Indelible imprint – Getting straight A’s on your parenting report card
by Dr. Dave Currie
Indelible. Not as common a word today as when I was growing up. Back in the day of fountain pens, those writing instruments with ink cartridges that you could replace, you would purchase indelible ink. This lasting liquid was often required for official documents or contracts where you had to sign your name giving your legitimate approval. Once inscribed, your signature was your permanent bond – durable and unfading. Money too is printed with indelible ink. It doesn’t rub off. We, as parents, are indelible ink on the pages of our children’s lives. It reminds me of today’s Sharpie, known as a permanent marker. Recently I asked my daughter, Keldy (mother of four under age six), for one when she replied, “I don’t leave Sharpies around as the kids have a habit of writing on things and it just never comes off.”
That’s it – that’s you! As a parent – you’re a Sharpie – you are a permanent marker.
With the kids going back to school this fall, there’s the usual focus on getting them ready – school supplies, new running shoes and backpacks and all. You are looking forward to getting them back into a routine so you can get something done. You are concerned about helping them have a good year, excelling academically and adjusting to new classroom routine, a new teacher and new classmates. This is a parent’s normal fall mindset.
But what about you? What about your role as a parent? What if more happens through you and your influence at home than can ever be compensated for by their hours with teachers at school? You, as a parent are, or at least should be, their primary life influence. Your day-to-day, year-after-year life inscription is as permanent as indelible ink. Never doubt it – one’s family of origin leaves a lifelong imprint.
So as kids go back to school – let’s focus on you – and what your children need from you. In so doing, you can get straight “A’s” as a parent.
Your child needs affirmation. Kids feed off praise. They love your approval. Your compliments give reassurance. Words of encouragement are to the heart what food is to the stomach. Healthy children need daily helpings of both for physical and emotional well-being. Sociological research of the family maintains that for every negative, critical comment a child receives from a parent, they need five positive affirming comments to bring their self-worth back to equilibrium. That’s a 5 to 1 ratio of positive over negative. Evaluate your ratio. Be your kid’s greatest fan. Believe in them and say so. Tell them you love them. Commend them on the things they do right, recognize accomplishments and affirm maturing character. Feed their need to succeed.
Your child needs Attention. They have to feel that they are important to you. When you are with them – be WITH them. Be in the moment – listening, attentive and focused on them. Not on your phone. You know what this means – you require it of them. You, like me, can hear yourself saying when we are really trying to make sure they are listening, “Look at me when I’m talking to you… look at me.” Eye contact with real attentiveness gives the message access to the mind that might sink into the heart. Be present; be engaged. It’s called active listening for a reason. They have our full attention. Not paying attention has its price. Sadly in January this year in China, a four-year-old boy drowned in a resort swimming pool when his oblivious mother had her back turned while she was busy texting. Or in Texas in June when a baby drowned in a running bathtub while the mother was busy on Facebook Messenger. She now faces a charge in the child’s death. Get off your phone. Attention screams love. Kezek, one of my grandchildren sitting on my lap just past his 2nd birthday, kept pushing my phone away because he knew he didn’t have me. He wanted my full attention. Give it.
Your child needs Association. They need you with them. You vote by your presence. I said it. My kids said it. And now my grandchildren say it – “Come play with me.” When young, they’ll often take you by the hand and half pull you along to do something with them. WARNING: They quit asking us because we quit coming! But connection with your children – playing in their world – sets you up for a life-time of friendship and affiliation – let alone impact. You see, the greater the relationship, the greater the influence. Make no mistake. Love to a child is spelled one way: T-I-M- E. Ask yourself. Are your kids in your weekly schedule? Carve out time in your calendar to be with them. Show up at their games, concerts and award ceremonies. Whether you shoot hoops, pucks or golf balls, do something with them consistently.
Your child needs Appreciation. When you declare your gratitude to your child, it validates your approval. Your appreciation models how to live life with a thankful heart. That is so important to pass on early. We need to teach them to say ‘thank you’ and be thankful. You know, “counting your blessings” and all. Then, your thankfulness for their helpfulness – what they do – validates their effort. They’ll soon feel that hard work gets noticed. That awareness in itself is a life-long attribute. Further, your gratefulness for their involvement – who they are – affirms their worth. Welcome their presence. Ask them to come along with you. Your invitation shows your respect and love.
Your child needs Affection. Physical touch is a core human need. With it, children thrive. Without it, they shrivel. Both parents should hold the baby a lot when the child is young. Parental contact, warmth and tone all matter to the little one. Your welcoming attitude on your greetings announces that you are glad they are here. Learn and practice the ABC’s of hugging. Give the squeezes of Appreciation that says I value you. Offer the embraces of Belonging that say your love is unconditional even in their failures. Share the hugs of Comfort when they are hurting, that will carry them through the rough times in life. Your fondness for them is always expressed by your caring touch; kisses, kind hands holding their face, pats on the back and walking with your arms around them. Let your daily warmth and treatment say, “I love you.”
Your child needs Authenticity. Genuine, honest parents are easier to believe and more likely to be followed. You have a fighting chance of your children becoming like you in what you do but very little chance of them becoming what you say. Talk is cheap. Live what you believe. Be who you say you are. Do what you say you will do. Model the life you want them to live. You’ve heard it said, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” It’s really true. Children almost always become like who you are. Build your parental interaction around these three words to live a lasting impact; integrity, trustworthy and love. Finally, nothing will transform their life like your genuinely transformed life. Put God first in everything. Make Jesus Lord of all. And your children will sense and see that knowing God really does make a difference.
My prayer is that you will get straight A’s this year in your parenting. You rub off on your kids like fresh paint on a doorjamb. Don’t miss a chance to leave your lasting mark. Become a sharpie parent and leave a permanent, indelible imprint on their life – one that God would score you well on.
A rather interesting bonus thought is that nothing really changes in life. These same intentional and caring actions aimed at children are also what make any marital relationship great. Face it: life lessons live long. I’d love to hear from you on how these will help you with your report card this fall!