GNITNERAP - Parenting Backwards!
I am guilty. Guilty as charged. How many times as a parent have I allowed current stressful circumstances to lure me into thinking my present harried situation is more important than my child's future? Countless times! In how many instances have I been annoyed by the sounds or actions of my children and reacted out of frustration rather than realizing that my choices as a parent can affect the adult lives of my children?
I don’t have that many fingers or toes to count on. And lastly, I am guilty of occasionally being too lazy or self-absorbed to discipline for offenses in which I know I should discipline. There you have it. I have confessed.
How often we forget our focus. We tend to focus on the "now" rather than the "what will become." It's easy to get wrapped up in the overwhelming tasks of life and to convince ourselves that keeping caught up on the laundry or making it to soccer on time is somehow more important than training our children for their lives as adults. Although supplying the physical needs of our children is part of our job description, providing character training is far more important.
As mothers, we have two different task categories--the "unimportant importants" and the "important importants." Have you ever found yourself snapping at your children because they are in the way as you wash your dishes? This shows us how easily we can slip into the "unimportant importants." The "important important" in this situation is showing our children in our words, attitudes and actions that they are loved and valued. Although clean dishes are important, it should not be held in higher regard than love and respect for our children.
How do we keep ourselves from over-focusing on the "unimportant importants"? By practicing "GNITNERAP" (pronounced "gun-i- ten-er-ap"). Parenting backwards.
"GN-I-WHAT?!" GNITNERAP is like reading a really good biography. The biography is written about your child. The only distinction is, you read this book a little differently than most parents. You start from the last page of the book and work your way back to the front. The front of the book is where you come in. The front of the book is NOW. Your job is to help the book have a happy ending.
How do we ensure our children's biography ends happily? We begin by deciding what kind of future we would like for our children. Would you prefer your children's stories to read that they were habitually late for work, physically unhealthy, rude to others, egotistical, prone to road rage, over-spenders and with no regard for the law? Or would you like the stories to say your children were lovers of God, moral law-abiders, prompt, humble, healthy eaters, respectful of others, self-controlled and financially sound? How the story ends is largely based on how we train them today. We are the beginning of the tale.
Shouldn't it be our goal to send children into the world with less personal struggle than we have ourselves? If we stop to think about it, aren't many of the complaints and woes we face in life mainly due to our lack of self-control or discipline in some area?
Although our parents did their best, there were likely neglected areas of training in character and/or self-discipline or self-control. We can never be perfect parents, but we can aim to make our children's lives a little less consequence-based by equipping them with applicable life-tools. We can begin by facing the truth of the examples we are actively setting for them:
Our Emotional Example
Isn't it ironic that we find ourselves reminding our children to speak respectfully to their siblings, and, in turn, speak disrespectfully to them or to our spouse. We see them throw a tantrum while with a contorted Scrooge-face we angrily exclaim, "YOU NEED TO GET CONTROL OVER YOUR ANGER! ARRRRGH!"
We tell our children that it is not God's way to hold unforgiveness in our hearts as we give our husband the "silent treatment" for telling us the truth when we asked if he thought we should lose some weight. When we look at our daily behavior from the perspective of our children's future, are we setting the right examples for them? Are we rearing emotionally sound human-beings, or creating little emotional train-wrecks?
Annoying childhood behaviors can become detrimental adult behaviors if we don't nip them in the bud. If our children find whining to be a valuable tool in getting their way, they will continue to whine into their adulthood. An adult whiner is not pretty!
If our children are chronic complainers, you can bet their future spouses will spend a lifetime of listening to constant negative words. These are some of the behaviors that we as parents are responsible for curbing in order to eliminate adult grief for our children.
Our Spiritual Example
Teaching our children about the Lord is a priority for many parents. We tell them how important it is to learn more about God, pray, go to church, serve others and to give freely of our finances. Children know the simple truth, "Actions speak louder than words."
If they hear us speaking the importance of these things, but we don’t implement them into our lives--it will not be long before they realize we don't value what we teach them to value.
Paying verbal homage to spiritual discipline does not equal possessing our own spiritual discipline. If we believe in serving others, then we had better reflect that in our lives. If we believe that giving of our finances is important, it will be apparent by our yearly giving statements. If we are committed to learning more about the Lord, we will be on a quest for Biblical knowledge through prayer and Bible reading and with that new knowledge, teach our children. If church attendance is truly a priority, we will not instead choose sleep, ball games or shopping.
