkbook or whatever).

After a time of consistent discipline, though, tantrums become a non-issue, in public and in private. Hope this helps!

Melissa said...

Thanks for the quick reply, Jess. What you do seems like a really wise and balanced approach. I will talk it over with my husband.

CB said...

You are so purposeful! I admit to being too tired sometimes to think this carefully about such important issues. Thanks for the good reminder.

Christie said...

I haven't any children yet, but I like this line of thought for sure. I will have to remember that when the time comes for my husband and I to raise up little warriors.

Also, because I don't have my own kids yet, I have the freedom to say that you, Jess, have the cutest kiddos ever! Such little personalities!

Kim said...

Um, so first of all, our "babies" are not quite 5 1/2, so stop referring to them as almost 6! :) (And seriously - can you believe they're this old already? Jenna is still such a little girl - and I am so thankful for that - but it won't last forever!)

I am honestly trying to relish the last moments of Jenna's (my niece) little girlhood and also trying to encourage her and let her know that it is okay to grow up, and that it is what we want for her! We want her to be a God-loving, happy, well-adjusted adult. So I try to be sure to encourage her of that. I asked her today when she grew up so much. Her answer? "Last night." :)

Second - I know you are not, and I know you are going by general ages for adults/kids, but don't underestimate the effect that you as parents will have on your adult children. Perhaps it is different when you are married and versus not being married as an adult, but so much input comes from my parents. Just remember that you really never stop parenting. :)

Anonymous said...

I was just thinking about this the other night! My 4 1/2 year old (Lilli) and I were watching a movie and snuggling on the couch together. I realized this wasn't going to last day she will be out of our home, married, with children of her own (sigh....).

When Lilli was about 3 1/2 we started a "Chore Chart" for her. She is in charge of making her bed, brushing her teeth (of course with my guidance), clearing the dinner dishes from the table, and making sure her toys were put away at the end of the day. Every time she finished a chore, she gets to put a sticker next to the chore listed. For her behavior, we have a "Mood Meter" where if she is obeying, her picture is in a green section, when she starts to disobey, she has to move her picture to the yellow section, and if she continues to disobey, she has to move her picture in the red section and then sit in a time out. I was tired of yelling at her when she didn't listen...and it wasn't good for her...and she really just ignored Now, I calmly say, "Please put your picture in the ____ color." She immediately knows why and also feels the responsibility to make her behavior better. (you can see a picture of both here: )We also explain to her why we do or do not want her do an action: ie running in the house. Rather than just telling her to stop, I tell her that I want her to stop running in the house because the wood floors are slippery and I don't want her to fall and get hurt. Then she is able to understand why rather than just having a mom constantly after her for some unknown reason. I think this is a good way for her to learn why to make certain decisions when she is not with me...rather than just being on her good behavior when I am watching.

As far as our 16 month old, Melissa I feel your pain!!!! Corinne does the same thing...tantrums, even stomping her feet! I calmly tell her no and if she doesn't stop, then we also do what Jess mentioned (B): put her in a break in her crib. She calms down pretty quickly now because she knows that that's the only way she's going to get This at first was a little hard because she would just continue to cry. But after about 5 mins I would go in and pat her on the back and tell her I love her but that she needs to be a good girl. Then she would calm down and I would pick her up. I hope this helps!

Great post Jess!

NCLighthousekeeper said...

Great post and wise advice. Just a "heads up" though - purposeful parenting doesn't necessarily make the "empty nest" easier! My oldest graduates from college next week and leaves for the Army in 6 weeks. My mama's heart is happy and grateful, yet sad at the same time.

thecurryseven said...

I so agree with this, Jess. But I have to warn you...even if you have been raising your young children with an eye to them being adults, it will come as a huge shock and surprise when your oldest turns 14 and you realize how little time you have left with her. (At least it was to me!) I definitely have the "running-out-of-time" feeling even though I thought I had been looking to the future. It makes the time with my youngest seem evev more precious.

Rebecca said...

Great post and great analogy to pregnancy.

