How To Become a Great Parent Before You Have Kids

Being a great parent starts long before you hold a baby in your arms.

On the first night my parents brought me home from the hospital, my dad asked my mom what time they should set the alarm to wake up and feed me.

I laugh every time he tells that story. Little did my dad know that I was created with my own little alarm clock that would be waking him and my mom up far more frequently than they could have imagined.

And no matter how many times he reminded me of that story, or how many classes my wife and I took to prepare for the anticipated birth of our first baby, I was completely unprepared.

I will never forget that morning in July 2007 when my daughter Hayden was born. I vividly remember that initial glimpse of her in delivery room as she entered the world. I remember the next 48 hours of no sleep in the hospital. I remember that long, slow car ride home from the hospital where I took every side road and drove so far under the speed limit that people were jogging past me on the side of the road. I remember that panicked look of “What do we do now?” that my wife and I exchanged with one another when we walked in our front door. I remember the acid reflux and the colic, and coming home to both my wife and baby daughter in tears. I remember the 12 months of very little sleep.

Almost everything I know about parenting could not have been taught to me in a book or a class, but came with experience. All of those fond memories I recall about that first year are a constant reminder to me that a lot of parenting is about dealing with the unexpected and trying to innovate in the moment.

No matter how many books you read or how many times your friends with kids give you advice, you are never prepared for many things when it comes to being a parent.

Because no matter how many books you read or how many times your friends with kids give you advice. No matter how many cool accessories you pick up on your endless trips to Babies “R” Us, you are never prepared for many things when it comes to being a parent.

As a former college pastor and now a marriage and family therapist, I spend a lot of my time around parents and their children, and I’m learning new things every day as I try and be the best parent to my 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son.

So whether you have kids or are hoping to have them one day, here are some truths I have found helpful.

Learn to take care of yourself.

I’m not encouraging you to be selfish or self-indulgent, but to foster four core areas of your life: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. This is essential self-care, and you need to work on the balance before and after you have kids. Because if you don’t take care of yourself, you will have nothing to give to your children.

Some parents suck the life out of their children, having nothing to offer them but anger, criticism and emotional and physical distance. Other parents are life-giving, breathing encouragement, strength and emotional and physical connection into their children. The difference between taking away life and giving life is that those who give life take care of themselves.

Be relationally connected.

Our children benefit from the connections we have with others. If you are married, your ability to be a great parent is often directly correlated to your connection with your partner. Lots of parents use their child as a way to fill a relational void they experience in their marriage or other relationships. When a spouse is not connected to their partner and other strong friends, they can become overly enmeshed with their child, distorting boundaries between parent and child in the process.

Pursuing and keeping up strong relationships—with your spouse, family, friends and, most importantly, God—before you have kids will allow you not be dependent on your children to fill unhealthy needs.

Practice managing your emotions.

There is a term in psychology known as differentiation, which essentially refers to the idea that there is a boundary between you and another person in a relationship. You know where one person begins and ends.

When we are unable to regulate our own emotions, we often become overly needy toward others or our emotions are often triggered by them. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is our ability to manage our emotions, therefore preventing them from having to be our emotional caretakers, which many children end up doing.

So if you have an issue with anger, anxiety or depression, for example, it’s important to begin working on that issue before you have kids.

Be present and consistent.

Since the publication of my book What it Means to be a Man I regularly have men asking me the key to fatherhood. That’s a hard question to sum up in a short statement, but I do believe that for both mothers and fathers, being a good parent ultimately comes down to intentionally showing up in the lives of your children on a day-to-day basis.

Being a great parent does not start at the moment of conception or at the birth of your child; it starts now.

Sometimes, as parents, we are prone to big gestures to demonstrate our love and care for our kids, but nothing shows love and care like being consistently present with them day-to-day. Parenting is the ultimate form of stewardship and discipleship—two things we can practice in other areas of our lives before we have kids.

Ultimately, none of us are going to be perfect parents. Perhaps more than anything else in our lives, parenting reveals our sin and teaches us to rely on God’s grace. But what we do as parents directly affects the lives of our kids and generations to come for good or for bad.

Being a great parent does not start at the moment of conception or at the birth of your child; it starts now. It starts when you take a look at your life and how you were raised, good and bad, and begin to take responsibility for who you are. That is the greatest gift you can give your children.

5 Comments

Joël Gray

1

Joël Gray commented…

wow, im floored that there are over 30,000 comments on your latest article on worship in the church, and yet no one has left a comment on this parenting article. i guess everyone agrees with it? I am not a dad, yet. But i can see the wisdom in what is being said here. thank you for the clarion call to shape up now, before that ride home from the hospital. Greatly enjoy your magazine, btw. :)

Rachel Robbins

4

Rachel Robbins commented…

As a Family and Consumer Science major at my University, I am currently taking a parenting class, so I was especially interested to read this article. Starting to prepare for parenting before you have kids is one of the main components that my professor has been emphasizing throughout the course, so I really appreciate the perspective of this article.

Wayne Greulich

1

Wayne Greulich commented…

A good article about something which pre-parents seldom think about.
As a father of 4 and grandfather of 9, there are several other things I would suggest.
First, study and investigate biblical principles of discipline and child-rearing and how you, as a parent, will interact with your child(ren). Decide ahead of time the principles upon which you will raise your children. I am thankful for the courses I took in Bible College and books I read which helped me form and set my parenting principles before becoming a parent.
Second - and most important - start praying for youself, your spouse, and the children the Lord will give you. God directed me in prayer as to when to start having our children and I was able to do so in faith. God also directed me in matters concerning the raising of my children. For example, I started praying for my children's future spouses while they were still small children even though I had no idea who they would be. I prayed for their spiritual development and calling to Christ.
While I was far from a perfect parent, I am thankful for the graces God blessed me with to do well in the important areas. My 4 daughters married Christian men and my grandkids are being raised to know Christ.
Though poor in this world's goods, I consider myself to be rich beyond millions in those riches which are important to God and I thank Him for His faithfulness to my kids even when I wasn't that good of a parent.
To Him be the glory and praise.

Morielle Faisanja Stroethoff

5

Morielle Faisanja Stroethoff replied to Wayne Greulich's comment

Thank you so much for this reply! Prayer is so key, I cannot believe the author replaced it with "self-care" (an inherently self-centered term). Prayer is in a way the ultimate self-care AND so much more than self-care can ever be because it connects us to the One who truly matters. And only when are fully connected to His love can it flow through us to our children. I will also take to heart your advice about studying the Bible for principles of discipline. Thank you for your beautiful testimony of parenting, Wayne! You are indeed rich beyond millions. :)

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