Most parents would admit that somewhere deep inside of them is a little worry or anxiety about their children and their future that never seems to leave.
This usually involves concerns about their health and development, their education, their friends and the environment in which they are growing up in but most of all, it is about whether they are doing the right things to help their children succeed in life.
I often worry that my discipline may be too stern (especially coming from an Malaysian-Indian background) or that our expectations for the boys may be too high or sometimes I worry that we’ve not made any difference at all when we’ve had “one of those days” where everything that we’ve taught them seems to have imploded into multiple tantrums and utter embarrassment.
This isn’t restricted to parents of young children either, adult children can still cause their parents worry as they navigate through the realities of self-reliance and fulfilling their passions and purpose.
So what can we do? Does this anxiety ever leave? How do we know that we are doing the best we can?
As I reflected on this question, I was reminded of a story.
My parents are two remarkable people who were both first generation Christians and also university graduates. They naturally had a desire for their children to attend an excellent school, find great friends and succeed.
But during my teenage years there were some extremely turbulent times. I did everything that my parents told me not to do. It started when I was 15 years old and there are some memories and incidents that I will never be able to erase and will forever be sorry for.
As a father now I recognise the hell that I put my parents through and the miracle it is that I am a doctor today! But more importantly my parents had the same concerns that I do now, what did they do to build a foundation in my life? And what did they do during those troubled times?
Here are some thoughts for dealing with that anxiety and knowing that you are helping your children to succeed.
Show unconditional love
During the difficult years of my life, when it was easy to push me away and cut me out, they showed me unconditional love.
To love unconditionally is to love when it is the hardest emotion to show. It means to love when every cell in your body wants to walk away in anger and offense. It means to look at the mess that your child has made and say “I still love you”.
With young children it means that despite the horror of the day and the great number of rules that were broken, we find it within ourselves to clean up, tuck them in and press on.
In short, there are no conditions for our love. No performance worthy of it, and certainly no test grade that unlocks it. We love them because they are our children and we are wired to do so.
Teach them respect
I am sure there were times that my parents had enough and wanted to unleash all their anger unto to me, but they didn’t. Even in their discipline they respected me as there was never any humiliation nor any degradation.
Parents set important examples with their behavior. From the way you that interact with the waitress at a café to the way that you speak to your spouse, your children are learning the principles of honour and respect.
If you treat the people in your world with value, you can be assured that your children will act in the same way and learn sincere respect for others.
Children are like wet cement. What is modelled for them imprints their character – Max Lucado
Persist in the hard times
I wonder what my parents thought and how they felt when the principal knew them by name or when they received that phone call from the police asking them to come and collect me. I believe they saw the bigger picture, which gave them the strength to persist.
Like the prodigal son who thought he knew best and lived life on his own terms, they waited and watched for me to wake up and return to my senses.
With courage, parents persist through the difficult and sometimes never-ending turbulent times and with faith they must see the bigger picture.
These are lessons that are only learnt at the coalface and must be practiced daily. As one tantrum at the shops shouldn’t ruin the months of progress in their development nor should one bad test mark tarnish the kindness and initiative they show everyday.
Build on their strengths
Every child has a talent and is gifted in some way and parents have the responsibility of helping their children build on their strengths. This is one of the most important ways that parents can help their children succeed.
My love of science, dissection, pus and all things analytical came from my mum encouraging my inquisitive nature. She noticed that her boisterous son settled down and focused when there was a puzzle to be completed or an interesting book to read.
What are your children excelling in? Are they creative? Expressive? Are they fascinated by the physical world? What do you find them talking about the most? Watch them, study them, I assure you that you will find an area that you can help them to succeed in. They are all unique.
Your past stops with you
I was admittedly extremely anxious when I found out we were having our first son, not just that our lives would change forever but strangely, that my troubled years would be repeated.
But you must take heart, if you have worked hard to change your life circumstance, gotten rid of bad habits and broken free of harmful relationships, you taken the first step to changing your family’s legacy. Well done!
Experience from a derailed life now back on course is invaluable. It gives deeper empathy and it also gives wiser caution. Parents with a past can equip their children with their wisdom but importantly demonstrate changed lives with their actions, which is powerful daily reminder of a life redeemed.
Significantly your children will benefit from your new life, free from the chaos, separated from the lies and away from the toxic vicious cycle, they will thrive.
Words of encouragement
Towards the end of high school when I’d just scraped through and my options were limited, my parents still believed in me. In my pit of despair they still saw potential, they told me that anything was still possible. They were right.
Praise is life giving for children. Boys need to know that what they doing is important and that we are proud of them and girls need to know that they are valuable and deserve to be respected.
Our children’s life script begins with us. We shouldn’t be worried if we are injecting daily praise and acceptance into their lives because this will be what they believe about themselves as face the realities of a broken world.
Give kids confidence – Professor Bruce Robinson
Schedule important events
Our children are watching all that we do. They can see what and who are important to us by the way that we spend our time and our money.
As we raise our children we have the privilege of introducing them to the foundations of life and our world-view.
For me my parents placed great importance of being in Church every Sunday, having dinner together every night and my dad always used to find time to spend with me.
Years later I’ve found myself placing importance on the same areas in my own life mainly because of the benefit and the fruit that I saw produced from these actions in my parents life.
Along this principle, a friend recently recounted how his dad always spent Saturday morning with him and despite their differences in his teenage years, his dad simply persisted and always scheduled time together. This was a foundational action and custom that he will no doubt carry through to his own parenting.
I do not think that we will stop thinking about our children and wondering whether we are doing the best for them. But there are key actions to help ensure that we are doing the best we can to help them succeed.
Jonathan Ramachenderan @thehealthyGP