Building Blocks of a Parenting Legacy (From Our Pastors)

February 5, 2024

[Editor’s Note: This is the first article in a series called “From Our Pastors.” From time to time, we’ll be posting articles our pastors have written to serve the women of Covenant Fellowship Church. We’re grateful for Andy’s wisdom in this insightful piece about parenting older kids.]

We are moving from a first-generation church to a second-generation church. One thing that means is that more and more of us are completing our years of direct parenting and are navigating the very different experience of being parental figures in multigenerational families. It’s a big change! The verse in Psalm 127, “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth” is a helpful picture of the experience–we raise our children and send them out into the world. Hopefully, we have shot them in a good direction, but we cannot always know where they will land. How do we handle the new relationships we need to build with adult children and play a redemptive role in their lives and the generation they bring into the world?

This is what I call legacy parenting. Legacy parenting is active, but it is not directive. It works more in the tone and environment it creates than in the things it does. It is shaping, but not defining. Let me offer you some things I try to keep in mind as a legacy parent.

Preserve a living history of your family, not a museum. 
You may have seen it: The family home that is unchanged. The family vacation that everybody has to go on every year. The holiday pilgrimage to the same place to altogether do the same thing. That can be as stifling to our adult children (and their spouses, who probably also have their own family museums they need to visit) as my old-school museum is to a kid raised on interactive media. Our family traditions are wonderful, but they need to adapt and change as families grow and move around. Pressure to visit the Museum of Family Treasures and Traditions, curated exclusively by mom and dad, isn’t a great way to build toward the future. Be willing to make new traditions where you aren’t the featured exhibit at the museum.

Support your adult children generously but wisely. 
Some parents can be too quick to throw money into an adult child’s need. Some give willingly, but there are strings attached. Not all our kids will handle money the same way. Some may be good at it, some not so. Some may find themselves with abundance, some may choose equally worthy careers that pay little. Fairness can’t be the goal. Wise generosity will help everyone see we can be a means of help in times of need, but we’re not the family bank.

Learn to be an influencer. 
Our hope as parents is that the wisdom we’ve acquired will be passed down to our children. That’s why we freely offer our opinions. But maybe our hope should be that our kids will reach into our life experience and extract the good stuff from it for themselves. That’s the principle of influence. It is not peddled and preached, it is sought and applied. This applies to marriage. It applies to raising children. It applies to career choices and major decisions. It applies to weathering life challenges. In fact, how we handle the difficulties we face may be the most significant part of our influence in our adult children’s lives. My point is that values aren’t imparted through pontification. They’re imparted through the influence of a life in its choices and responses to trial and difficulty over time.

Don’t get caught up in the squabble. 
What is our role if our adult kids are squared off against each other, or some are squared off against us? What if you have significant differences in lifestyles among your adult children, the kinds of differences where even being in the same place is volatile? It happens. Where I’ve seen parental fails here tend to be when parents get enmeshed in the conflicts beyond what is helpful. Sometimes they take sides. Sometimes they become go-betweens. Sometimes they resort to guilting and manipulating and placating to make everybody act nice and keep the appearance of family harmony during holidays and family events. But that level of immersion in a family squabble usually makes things worse because it takes the people who are best positioned to offer help and makes them part of the problem.

Where parents have done well is when they realize they can’t be in the fight and help referee it at the same time. Being a real help in family squabbles is not about being neutral either. It is about having clear principles of relationship and responsibility that govern your behavior with everyone involved. The most trusted, and most influential, people in any conflict are those who act graciously and wisely with everyone involved as a habit. There is an abundance of wisdom offered to us in the Bible for this kind of role. Proverbs is replete with it, as well as the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and in the letters of Paul. Chapter 3 of Colossians is a wonderful source of help. But my go-to for succinct help in the testy moments is James 3:17-18: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

Stay relevant enough to make sense to your kids. 
Are you aware of what your kids are facing as they parent? There is much that is common about parenting over several generations. Little children need love, oversight, and sleep. Education is necessary. Teens will be teens. Getting dumped by your first crush is painful. Parenting costs money. Kids need to become adults. But along with these commonalities, there are significant differences between the challenges your parents faced with you, what you face with your kids, and what your kids will face as parents of their children. Education models, employment trends, technology, culture, politics, relationships, and everything else that affects daily life are constantly changing all around us. 

Whatever changes we see that are troubling in our kids’ generation may be really troubling. But it is the habit of one generation to lament the fall into relative depravity by the next generation, while never acknowledging that some of the ideas and behaviors of our generation probably needed to change anyway. Bottom line, if you don’t keep up with the times, you will make less and less sense to the next generation. And without your perspective, they really are left to what the changing world around them says is right.

Prepare for change. 
No matter where your family is right now, it won’t stay that way. It will change, hopefully for the better. If you don’t like how things are now, pray for your family and ask God to do what cannot be done by human means. Pray for yourself, that your family would not define who you are or what you’re meant to accomplish on the far side of the parenting journey. If you do like how things are now, pray for your family and thank God that he has done what could not have been done by human hands. Pray for yourself, that your family’s relative success or failure would not define who you are as a person or what you’re meant to accomplish on the legacy lap of the parenting journey. In either case you’ll be well served to weather change if you fill your life with more than your present family circumstances.

Prepare to age well. 
We’re getting old, folks. Our culture loves denying it. Whole industries and medical treatments and therapies are built around the denial of aging. We are the longest living people in history, yet we are the most ill-prepared to age gracefully in history as well. But it’s coming. You’re getting old. Your kids will see it in you probably before you are willing to admit it to yourself.

At some point, there may not be much I can control in my aging. My memory may go, my health may go, both may go. How we manage our finances now, how we organize our estate now, will significantly affect our ending years as parents. Our children will have to deal with the choices we’re making right now. More importantly, how we look to finish well in life, how we steward our marriage, how we tend to our souls, how we walk out our values, how we wield our tongues, will shape our legacy. If we do it well, we will be passing on something to our kids that really matters. And maybe they’ll pay for us to go on vacation with them.

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