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7 Priorities for Great Parenting

If we had only 30 minutes to talk with you, here’s the advice we would pass on.

By Dennis and Barbara Rainey

Do you ever feel like your brain might explode if you have to remember one more thing? It’s no wonder—we’ve got a lot to remember! Passwords to access different websites. A code for voicemail. A PIN for the ATM at your bank. Home phone numbers and cell phone numbers.

Parents certainly feel the pain brought by information glut. Everywhere we turn someone is offering more advice on how to do it right with our children. We would like to help you simplify your priorities as a parent—whether your children are preschoolers, preadolescents, teenagers, or even young adults.

Let’s pretend we are old friends who, after several years, have just bumped into each other while making connections at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. After exchanging greetings, you begin telling us about some of your struggles as a parent. We nod and smile—“Been there. Done that. Several times.”

You ask for our advice. We all look at our watches—30 minutes until you board your flight for Hawaii and we head back to Little Rock. You offer to buy the Starbucks coffee. Here’s our best shot—seven guiding priorities for parenting. The coffee is hot, your pen and notepad are ready; here goes.

Priority One: Prayer

This one probably does not surprise you. But before you glance at your watch and start tapping your foot, please consider carefully what we have gleaned.

Pray regularly. Bring every concern, dream, and desire about your child to God in fervent, persistent prayer. (Luke 18:1–8 contains a great parable on persistent prayer that must have been for parents of teenagers.) Two of the best times to pray with your child are on the way to school (assuming you drive him) and at bedtime—regardless of age. When our teenagers began to drive themselves to school, we used breakfast for this prayer time.

Bedtime prayers can be more personal for each child. Pray for his future spouse, his relationships, his activities, his challenges, his temptations, and his heart for God. Don’t assume that a teenager is too big for you to kneel beside his bed and stroke his face and pray.

Pray offensively. Before and after your child hits adolescence, pray for his peer group—that he will have at least one strong Christian buddy for the teenage years. Ask God to protect your child daily from others who would be an evil influence. Also consider asking God to help you spot your child doing things right so that you can encourage him in making right choices.

Pray defensively. On more than one occasion we sought the Lord’s help in removing a friend of questionable character from a child’s life. From time to time we felt that one of our teens might be deceiving us, but we could never be absolutely certain. In those situations we asked God to help us catch him if he’s doing something wrong. God seems to feel sorry for parents who pray this prayer! Pray when God brings your child to your mind. It may be at that very moment, your child is facing a circumstance of critical importance.

Pray with your child. It’s easy for prayer to become an exclusive dialogue—you and God. Why not do what one mom, Nina, did with her teenage daughter, Natalie, and become prayer partners? Natalie’s teenage years were filled with special moments in which she and her mom knelt together and prayed over Natalie’s struggles and challenges.

Pray together as a couple. During all our years of marriage we have ended each day in prayer together as a couple. No spiritual discipline has protected our marriage and our family more than this daily time of communion together with God.

Priority 2: Standards

If you think about it, there are dozens of things you will teach your children over the years. When Barbara and I began parenting, we began developing a list that eventually became 40 lessons we sought to teach our children. And from this list you develop standards—how you want your children to treat each other, how they will respect you as their parents, etc.

Many parents haven’t talked clearly about these standards. If you have teenagers, for example, have you and your spouse talked about dating, driving, jobs, grades, curfews, friends, and after-school activities? The list seems endless at times.

We promise this: If you don’t nail down your own convictions ahead of time, your teenager and his peer group will establish their own! If you have not agreed as a couple upon guidelines (specific boundaries and standards for your child during pre-teen and teen years), your child will soon hit you with the divide-and-conquer strategy. Children are experts on whether dad or mom is the easy target on certain issues.

Priority 3. Involvement

We are not suggesting that you become the ultimate soccer mom. That’s not bad—being there at all of your child’s activities—but involvement means much more than driving the carpool and never missing a game or dance recital. Involvement means crawling inside your child’s head and heart. Involvement is moving from the outside to the interior of a child’s life.

Involvement means diving into the turbulent currents caused by emotions—the child’s and the parent’s. Soul to soul. Heart to heart.