Just over eighteen years ago, my wife gave birth to my son.
In the long nights of sleep deprivation that followed, I dreamt of him growing up to become an incredible young man. Every parent wishes the same thing for their sons and daughters. A daunting question typically interrupted those dreams: What do I need to do? I realized that I have just one round of parenting him, and I wanted to get it right. But how?
Honest answer: I don’t know. Really honest answer as a dad of a newborn: I haven’t a clue and don’t care right now because I really just hope I don’t do something wrong and break him. He seemed so fragile.
Changing diapers soon turned into frequently buying new shoes as he grew and grew. My daughter arrived nearly sixteen years ago and I had similar dreams, the same big question, and unchanged answers.
Twelve years ago, I unwillingly began a battle with cancer. I started to feel a sense of urgency about what I need to do as a parent. When you believe your days are numbered, you resolve to make them count. I wondered if my one shot at parenting might come to a premature end, so I decided to take it more seriously. “I don’t know what to do” somehow seemed not good enough.
Two weeks ago, my son signed a letter of intent to play college football. He’s definitely not fragile anymore. In a matter of months, we will move him into a dorm, give him a big hug, and drive home. I fully expect to ask myself a question: How did I do? Sure, parenting doesn’t stop with him going away to school. But this season does. My daughter leaves two years later. Once again I’ll ask: How did I do?
While I don’t advocate over-parenting that smothers a child, under-parenting serves children poorly, too. The challenge: Parent well with that one shot. Yes, other factors will also shape children. None will impact my kids as much as my one shot. Sobering or over-dramatizing? Maybe. But there’s no escaping it as true.
David Staal serves as the president & CEO of Kids Hope USA, a national nonprofit organization that partners local churches with elementary schools to provide mentors for at-risk students. A senior editor for Christianity Today and International and former children's ministry director, he also authored these books: