Childhood is such a crucial part of life. Experts say that most of what you become in life is shaped during your first five years. That, of course, is debatable; however, what happens in your early years definitely determines much of what you are throughout life. Once the mold is set it becomes increasingly difficult to change it. Therefore, it is vitally important to do it right in the early years.
My concern is that many parents today are not getting it right. Many parents are following a parenting model, philosophy or book that, I fear, will lead to highly unpleasant results in future years.
So allow me to share with you some of the conditions and factors that were part of my childhood years that have shaped who I am throughout life. I know, those childhood years were so long ago that some of you can’t even think back that far. However, I believe these are conditions that children need in every generation in order to have healthy as well as balanced development.
I will be the first to admit that my parents were not perfect in permitting or executing these elements of my upbringing. They were, however, more than adequate when it came to making them a permanent part of my character and lifestyle.
1. Freedom to explore: I was given the freedom to have adventure in my life. This adventure was not always in the form of planned, structured, activities. Many times it was just the ability to creatively enjoy my environment. We lived in a different world, but spending time outside playing, building things, including tree huts, and developing my creativity were every day practices. I fear the electronic world is stealing this practice and value from our kids to their detriment.
2. Responsibility: I learned early in life that responsibility was an expected part of life. Those responsibilities included doing my part around the house and outside of the house. Even though there were five kids in my family we all had expected responsibilities. And when I was old enough, I got a job. I know that is a difficult concept for some parents to even consider expecting, however, if you really love your child, you will teach them responsibility early in life. As a result, I have never, never, never had a problem being a responsible, productive adult.
3. Accountability: With responsibility came accountability. So if there were expectations, there were also consequences when expectations were unmet. And if responsibilities were carried out as expected sometimes, but not all that often, there was praise and reward. But whether or not the recognition came we still met our responsibilities. My fear and concern for the current generation is that accountability has been replaced with an elaborate system of bribery. Instead of kids being taught responsibility and held accountable for their actions they are bribed and rewarded into action. Oh what a dangerous road we travel when it comes to what the future holds. Oh how difficult it is going to be when they get out into the real world and find out that everybody else doesn’t treat them the same way.
4. Parental model: My parents didn’t get it all right. My parents had issues in their relationship and in their parenting. They did, however, give us kids, all five of us, a model to follow. They provided a unity of purpose and direction for our family. And when they did not agree on that direction, they dealt with it behind closed doors. They brought to our family not only the provision of physical needs but also a healthy balance of emotional and spiritual direction.
5. Church involvement: We lived 12 miles away from our church in a day of no super-highways. There were five of us kids and no van or SUV to transport us in. But we never missed church. It was never an item of discussion. We did not discuss, on Saturday night, whether or not we were going to church on Sunday morning. It was an understood part of our existence. As a result, all five children, as well as their families are involved in church, spiritual direction and seeking the Lord, to this day. And I would add, not only did we attend church, we were involved in church worshiping AND serving.
6. Germs: That’s right, I said germs. Germs were part of our existence. I grew up on a chicken farm. We had 36,000 chickens to deal with all the time. There are always germs when it comes to chickens. Though we were clean we were not fanatical in our cleanliness. In fact, I can even remember one occasion when I ate a dirt burger served to me by one of my older brothers. Can I tell you that today I never get sick? I never go to the doctor for sickness. Sure, God has blessed me with good genes. God has blessed me with good health; however, I believe that much of the strength of my immunity system is due to the fact that I was allowed to build an immunity system in my childhood. I am all for cleanliness, but I think parents today are so obsessed with raising their kids in a completely sterile environment and as a result are inviting, rather than preventing, untold sickness in the future. Call it my weird germ philosophy, but I think the future will tell.
So, please feel free to take issue with some or much of what I have just written. That is your prerogative. I do, however, encourage you to look and think long and hard about what you are building into the childhood of your children. It is far more than their current existence that you must be concerned about. It is what these practices will lead to in years to come. What do you want your child to be like in their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond? Well, you, to a large extent, are determining that right now.