I like to say that my goal for my children is Heaven, not Harvard. Now if my kids go to Harvard on the way to Heaven, that's fine: But if I so focus on Harvard and success in this world that they miss Heaven, I will have failed them _ and for all of eternity.
It starts with training them in the wise habits of the heart. I was so fortunate to have wise friends in my church _ families mentoring me and challenging me, teaching me things like (gasp!) it's the job of us parents to lead our kids. It's not up to the experts, it's not up to the village, it's up to us. So with apologies to Stephen Covey and gratefulness to my many wise friends, I distill it down to the seven essential habits of the successful home, in this case the seven "A's":
1. The culture teaches us that success in the world is what's important. Instead, we parents need to have as a mission for our kids something that will really matter for them, now and forever. And so my aim for my children is Heaven, not Harvard;
2. The culture tells us that our children are inherently wise and virtuous. But the wise parent sees a child's heart accurately, meaning he understands that the foolish tendencies of his child's heart are the biggest danger facing him;
3. The parenting experts want us to believe that we must "earn" our authority in the lives of our kids, as one such leading expert puts it. Instead, we parents must accept our role of authority in our children's lives for the good of our children. And, we must understand that we as parents are under God's authority too;
4. The culture seeks to protect children from every conceivable disappointment or frustration. This isn't the way to build resilient children. This is the way to build children who will be routinely buffeted by life's storms, even the storms God Himself asks them to weather. We parents give a gift to our children when we let them appropriately experience and learn from adversity;
5. The world teaches children to ask, "What have you done for me lately?" But wise parents teach their children an attitude of gratefulness;
6. The culture wants our children to believe they are wonderful right now, as is. Instead, our duty as parents is to affirm our children not because they are wonderful today, as crazy as we are about them, but because they are created in God's image. And, they are the only creatures He made who can choose to do better tomorrow;
7. The world wants us parents to be our children's "friends." But the wise parent knows that to be a child's advocate, to be on our child's side, means we have to care less about whether our children like us when they are 13 than when they are 30. And that to really be our child's advocate, we need to pray for our kids and wisdom in parenting them.
This list is hardly exhaustive. But whatever we decide are going to be the essential habits of our home, we parents have to persevere in the moment, even when we don't see the fruits of our perseverance in the moment. Parenting is like waves washing over a rock. You think the water is having no impact at all on the rough stone, but then one day, it's almost suddenly clear that the rock is smooth right where the waves have been washing over it all those years. So, too, it can be when it comes to the work of a parent in shaping the heart of his child.
As a dear friend recently reminded me, when it comes to parenting our children the days are so long _ but the years are so short! And so what a blessing it is to our children when we parents have as our aim for them Heaven, not Harvard.