No one doubts that our children will inherit what we leave them. Some children will inherit money and exhaust its potential very quickly because the parents gave them wealth but little instruction as to its use. Other children grow up in poverty and become wealthy because their parents gave them character and determination. If the present is a reflection of what our parents gave us, we must seriously ask what will the face of the future look like if we judge it by what we are giving our children.
A great preacher once said, “When times are troubled, we ask God, “Give us men to match our mountains.” In response God gives us children and says, “Here’s the building material.” If these building blocks are ours to use, what are the instructions that direct their outcome? Here are some basics:
Truett Cathy, who taught boys Sunday School for years, says, “It’s better to build boys than to mend men.” He understood that children are to be taught carefully. What we believe and what we teach our children does matter. If we don’t teach them how to use money, they will be financially bereft. If we fail to teach our children our values, someone else will impress their thinking on them. If we do not teach respect for authority, our children will rebel against all demands placed on them. If we don’t teach them how to make good decisions, they will be easy prey for the human vulchers of their world. They will learn the value of hard work and its rewards from us.
Words alone are not enough. Parents have the privilege and the responsibility of modeling consistently what they profess verbally. When we face our problems with courage, they see a model for coping with life. As we accept responsibility for our failures, our children learn to face honestly their choices and the consequences they bring. When we discipline them for bad behavior, they learn that everything produces results – good or bad. That teaches them to weigh their choices in the light of the results. If a parent whines and complains of his lot in life, can he expect anything but a “victim” attitude from his children?
Sharing honestly with our children is the key to building lasting relationships. Truthful parents raise inquisitive children with open minds and open hearts. Nothing hinders a child’s trust and desire for intimate sharing with a parent more than dishonest and hidden behavior. As an infant the child does what we say. As he matures he learns to choose for himself. As an adult he will choose whether or not he will be a friend to his parents. If he has learned that you share with him as he grows, he will want to share with you as you age together. If you shut him out when he is young, he will return the favor when he becomes an adult.
The greatest joy of parenting is to love unconditionally. Watching my granddaughter demonstrate her love for my great grandson has provided a perspective of years. Unconditional love never spoils a child. Conditional love can cripple him for life. Something a child does can be described as bad, but the child is not bad. The Scottish poet Burns said: “Home is the place when you have to go there; they have to take you in.” How much better for a child to learn that no matter what happens in his life or whatever failure he may experience, there’s always a parent who loves him and is waiting to hear from him.
So those are my four suggestions for today: teach carefully, model consistently, share honestly, and love unconditionally. What your children inherit will not only give them the strength to face their mountains, but will make them the shining face of the future.
James E. Kilgore, Ph.D., is a retired minister and marriage and family therapist and an active community volunteer in Canton and Cherokee County. (internationalfamily.org or firstname.lastname@example.org)