Our Attempt at Authentic Parenting
Raising Responsible Adults in an Irresponsible World
It’s not every day that I’m asked about faith, authenticity, or aloneness, even though these are topics I usually write about. The most common question I receive is about parenting. People often wonder, “What did you and Cindy do to raise such incredible young men?” It’s an honoring and humbling question when others recognize your success in raising children to be exceptional human beings. But I should clarify that I was away for a significant segment of our sons’ lives, traveling the globe and speaking. So in our story, Cindy is the true hero of the Eldred home.
Express Unconditional Love Daily
Were we perfect parents? No. Far from it, for sure. And our sons are by no means perfect either; however, we made some choices that might have contributed to them becoming well-rounded, responsible adults. So since I’m asked so frequently, I thought I’d take the time to offer some words of encouragement for those currently raising children to consider the principles and priorities that helped guide our parenting practices.
Encourage Individual Beliefs and Values
Above all, we always tried to show our unconditional love daily. If you’ve met Cindy or me, you’ll know we’re pretty chatty people, and we believe that words should not be wasted. So we used ours with purpose and intentionality. We celebrated our sons’ successes, reassured them that mistakes are a normal part of life, and acknowledged our imperfections even when sharing them was uncomfortable. We consistently reminded them of their unique talents and never let a day go by without saying, “I love you.” And that practice hasn’t faded. Even today, a telephone conversation seldom ends without telling them they are loved. Maybe that’s why they still call every day — multiple times. Words matter.
Create a Safe Space for Genuine Expression
We also encouraged our sons to develop their own beliefs and values, even if they differed from ours. Although we hoped they would embrace our faith, we never forced them to adopt our beliefs. We believe that God is much larger than any single perspective. Our wish was for our sons to find God in their own way, think critically, and maintain an open mind as they forged their own faith. We assured them that their thoughts and feelings were valid and worth sharing. Children need the freedom to develop their own identity — not simply to adopt the identity we choose for them. There is enough pressure on young people to conform for acceptance; it shouldn’t happen in the home, too.
Teach the Value of Simplicity
In our home, we worked to create an environment that nurtured authenticity and genuine expression. We took a real interest in their experiences and attempted to understand the world from their point of view, which meant a commitment to asking more questions than giving answers. They needed to wrestle through their thought process. If we wanted them to respect our voice, they also needed to know we heard theirs. This exercise encouraged honest dialogue where we could pass on our principles in an atmosphere of mutual appreciation. And while imparting our values, we highlighted timeless virtues such as wisdom, empathy, and respect for others and urged them to recognize humanity beyond superficial labels. Values might change from generation to generation. But virtues are timeless.
Emphasize Choices and Consequences
We also taught our sons that happiness arises from daily decisions and that simplicity often carries more value than excess. So they never saw us live outside our means. Did we give them extravagant gifts on occasion? Of course. But not beyond our budget or more than they truly needed. For instance, they each received only three Christmas presents as kids, which helped them learn contentment and the importance of considering others’ needs. Some people find our holiday gift tradition odd. But it worked for us to teach enduring life lessons.
Encourage a Broader Perspective
Maybe one of the most significant aspects of our parenting was our commitment to consequences. We allowed our sons to face the effects of their decisions, believing this to be crucial for their personal growth. They often heard us say that life is about choices and consequences. We aimed to provide them with the tools needed to make the best decisions possible and then allowed them to experience the outcomes of their actions. This approach was rooted in our desire to raise adults, not children, helping them mature and become responsible by learning from their experiences. From the earliest appropriate age, we allowed them to take responsibility for making adult decisions with our guidance and then own the consequence of their choices which seems to be lacking in our world today.
Focus on Building Lifelong Connections
From the outset, our goal was to make the world their backyard — their playground — rather than making the backyard their world and restricting them to a limited space and perspective. We encouraged our sons to pursue their ambitions and passions, learning from the world around them. And they have — even to the dismay and disapproval of others who wonder why they wander the globe instead of following conventional paths. We didn’t have children just to hold onto them; we wanted to send them into the world to carve their own paths, regardless of what others might think. We taught them to follow their own journey instead of conforming to societal norms. And we would do it again.
Being a parent means making difficult decisions and setting boundaries, even when challenging. Keep in mind that the objective isn’t to be your children’s friend right now but to build a relationship that will last a lifetime. Being your child’s friend during their developmental years can create resentment in them later. So remember to play the long game, especially on the most difficult days. The journey of raising children is filled with ups and downs, but love and support make all the difference.
As I mentioned, we never claimed to be perfect parents or to have raised perfect sons. Our parenting adventure has been full of challenges and triumphs, but through love, support, and understanding, we’ve been able to nurture and empower our sons to become the individuals they are today. Remember, the ultimate goal of parenting is to help your children become compassionate, confident, and responsible. So if I can boil down our parenting into two words you can use to help you be successful with your children, it would be these: raise adults. It worked for us anyway. ◼︎
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