This one phrase is my favorite parenting advice. Read more to find out why.

When you are building a house, you don’t start with the roof. You don’t start by buying the light fixtures and curtains. You don’t even order the lumber until you know what you need. You also don’t start just pouring the foundation without a plan.

Yet I think so many people go into parenting without a plan:

  • We find out the gender and get giddy decorating the nursery.
  • We order a stack of parenting books before deciding what kind of parent you want to be.
  • We dream about what we’ll enjoy doing with them before we know the personality of the little one God has given us.
  • We decide we aren’t going to do xyz and we are going to do abc without really thinking about the long-term implications or need.

Often, we decide to start a family before realizing what that will really require of us, beyond the baby noises and laughter, and even beyond the sleepless nights and diaper changes that we expect even though we’re not looking forward to them.

Then suddenly, as that baby is born, we realize how ill-equipped we really are. I hear so many moms share how unqualified they felt on that day that the hospital released them and their firstborn baby to go home. But that day it begins whether you are ready or not. And many, not having taken the time to think about what parenting really will require, will begin and stick with the very common, even culturally-appropriate parenting strategy of reacting:

  • Baby crying? Do whatever it takes to make them stop without thinking about why they are crying and what they really need.
  • Toddler throwing a tantrum? Do whatever it takes to make them stop without thinking about the long-term consequences of the method(s) we use.
  • Preschooler refusing to (fill in the blank)? Bribe them, force them, manipulate them, etc and don’t consider what those types of techniques will teach them about themselves and others.
  • Child starting to talk back? Discipline, discipline, discipline without considering why and where they learned that behavior and what their cries for attention are really rooted in.
  • Teenagers distance themselves? ‘Oh it’s just part of the teenage way,’ we say, and we distance ourselves from them, too. We don’t try to lean into the hard and understand their need to grow in independence.

Parenting has become just an item on the cultural to-do list instead of a calling and a reward that the Bible calls it. It has even become relegated to being a distraction from the “better work” of our adults lives, a “pause from our calling,” as if parenting itself is not enough.

Would you be surprised to know that God doesn’t see parenthood the way the world sees it? His Word says children are a “gift,” “a blessing,” “a reward.” And we are called to be faithful and wise stewards of raising our children, our gifts that God has given us.

So how do we faithfully steward these precious gifts as parents?

While not found explicitly in Scripture, I think one wise way we steward our role as parents is to “start the way we mean to go,” which is a clever way of saying “keep the end in mind:” have a prayerful plan, consider your ways. Have you ever considered what values and characteristics you want your children to possess when they leave your home at 18 years old?

What does this look like?

There are many different decisions a parent makes every single day. But they all boil down to two main ideas: how will I instruct / teach my child? And how will I choose to influence my child?

When you have the long-view in mind with instructing your children, consider the long-term impacts. Because each season of parenting will determine what you have to do or not do, teach or re-teach, train or re-train in a later season. Training newborns to have healthy sleep habits will impact the rest of their lives. The down-the-road ramifications of letting a toddler touch or play with whatever he or she can reach means harder lessons ahead. What does it look like to teach a child in “the way that he/she should go so that when they are old, they shall not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). It means thinking about your teaching moments ahead of time and how what you do impacts their future and then remaining strong in your decisions in any given parenting situations.

It also means considering how you will influence what values, attributes, and skills you want your teenager to have before they leave your home and go off on your own. Your family culture sets the foundation for what kind of marriage and family he or she will seek out. The safe boundaries and trust you build by being fully present with your baby will pay dividends when they make mistakes or fail in the future because they’ll know you are safe. If you show your preschooler that even when they push you away that you will always be there, they will be less likely to push so hard in the future. The relationships you build in those young years of sitting on the floor and joining in the pretend play will set the groundwork for deeper conversations with your teenager’s heart when it really matters.

Even if you started out your parenting journey with excitement over the nursery and lots of unanswered questions, it is never too late to change the way you approach parenting. Most of the time parents simply think about their own childhood and decide “well, I don’t want to do THAT” without really considering what they DO want to do. No parent is perfect. We will mess up. We will have “off” days. We will make mistakes. We will parent out of our emotions or frailty or fears or embarrassment at some point or another. Are you willing to humble yourself and tell your child you are sorry and ask for forgiveness when you do mess up? Are you willing to learn a better way and let God take your short-comings and create something beautiful anyways? Connect with an older mom you look up to in your local community, and if you don’t have someone local to talk to, join my Facebook Community, or feel free to shoot me a private message.

If you are ready to be more intentional in your parenting and learn how to do that in the various seasons of parenting, grab my free parenting self-assessment tool. It will walk you through creating a long-term vision with your spouse and help you assess which area(s) of parenting to work on in the season of parenting you are currently in.