I keep waiting for parenting to get easier. When I say that in a public forum, it usually elicits some laughter from those who have been parenting children for much longer than I have. This laughter isn’t mockery; it’s a means of identifying with the statement.
Those seasons parents have told me they thought the same thing, year after year, and each year presented them with new challenges. This is also true for us in this stage of parenting – there are new challenges every day, some we knew were coming, and some that just happen out of the blue.
Parenting is hard work. It’s hard work physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I’m thankful, especially on the hard days, that the Lord has seen fit for me to not have to do this alone. That’s because my wife and I have the responsibility and the privilege of encouraging one another on this journey of raising kids. Because we aren’t doing this alone, one of the responsibilities we have is to encourage each other on this parenting journey. Here, then, are three specific ways that parents can be an encouragement to one another:
1. Be on the same team.
It’s so simple, but so applicable as parents. This is a reminder that we have the same kids, the same goals, and that there is power when we are of one heart and mind. It means that we have one another’s back and refuse to be played against each other. What does it look like to be on the same team?
Let’s say that one of your children comes to you to ask a question. It could be a question about food, time with friends, or turning on some kind of media. They ask the question, then one parent gives them an answer that they don’t like. Chances are that same child, even though they already have their answer, will turn around and go find another parent in the house to ask the same question, hoping for a different answer. Here is an opportunity to be on the same team. It’s never a bad idea, if the question is of some significance, to simply ask the child back: “Have you already talked to your mother / father about this?” If the answer is “yes”, then the question has already been answered.
2. Be a student of your spouse.
Parenting is not only hard – it’s busy. In fact, it seems like it’s getting busier each and every year. With all of this parenting to be done, it’s easy for us as parents to drift into one of the great destroyers of marriage – assumption. After you have lived, cried, laughed, parented, exercised, watched, dieted and a host of other things together for some time, you can easily start to live in a posture of assumption when it comes to your husband or wife.
What does that look like? It looks like a stoppage in communication about big and small things because you already know what he or she will say or think. You stop asking about the details of each other’s days because you assume what happened, and you assume how those happenings made your husband or wife feel. And eventually assumption leads to neglect. This is why we must make it our ambition to be students of our spouses. We must strive to know them, and know them better each day we are together, for when we are students of each other, we will actually be more attentive and caring parents for we are encouraged by this other person who is endlessly fascinated by who we are at the deepest levels.
3. Recognize how they die to themselves.
Parenting is an amazing crucible for discipleship. That’s because the life of the parent is, as Jesus told us to live, one daily death after another. It’s dying to our preferences, our leisure time, our selfishness over and over again. And all that dying can be difficult, though you love your children more than your life. It’s so encouraging, though, to simply have another person – especially one that you value and respect – to simply and verbally recognize the small sacrifices you make for your family. To hear them say what you’ve done, and know that they know what you’ve done.
This does not take long. It does not require advanced prose or beautiful articulation. It only takes the attitude of humble gratitude, and the willingness to put that attitude into words.
Parenting is hard. If you’re married, though, remember it’s as hard for your spouse as it is for you, and thank God that you don’t have to go at it alone.