Parenting is hard work. Even when we intend to do best, it is easy to slip into patterns that are less than productive and even unhealthy. Someone referenced the above diagram online, attributed to Dr. Meg Meeker from the Strong Parent Project, and I instantly knew I needed to evaluate the way I spend my time, energy, and focus as a parent. I picked up a copy of one of Dr. Meeker’s books (which I found wonderful) and dug in. One of the things I am working on is to shift the focus of my parenting away from false finish lines and toward the stuff that matters most. Our culture often measures success in terms of external factors. We spend a lot of time as parents talking about grades, sports, clothes, and other things in the outer circle. As a youth pastor, most of the concerned parents I talk to are worried about such things. They don’t like their daughter’s boyfriend. They are concerned about their son’s grades. They want to know how to navigate the drama with their teenager’s social circle or how to help them succeed on the sport’s field. Yet our kids would be better served and prepared for life when they leave our care if we shift our focus to their inner world. We need to shift our parenting from our child’s outer circle to their inner circle. Their outer circle consists of things like, school, sports, friends, and work. Their inner circle consists of your child’s morals, beliefs, character, and faith. These are what will last in your child’s life when school and friendships and sports have faded. And most importantly, when you’re not there to parent them anymore.
Here is a complication in this – behavior can be corrected in the moment, while character can only be cultivated over time. You can hold a teen accountable for their behavior immediately (What would have been a better choice?). Character changes slowly. Character develops intentionally, but it does so in an almost invisible process. We need to do the hard work of shaping our children internally: their virtue, their worldview, and their core beliefs. I am talking here about fighting for their hearts and shaping them as people, not controlling their behavior. This means that TIME is the most important resource you have to manage as a parent. We are only given so much of it, and we cannot manufacture more of it. The psalmist was on to this when he wrote Psalm 90:12 – “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” In a song about the frailty of the human condition, we find this prayer. This is such good advice for parents, regardless of where we are in the journey. My own kids seem so young, and I often assume I have all the time in the world, but the truth is much more sobering. If we blink, we might miss it. They just grow up. Time marches on without your permission. I do not have all the time in the world, so I must learn to spend the time that I have with my children wisely. The truth is that my kids and yours were on their way out the door the minute they were born. God entrusted each of our children to us so that we can form their character, their hearts, and their attitudes. These things are ONLY cultivated over time. So we don’t have any time to lose.
Sports are great. School is important. Still, when we focus on their internal world, the external concerns will take care of themselves. When we focus solely on the external realities, the internal priorities are neglected and underdeveloped. We will end up with young people who have had every opportunity yet have shallow and underdeveloped character. More than anything, this is about changing your mindset and your focus. You still need to give teens boundaries; you still need to give them guidance. You still want to provide them opportunities and hope they end up happy and successful, but your focus needs to be on their internal world. Focus on the heart. Shepherd the heart. Shape the heart. Win the heart. This happens through attention, affection, and protection.