It’s likely that you are being a great parent even when you aren’t thinking about it. You may be doing a heck of a job of training your children without even trying to do so. Unaware, you can parent well. Unfortunately, that door swings both ways. You can be a terrible parent without thinking about it (most lousy parents never think about it).
Whether you are directly or indirectly parenting, it is perpetual. This is the good news and the bad news. You are a role model all day every day. It never ends. Even after your child has left the home and has a family of his or her own. Children will always look to their parents.
Parenting is tacit. Sometimes you are totally oblivious to the fact that you are parenting intensely. In fact, the most powerful moments as a parent are often when you least expect it. You are imprinting yourself — your values, your beliefs, your actions, your attitudes — deeply into the impressionable clay that is your growing child. And yet, it may not feel like you are molding anything. You are just living with your kids. You are tired. It’s just every day life. And yet, your child is soaking up everything you say and is reading your body language very carefully.
Parenting is explicit. Sometimes you are parenting intensely, and you are deeply aware of the impact that you are making. You are thinking, praying, and talking about how to handle a situation with your child, and it is the primary concern of your life. It is hard work, and you don’t feel successful. You may be aware that this is a key moment when you could cause your child to either turn away with a deep wound or deeply embrace your perspective. Sometimes parenting consumes you.
The concept of perpetual parenting goes back many centuries. In the ancient Judeo-Christian tradition, the Torah gives some great parenting advice. Deuteronomy 6:5-7 says, “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
God gave the Israelites explicit instructions about how to live in a healthy and respectful manner. The ancient Jews were to respect themselves, others, and the divine. The instructions were quite detailed, and it was going to take a lot of training to get all the people up to speed. So, God told them how to train all the people. Start with the children, start at home, and go from there.
This ancient tradition transcends time, place, and culture. All parents should discuss issues of faith and how to live well as they come up in everyday life, in casual conversations around the house. We should teach our kids all about life spontaneously throughout the mundane events of the day: walking, eating, going to bed, waking up, resting, cleaning up, etc.
We should teach our children about life in every setting. Let’s break it down. Where and when should we each our kids?
When you “sit in your house” at the table, on the kitchen the counter, on the couch, on the porch…
When you “walk by the way” as you drive on the roads, walk in the neighborhood, walk the mall…
When you “lie down” on the couch, on the floor, on the bed, on the hammock, on the pool float…
When you “rise” while still in bed at the breakfast room table, in the kitchen,…
These are all the everyday, casual places where we teach our kids to be better than they once were. It’s where life is lived out. Where siblings fight. Where doors get slammed. Where zits get popped. Where kids learn to grow up well.
Whether we are aware of it or not, we are parenting everywhere all the time.