Maybe it seems unloving to suggest that your children might grow into adults you don’t actually like.
But let’s be honest. It happens.
Not many parents of adult children will admit it, but it’s still true. And there are moms and dads who are in the relatively early stages of parenthood, but who are already sensing that their offspring are turning into people they would rather not spend time with.
Do they love them? Absolutely. But do they like them? Um, well…
The goal of this post is to highlight three things that will help us raise kids we’ll actually like as adults.
There are no guarantees, of course. And I realize that “liking” your children isn’t the main goal in life. But I’m using that word in the sense of being-proactive-about-shaping-your-children-into-good-and-healthy-people.
I don’t claim to be a parenting expert. But I do claim to have three children, a love for reading about this stuff, ten years of pastoral experience, and a well-used Bible which is always relevant to today’s issues.
First, be secure in your own identity.
If you aren’t secure in who you are, your uncertainty and instability can negatively wade into your children’s lives.
For example, in his book 12 Rules for Life, psychologist Jordan Peterson argues that “modern parents are simply paralyzed by the fear that they will no longer be liked or even loved by their children if they chastise them for any reason.” I think this flows from an insecurity about (a) who they are in the first place, and (b) what the role of the parent is.
Let’s ponder for a second: Do we prefer to be friends with our kids instead of parents because we desperately need someone to affirm us? Do we create an “anything goes” environment because we have no real sense of what our place is in the world?
I’m a Christian so that obviously shapes my sense of self. No matter what I’m going through I know I’ve been adopted by God as his child and disciple (Romans 8). That’s who I am, and I hope that confidence carries into my parenting.
But what about you? Where is your rootedness? However you’re inclined to answer, it’s something we parents need to figure out. As the old expression goes, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” It doesn’t always work out that way, of course. But it probably happens more often than we think. It’s hard for a hollow tree to grow healthy apples.
Second, discipline your children.
“Discipline” is an unpopular word these days. It can make us think of cold authoritarianism. I think it has fallen out of favour because it has become closely associated with spanking or hitting. Plus, our society is also riding the wave of “individualism,” so anything that appears to encroach on someone else’s free choice (whatever that may be) is considered bad.
This is why we need to think bigger.
Discipline is first and foremost about love. Proverbs 13:24 says that “the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”
But what is discipline, specifically?
It is about guiding and correcting your children; it is also about setting clear expectations about behaviour, and then following through with either negative consequences or positive rewards depending on how the child chooses to act.
To do this effectively parents first needs to take their authority seriously, know the difference between right and wrong, and communicate expectations and consequences ahead of time with their children.
As a general rule, undisciplined children are unlikable children who turn into unlikable adults. Is there good in them? Yes. Are there wonderful things about them? I’m sure there is. But a lack of discipline creates emotional chaos in the world of a child. That makes them act accordingly. If we don’t take discipline seriously, we are setting our children up for a lifetime of social failure and loneliness.
Third, guide them toward their greater purpose.
Unlikeable children are self-centred children who turn into self-centred adults. They think that life is all about them. That idea is natural to children because they are, by nature, selfish. (Just like all humans are.)
But that mind-set can also be reinforced by the parents.
That’s why parents need to stop making children the centre of their world, and take seriously the task of helping their children connect up to their greater purpose—a purpose beyond themselves.
The great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy had an existential crisis which prompted him to ask, “Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?” I realize that seems kind of heavy; but it is beneficial for our kids to start wrestling through those kinds of questions (in an age appropriate way). What am I doing here? What is my purpose? Am I contributing to something that will outlast me?
For my own family, as Christians, we answer that question in terms of Christ. God has created all of us with unique talents and personalities to glorify, serve and know him as we follow Christ and contribute to the meaningful ways he is renovating the world with his love and truth. As the Lord’s Prayer says, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Regardless of your beliefs, here’s the takeaway from a statement like that: we are teaching our kids that life is not all about them. The point of life is to point to God. This is a reversal of me-first mentality that feeds apathy, sadness, and entitlement.
Each family will be different, of course. But parents need to think through how they are helping their children link up to their greater purpose. As they do so, a child’s sense of purpose, and even gratitude, will increase. That’s good news because unlikeable children are self-centred and ungrateful children who turn into self-centred and ungrateful adults.
Whom we don’t like.
And as an added bonus, the medical missionary and author Albert Schweitzer also came to the conclusion that focusing on serving others increases a person’s happiness.
Parenting is a marathon. That’s tough to swallow in a world that prefers quick fixes and short Twitter-sized bursts of information. That’s why we need to be thoughtful, chart a course, and rise up to the 10,000 foot view so that we can see the forest for the trees.
None of us are experts—and that definitely includes me! In fact, as I read over this post, I know there are things I can definitely improve upon as a parent. But I think these three principles are helpful for the journey no matter where we’re at:
1. Be secure in your own identity.
2. Discipline your children.
3. Guide them toward their greater purpose.
I think they will help us raise children we actually like as adults. They’ll be more secure and content, more balanced and responsible, and well on their way to a life with greater purpose.
Who wouldn’t want to be around someone like that?