Written by Ken
Here’s an email I received from a man recently: “I just want to thank you and your wife for being models of what marriage and relationships are supposed to be. I emailed your wife and for obvious reasons she said you’re more qualified to answer a man’s questions. My wife is six months pregnant, and we’re both very excited. I just wonder if you have any advice on fatherhood? As the head of house I know my responsibilities as a husband. But fatherhood is a situation that I’m excited but unfamiliar with. I appreciate any advice you can give.”
I loved raising children and being a father to them and now love being Papa to my grandchildren. Both roles are similar and bring me great joy. I can smile and laugh just thinking about those days with my children. Attacking them with pillows, tickling them, teasing them, and most of all cuddling in my big armchair with two or all four surrounding me listening to stories or just lounging. Not much has changed with grandchildren. Children are the greatest gifts I will ever have in this life and the gifts that keep giving, now with 12 adorable grandchildren.
Children are work, and sometimes frustrating hard work, but is so worth it!
When our first was born we were both so happy. A year earlier, we had gone through heartache with the loss of a child by miscarriage and now all those emotions turned upside down as God’s best arrived on the scenes. We were like you, excited, but also wondering how we were to be as parents.
Although Mom did most of the heavy lifting with feeding and changing the baby’s diapers, whatever help I could give was much appreciated. We placed our children close to Mom’s side of the bed in a bassinette during the nights, so she could reach over and grab them when they cried to nurse in the night. We never recommend training children to sleep with Mom and Dad, although it is for a short stint of a month or two it probably works fine. We can’t understand parents who are going years with children in their bed, or kids crawling in bed with them three to four nights a week. Mom and Dad need their sleep, downtime together and intimacy, and children need to learn to be good sleepers on their own.
It wasn’t long before our oldest developed colic that lasted for at least a year. We had a year of hearing her cry, sometimes for hours. I am quite good at getting babies with upset stomachs to stop crying by holding them facing forward with my forearm around their stomach and bounced them gently while I walk. I must have walked over a 100 miles while carrying crying babies around the home for hours, but the gentle bouncing worked to help stop the pain and crying..
At some point, when you know your baby is fed and changed and you have rocked them, bounced them and did all you can for them, do not be afraid to put them in bed and let them cry themselves to sleep. Some mothers cannot stand this idea allowing their child to just “cry it out” to get to sleep, but I believe it is best for them and for Mom. If baby is miserable it does no good to allow Mom to get into a miserable state too with little sleep and total frustration. After Mom says she has done all she can, take over and rock and bounce the baby to get her to sleep, then every ten minutes put her in bed and close the door to see if she will sleep. If she is still crying after 15 minutes, comfort her for ten then back to bed until she falls asleep. And do not forget to prayerfully seek God’s help in the process.
Each child is unique in their own way and needs separate attention and training.
Do not be surprised when you see that your child has some very unique personality traits. Some you love and enjoy, and others you won’t. We are all born with different personalities and it is the parents’ job to help our children be well rounded. There is a simple principle to understand that when it comes to personality: “Our strengths carried to an extreme often become our weaknesses.” Your job is to train your children to not go to excesses. If they like to be bossy, you must train them that they are not the boss of this world or their siblings. If they are loud and talkative, teach them to control their voice and how much they talk, allowing others to talk. If they are shy, teach them to look adults in the eyes and say “hello” with confidence. If they get frustrated easily because they can’t do something, teach them that they cannot get angry over their frustrations.
Every child is worthy of your unconditional love.
Two most important necessities in raising terrific God loving children is to 1) ensure that they know you will always love them dearly, no matter what, and 2) that they also know you expect they will consistently obey you. Too often parents do one of these without the other, or too strong on one and lax on the other. If you are to err, it seems that training in obedience may be more important than love, but there is no reason to sacrifice either of these same qualities our Father God gives to us.
We told our children “I love you” often. We treated them as we loved them with great joy and happiness, lots of hugs, kisses and tickling, while making life fun for them. Although I traveled a lot, one thing I did that I believe was so vital to their healthy development was to help get them to bed most nights I was home. After a story of my youth and prayer time, I would often select one of the kids to hop into bed with them and tickle them and talk to them.
I would whisper in their ear, “Ryan are you in there? Ryry, are you there? He would laugh and say, “Yes Dad, I am in here.”
“You know there is nothing you can do that will ever keep me from loving you. I may not like what you do sometimes. I may have to discipline you, or when you get older put you out of the house if you will not obey, but there is nothing you can do that will keep me from loving you.”
I believe that unconditional love is what God gives us so that we can have a great relationship with Him, and we must give the same to our children, no matter what.
Raising children without discipline is malpractice.
Few things make or break a child in life as love and training in discipline. Just look at the unhealthy adults today and most suffer from either not feeling fully loved as a child or they lack self-discipline that leads to a successful life. From an early age, I won’t say how early as that depends on the child and their development, teach your children to obey you. I thought my children were very bright at a young age but I am now astonished with how quickly my grandchildren know what they want and when they want it … now! They are not “vipers in diapers,” but beautiful children who need to learn that they cannot always get their way just because their flesh wants it. I am not talking about the basics like food and diaper changes, but you will see times that they want what they want and will insist upon it. Or you will tell them not to do something, they will look at you, then decide to go ahead and do it anyway.
