Parenting with a 5-year plan
Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6 (NKJV)
In the 1600s, Indian Emperor Shah Jahan ordered the erection of a mausoleum to entomb his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Construction of the Crown of Palaces took 20 years and more than 20,000 workers to complete. Today, the Taj Mahal, as it is now known, is a stunning palace, attracting tourists from all around the world and ensuring the emperor and his bride a place in history.
About 4,000 years before the Taj Mahal, in the desert of Egypt, the Great Pyramid of Giza, tomb of Egyptian King Khufu, was being built on the backs of common laborers and skilled artisans. Over 2 million stones, weighing more than a ton each, were placed by hand (presumably without the help of aliens), forming a perfect pyramid with a square base of exactly 756 feet per side, and rising to 450 feet (It was originally 481 feet tall, but erosion has stolen the top 31 feet of the pyramid). Nearly 4,500 years later, the Great Pyramid of Giza is the tallest of the remaining Egyptian pyramids, and stands as a reminder of what can be accomplished with great patience and persistence.
Today, we live in a society that expects immediate results. On my campus we just completed a state-of-the-art, 33,000-square foot science complex – in only 14 months! If my order at a restaurant takes more than 15 minutes to arrive at my table, I am compelled to ask the waiter if they are shorthanded. If my MacBook Air takes more than 60 seconds to boot up, I schedule an appointment with the University’s ITS department to trouble-shoot it. And when my kids don’t change their ways immediately after I have scolded them, I get impatient and wonder what today’s youth are coming to.
I love that the Bible doesn’t say that our kids will immediately get on the straight and narrow path once we’ve taught them something. It doesn’t say “… and by Friday he will not depart from it.” No, it says “… and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Like building the Taj Mahal or the Great Pyramid, anything worth investing in is going to provide delayed results. Very little in this life – at least very little that is worth anything – comes instantaneously.
My tendency with my kids is to correct them gently the first time and then assume that the infraction will never happen again. “Make your bed before leaving for school in the morning.” Done, right? Never again will I look in their rooms and see the pillow on the floor and the blanket balled up against the wall. “I need you to speak kindly to your sister when you are frustrated with her.” Settled. No more lashing out or overreactions to an annoying sibling.
Sure. Just keep telling yourself that, Dave.
Reality is that it takes time to build character, time to change bad habits, time to correct our sinful nature. And when we as parents expect, even demand, immediate results, everyone gets frustrated. The kids feel like they are being asked to do something akin to quitting smoking for someone who has been puffing a pack a day for thirty years. And Mom and Dad jump to the conclusion that the kids are being defiant or lazy or both.
But neither of these perceptions could be further from the truth.
Fathers (and mothers by implication), do not exasperate (frustrate) your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4 (NIV).
Instead of parenting with expectations for the next five minutes or even the next five days, maybe we should be parenting with goals set for the next five years. I want my kids to consistently make their own beds in the morning without being told by the time they leave for college. I want my boys to treat their sister – and other girls – with dignity and respect before they start dating.
Long-term goals take pressure off everyone, relieving frustration and repairing strained relationships. But this approach requires patience and lots of grace – character traits that most of us don’t come by naturally. This is a topic of daily prayer in my household.
We can demand immediate conformity from our kids. We can force them to pick up their room now, to clear their dishes now, to do their homework now. And we may get immediate results. But our ultimate goals are not clean floors, cleared tables, and completed homework. Our end game is deeper than that. We want to see Christ-like character built up in our kids. We want to see them grow up to become godly men and women.
So the next time you’re scolding or correcting one of your kids, ask yourself what your ultimate goal for them is. Then take a deep breath, exhale, and start praying that they will reach that place in the next several years. You’ll be amazed at what God will do in them. And in you.