What words would your children use to describe your relationship with God? How important would they say God is to you? Their answers are evidence of your living spiritual example.
Our Financial Example
Financial chaos can bring turmoil. Divorce, high blood-pressure and even suicide have been side-effects of poorly handled finances. If we do not train our children in the financial realm, we will inevitably send into the world ill-equipped stewards who will bring only ruin and havoc into their lives.
Choosing to live within our means, setting an example of debt-free living, saving for the future and tithing can be a good start in instructing our children financially. But, simply being a good example is not enough. Children need more than a good example to learn how to handle their financial lives. They require the opportunity to earn, spend, and give and even to fail.
A good idea is to sit down with your children to discuss your bills and giving. Do not unnecessarily burden them with any information that will cause them to worry about your financial life. Explain to them the cost of living, the traps of interest and God's spiritual laws of giving. Admit your past failures and pass along your strengths.
Allow them the opportunity to earn an income; whether this money comes from allowance for chores or a lemonade stand. Instruct them in the proper ways of handling finances, then stand back and watch them either sink or float. Simply running out of cash flow is enough to get them into a saving mindset. They will want to be prepared for the next rainy day that comes along.
Our Character Example
Have we recently spoken behind someone's back? Be careful. Our children are listening. Failed to mention that the cashier has given us too much change? Those little eyes are very observant. Promised the children we would read a story to them tonight, and then failed to deliver? Caution! Our reputation of integrity is at stake. What God expects of us should first be standards for ourselves, and then for our children.
If we tell our children that honesty is the best policy, then it had better be the best policy for us as well. Do what you say, say what you mean. Parent with integrity and impeccable character. Don't make promises you cannot keep.
As the Bible says, "Let your yes's be yes, and your no's be no." If you cannot keep a secret, be certain to inform those who tell you things "in confidence." Let your word be as gold and your children will value it as such.
Our Health Example
You've certainly heard the old adage, "You are what you eat." Let's modify that a bit to read, "Your children see what you eat." And they will follow suit.
Our unhealthy eating habits will be a legacy passed on if not placed under control. Do we want our children to suffer from negative effects of obesity such as diabetes, high blood-pressure, heart failure, fatigue and low-self-esteem? You may have failed until now, but it is never too late to begin making changes in your diet for your children's sake.
Do we encourage our children to go outside to exercise while we lounge on the sofa? An active lifestyle is one that is created by example. Bike-riding, walks in the park and kite-flying are activities which involve physical activity--with one added benefit, conversation opportunity. There is no better way to connect with your child.
Now, flip the coin. What about we who tend to overdo everything? Extracurricular activities, the weekend schedule, the exercise, the work-schedule. Running on adrenaline at all times can eventually lead to adrenal burnout. Decide which things in life you "must have" and those you can do without.
Our Priority Example
We all exclaim how important our families are to us. We love our families. There is no doubt about that. But while many of us pay lip-service to the importance of our clan, some of us debunk that statement in our daily actions. How easily we can allow the love of self, money, selfish ambition and pleasure to get in the way of healthy priorities.
In order to properly prioritize our lives, we must make minute-by-minute sacrifices. Most days, it is a constant struggle for me to choose what is in the best interest of my children over what is in my best interest. I pray daily that God would allow me to make choices that reflect servanthood and not self-servanthood.
Many days I fail. It is much easier to be engrossed in cleaning the toilet than to play a game with my children. It is much less stressful to tell my children to keep themselves busy while I cook than to allow them to help.
A Biblical list of life-priorities would read something like this: God first, family second, work third. Our tainted human nature tends to lean towards what makes us feel best. Putting God and others first never feels comfortable at the time, but it is the only way of life without regret.
Why not begin practicing GNITNERAP today by deciding to hold the future of your children in higher regard than the "annoyances of the now." Allow God to show you His will for each of your children and map their biographies according to His plan.
Plan for their caliber of character. Ask the Lord for His blessing in your efforts and to keep your paths straight as you journey in your devotion to the "important importants."
Happy backwards parenting to you.
Watertown, Minnesota, USA
Carey is the author of
Raising Your Own Children, A Guide For Stay-at-Home Mom Wanna-Be's.
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