Way back in the early 1990s, with a house full of kids and us full of youthful optimism and energy, my wife and I put together a seminar for churches called Parenting on Purpose. Since we were in up to our necks in children, ages ranging from toddler to teen, it made sense to share the joy. We were sure we had it all figured out and laid out for our rapt audiences all the how-tos and what-fors and even the philosophy and theology behind it all. We were driven by the confidence we had in what we were doing – after all, complete strangers routinely complimented our family on how well behaved they were and what a wonderful job we were doing.
We had no idea what we were doing.
Children are the result of the genetic homebrew of two people. Mom and Dad throw their contributing genes in the pot and are rewarded with a little bundle of joy. From day one people look for resemblances and nuances of character. “He has your eyes” they’ll say or “She’s got your temper.” There’s no escaping the facts of DNA – everything in my children came from the combined code, or some semblance of it, of me and my lovely bride. Is it nature or is it nurture? It’s both, in spades, plus a mysterious alchemy of time and events, bad TV and sibling rivalry. Yes, they are us. But yes, they are themselves. And, in our case, there were four of them in the grand experiment that was our parenting on purpose petri dish.
Clones, mini-mes, peas in a pod? Not a chance.
Our oldest, Jeremy, is an outgoing and friendly, heartland-American man’s man. He has plenty of intellect that is channeled into his occupation, working with tools and technique to keep planes flying. He loves his wife and kids and works hard to raise his family (on purpose?). Daughter Jennifer is reserved and reticent, holding her cards tight to her chest unless you are lucky enough to be invited into her inner circle. A quest for knowledge was evident at an early age and now, after a couple of college degrees, she writes for a living. She is devoted to her husband and her toddler and is typically a helicopter-mom, until she isn’t. Jamie is the wild card in the bunch, defiantly clinching her fists at life from an early age. My Mom always said our baby-girl marches to the beat of her own drum and that sums her up. Full of determination and focus she is now pursuing a doctorate when she isn’t busy living life to the fullest. And the baby of our brood, John, is full of fun, quick-witted, a big bear of a man but deeply insightful and emotionally complex. He has found his way into the food industry and, today, found his way into marriage.
They are all the same but all so very different.
The writer of the Proverbs in the Old Testament had a keen insight into all this:
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” Proverbs 22:6, NKJV
So many in my life, even me at times, saw this as a promise that our kids would indeed be mini-mes, clones of ourselves, if only we would train them. If only we would parent on purpose. But I like this translation of that Proverb a little better:
“Point your kids in the right direction and when they are old they won’t be lost.” Proverbs 22:6, The Message
In our parenting we tried to instill the values that mattered to us into our children. We took it as a sacred responsibility to produce human beings who would be honest and fair, hardworking, fun to be around, seekers of knowledge and truth. We wanted them to hold dear what we held dear, to be patriots and people of faith, passionate about what is right and good in this life. Our end goal was that they could function in the world on their own, be contributors to society, love and be loved. That was our parenting on purpose – point them in the right direction. But, of course, life comes along and purpose gets swept up in reality. Our best intentions are lost in the whirlwind of work and paying the bills and maintaining sanity in a large family full divergent interests. I love how my daughter the writer put it in her own blog:
“What is my parenting philosophy? It’s simple: Keep the kiddo alive. Make sure he knows he’s loved.”
Hey, at least she has goals.
This weekend is a big life-event for our family as we gather together as our baby boy gets married to his true love and lives happily ever after. There will be endless activity and lots of fun. And, like Christmas or a family vacation, the kids will be there. No longer toddlers-to-teens (our oldest turns forty this year!) we will have the joy of watching our family come together, as diverse a group as there is. But unified as one. Because they love each other, want what is best for their siblings, are passionate about our family. Diversity and unity. Did we do that on purpose? Who knows. We kept them alive and we loved them, and now as they navigate the world they won’t get lost, they know what is right, they have a foundation and a touchstone, a reference they embrace whether they know it or not. I’m proud of my brood and the way they have turned out. They are all four everything I could want and hope them to be. They are us, but mostly they are themselves. And I worry less about the future with these guys taking over.
It turns out, the kids are alright.