It's so true and I would only add, from my point of view of having an 18 year old and a 16 year old college student being the only kids left at home, that it would be wise to consider the final 2 or 3 years, say from 16 up, as adults still at home, rather than as children. Too many of my friends act as if their kids in this age group are still children who need to have their every move directed by mom and dad.

Jess said...

Okay, Christie, I think you are seriously in the running for the "favorite reader award" after a comment like that! :) I think they're the cutest kids ever too!

And thanks, others, who reminded us that there still will be inevitable pain and sadness when our "kids" grow up and leave home... even if mixed with great joy and pride.

That's a great word, and something we all definitely need to remember to do! Actually, a friend and I were just e-mailing yesterday about how, biblically speaking, girls and boys arrive at "adulthood" at age 12/13... and so that last "trimester" of parenting-- the last 5 or 6 years or so-- gives us a perfect opportunity to let them "practice" being adults while still having our protection and guidance to a greater degree. It's something to definitely keep in mind as we move towards those later years in parenting!

Thanks for adding your thoughts to the discussion!


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LisaM said...

I've heard it said that parenthood is a job where your goal is to put yourself out of a job. My mother always believed that you shouldn't "wish away time with baby", and enjoy every moment you have. But as you say, you are also working with an eye and mind open toward the day when you can be merely an assistant and coach to an adult in training, and finally, a Titus 2 woman for the younger women in your life, and especially those of your own household if you get the chance. I know some wonderful Titus 2 women who are still Moms, who have added to their duties, and will not have nearly the "hole" in their lives when their children move out.

Too many Mothers, though, as you mention here, really do get to the empty nest time and think they have nothing better to do - especially if their children move away - than travel, eat out every night, and "spend their children's inheritance", as if they have "retired" from the being a Godly example and teacher because their children have moved out of the house. They want to be "the fun grandparents" and lavish gifts and fun on the grandkids without offering any spiritual guidance or stability. They don't help any other families or young people in their area because it's "not their kids". And that is so sad to me.

Joy said...

Thanks for posting's definitely been on my mind lately. I have four kiddos (5,4,1.5, and 1 month). I have been struggling with a counterpoint to this, to be honest, and I'd love to hear what you have to say. My brother is bipolar, and really messed up, and honestly, it has to do with a lot of the choices my parents made in his younger years. So many times in dealing with my children, I almost "see" the specter of my brother, saying 'if you screw up, they'll be just like me'. I know this isn't true, and God has really been speaking to me about my fears...but I wonder, how do you handle that fear of failure when it raises its ugly head in regards to parenting?

janice said...

I just read this quote on Motherhood yesterday! (I love how God puts coordinating thoughts in my life. :))

"The days are long, but the years are short."

Great post.

Nancy said...

Cute picture!!! This is a great post, something I haven't really consciously thought about before. My kids are 5 and 2, and I always want to think of them as babies! You are quite right that we have to raise them with the end in mind, or it's harder for them and everyone when they have to function as adults.

Sheri said...

What a great topic. I too have been praying about "the end results" in parenting our two little girls. My husband and I pray diligently that we will train them up to know, serve, and love Jesus with all their hearts. Honestly, not much else matters to us. Sure, we want them to be healthy, marry God's best for them, and achieve the goals God has placed within them, but mostly, we pray our children will have a heart for Him; serving Him all the days of their lives.

Blessings to you and your beautiful family this Christmas season!

Brindusa said...

Dear all,

I just want to share some mp3 messages that are related to this subject - one in particular, that I listened to this very day, is really great. It's about leaving a legacy - on the page
on the right side of it, in the Voddie Baucham video bar, it's the second one from the top. It's worth listening to it/ watching it. It sure blessed me.


freshfloralart said...

Thanks for this great post! I absolutely love your blog and can't wait to visit every inch of it as I have time. I found you through Abortion Clinc Days and Life is very near and dear to my heart!
Your post is something that I have thought about in the past-although not as well as you have written it here. I have made a committment to be confident, secure, happy, et cetera the day my kids move out of my home and into their own. I am determined to raise my children now while they are children. I want them to be able to do anything they want after high school without thinking they need to "please" me or stay close to home for my own happiness. Thanks again!

Brandy said...

Excellent post and a great challenge! Thanks for posting!