Modest discipline is necessary for training right and wrong, but strong consistent discipline is necessary for willful disobedience. Make the discipline “age appropriate,” and use the LEAST amount of discipline necessary to communicate to your children that “No” means “NO” and “Yes” means “Yes.” Raising children was so much easier for us in many ways than it was for some of our friends because both of us, as parents, were on the same page and consistent. We were not just consistent in stopping willful disobedience but also whining, complaining, or arguing.
Early on, we taught our oldest to go to the fireplace and sit there in time-out when she was misbehaving or whining, and she would whirl around in an instant and run to the fireplace and sit down. A few minutes later we would hear, “All done, Daddy” and if we felt the time spent fit the crime, we would tell her to come to us and she would get hugs, loves, instruction, and training in how she should think about things. If more time was needed, we would say, “No, you sit there until we tell you to come” and she would sit quietly without fussing or rolling around. We found that all our children quickly learned the fireplace routine by watching her quickly and obediently run to the fireplace.
I will say this again as it bears repeating… CONSISTENCY is vital to training your children in discipline. Children can easily get confused if Mom is strict in discipline and Dad is laughing and permissive. Who do they please? Be cute and funny for Dad or obey Mom trying to teach them obedience? Such confused children often have struggles later in life both emotionally and with discipline. I will also repeat that although we spanked, it was not our first or only tool for gaining quick compliance. We believe that each child responds to spankings differently, and none of our children required a lot of spankings. Our last two got very few perhaps in large part seeing that the oldest two had learned obedience. We could just look at them cross-eyed with a disappointed tone, and they quickly wanted to please. Slow obedience is disobedience, so teach your children to obey right away.
Some believe that we just had very compliant children, and I would beg to disagree. We now have 12 wonderfully trained grandchildren who are very obedient to their parents and grandparents, even as some are more difficult than others in their desire to exercise their will. Don’t expect them all to be alike, but do expect to consistently train each one no matter how tough they can be. If you have to go at it for two to three hours using consistency to prove that you will win and they must learn to obey, don’t fret it. Usually this is only necessary once or twice with a strong-willed child, but it is so important to their future success when working with a boss or obeying their leaders. Always remind yourself that you would much rather deal with obedience in a four year old than trying to teach it to your teenager who never learned it young.
Teach them about Jesus all day every day.
We love our God and our Lord Jesus finding any and every reason to talk about Him, read Bible stories to the kids, and devotions and prayer time before bed each night. We did our best to fill our home with the joy of the Lord making Christianity look enjoyable and exciting, even when Mom and Dad were struggling together in their own relationship. Training in the Lord is a full-time commitment we must make with our children and make it fun. We took them to AWANA to play and memorize verses, had Bible quizzes, regular church attendance and often made the Sunday after church meal something special. Jesus is what makes life fun and enjoyable, and our children must see that in us. If you are not joyful around the home, singing songs and being playful and enjoyable, you are losing out on shining the light of Jesus who lives inside of you to your children. My Mom had a Christian song for every circumstance and was often singing to us no matter what our query or complaint.
Teach your children values and not just behaviors.
One on the greatest gifts God gave us for raising terrific, godly young adults was to learn early on that teaching behavior works when children cannot reason well, but when they can reason, teach them values. We all live out what we think and what we value.
“Alexanders are kind to each other.”
Alexanders love each other.”
Alexanders play nicely and fairly with each other.”
Soon these became true Alexander values that continue with each one of them to this day.
The Four Main Alexander Values are:
“Love God and serve Him.”
“Do what is right.”
“Be the best you can be.”
“Treat others the way you want to be treated.”
When the teenage years arrived we taught them one more very important principle to give them a lens to process life as to why they could not do sleep overs, or go to some parties, or dive off a cliff or into the shallow end of the pool:
“There are a lot of stupid people in this world, don’t be one of them” (Book of Proverbs).
Ironically, most of us as parents only get one shot at it, and unless we were raised by great parents we are at a loss as to how to raise godly children in a dark society. Be careful where you send them to school, and better yet homeschool. No smart cell phones until they are at least older teens with strict boundaries and guards. Satan is a destroyer of souls and wants nothing more than to get to your children, so guard them wisely, but do not smother them. As they get into their early teens begin to let them make their own decisions and coach them to make them based on the values your taught them.
The greatest value of all is our new life in Christ. Study what that means to practice the presence of Jesus in your home day and night, not just doing all things Christian, but checking in regularly with our source of life by prayer when we need answers or help. Our God is still the great God of miracles and wants you to be a great and godly parent to your precious children. After all, they are His children too, and the early years of life development done well make the rest of their lives and faith so much easier. They will rise up and call you blessed, as will their children for a job well done in the Lord.
Few of us will be given a greater task from the Lord than in the raising of our children to be His godly offspring. If your family has to give up a lot of money, vacations, new cars, and much of the things of this earth so that Mom can be home and Dad is around to invest his life of Christ into his children, then so be it. We made those sacrifices yet found that God had restored all we gave up in many ways. Now watching four more successful couples raising 12 beautiful grandchildren (with two more on the way) in the Lord gives us a treasure than cannot be made up with a little more wealth or security. God wants you as a parent to keep your first priority 1000 percent with no excuses. After all, this is the one ministry that He has given just you and your spouse. Do it to the best of your ability and watch how much He blesses you for it.
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in truth.
3 John 1:4
Ken’s Advice on Fatherhood