I see a lot of similarities between parenting and sports. If you’ve played sports on any serious level, you know how much practice and strategy goes into preparing for a game. You have to have strategies that your coach gives you and plays that are at the ready just in case you need them. At every huddle and time out, the team reassesses what is happening and what needs to happen in order to win the game.

We All Create a Parenting Game Plan

We all start our parenting journey with a game plan. Some of us are more prepared than others. We may have read a book or two and we tap into our history of being a child in order to know how to parent. Many times we swear that we will never act like so-and-so did or we commit to emulating someone we admire.

I had excellent role models in my parents but I still felt ill-equipped once my first child was born. I remember the overwhelming feeling in the hospital: “I don’t know what I am doing!” The idea of now being fully responsible for another life hits pretty hard and I committed to learning more about strategies to be a better parent.

My wife and I went to parenting groups at church, read some parenting books, and sort of married our individual strategies for parenting, which honestly were not that different from each other.

What Does it Look Like to Win at Parenting?

Just like in sports, my wife and I are committed to “winning the game,” so to speak, with raising our children.  

What does it look like to win at parenting? It’s definitely not about having perfect kids— games are lost and kids with fallen natures sin. 

My prayer is that we raise kids that know Jesus and have a personal relationship with Him. That Christianity isn’t just their parent’s faith. I pray they have active prayer lives and listen to God for discernment in life’s decisions. I pray they honor their parents and live their lives reflecting God’s glory like mirrors so others can see Jesus through them.

Calling an Audible

If we lose a battle in parenting, we may need to reassess our game plan.  We may need to “call an audible” in the moment based on how a situation is unfolding.  

Let me give you an example.

Our son is strong-willed… and very strong-willed at that. He is very smart but he has a high need for control. We try to keep our eyes on the big picture goal: raising him to know Jesus and teaching him to steward his gifts— including his strong will— for God’s kingdom. 

We’ve had to pivot our game plan several times: My wife and I started with a strategy for punishment, which we based on how we were raised. We quickly changed things up when he was 1-2 years old and we realized what we were doing wasn’t working. We read The Strong Willed Child by James Dobson, which is a great book.

We quickly changed things up when... we realized what we were doing wasn't working.

When our son was 2-3 years old, we realized spankings weren’t working so we called an audible again and we pivoted. Similarly, we realized that taking away portions of his bedtime routine (ie. books, crackers, etc.) as a consequence wasn’t wise or effective— it only made things worse. We realized that bedtime should be earlier and that dying on a hill of moral principle with an exhausted toddler isn’t the best idea!

As he’s grown older, we’ve learned not to plan his whole day for him. Instead, we give him the things that need to get done, but he chooses when to do them. He might choose to procrastinate on his chores, but then he has a smaller window to complete them later on. For our daughter, who is six, we can have her do chores when we are doing them and she is perfectly fine with that. 

No Two Children are Alike

I think it’s amazing how God gives our children a personality from birth and how the more you learn about your kids, the more you know how to lead them. Our daughter, for example, has a milder personality. She comes to repentance a lot sooner than our son; our strategies are less complicated and may not change as much with her as she gets older, but time will tell. 

Having a plan is crucial as parents; there are common themes and strategies that can be applied to all children. But it’s also important to know that you can’t read a book and suddenly be a great parent. It takes hard work, discipline, and adapting to the challenges you face. It takes understanding the heart and personality of your children. Each child is a miraculous gift from God and no two children are alike. 

Model Humility, Repentance, and Adaptability

We will not always get it right as parents. We will fail and we will make mistakes. It’s important for our children to see us filled with love and humility, asking for forgiveness when we mess up. Our children are constantly watching and will model what we do, not just what we say.  

Our children will mostly likely parent one day and probably won’t know what they’re doing either! They will incorporate strategies, just like we did, based on their childhood and the influence of their spouse. What will they take with them from their time in your home?

God Gives Wisdom Generously

There is no perfect parent, but there are bad parents— parents who don’t even try or take the role seriously.

God has given parents an immense responsibility— but it shouldn’t be a burden or something that causes us to feel overwhelmed, afraid of doing it wrong. If we’re humble, if we get on our knees and pray, if we learn from those that have gone before us, find an older mentor to teach us, and strive for unity with our spouse, we’ll have a better chance of success.  James 1:5 (NIV) tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”  

Our kids will throw wild cards at us, things that aren’t in any book we’ve read. We need discernment and the help of the Holy Spirit to “call an audible” in the moment and pivot our strategy. Proverbs 2:6 (NIV) says, “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.”

If you feel discouraged today as a parent, I’d like to remind you that parenting is hard work but it’s also good work. If what you’re doing isn’t working, maybe it’s time to call an audible. Take time to reassess your strategies, go to God for wisdom, read the Bible for clarity, pray for direction, ask for guidance from your church community— and never stop showing the love of Christ to your children.