The Psalmist said, "Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him." (Psalm 127:3, NIV emphasis mine) Most parents agree that the privilege of having children is a reward in and of itself, but for decades I have pondered this verse wondering what reward God was referencing. Here's my perspective.
I learned a new phrase from one of our sons-in-love this summer. (thanks, Jim) It is R-O-I. It stands for Return On Investment. I'm sure most of you smart young things know that, but it was new to me. I really do enjoy learning new words for old concepts. Jim and I were discussing marketing practices when he used this phrase but, as usual, my mind turned it over to parenting and nurturing our children. What is the ROI of parenting? Seriously...what is the ROI once you've done all you can do for your children?
Raising children is a long term active duty project. The path to success is not clearly marked and the stakes are alarmingly high. There is no emergency exit through which you can flee when it is frustrating or maddening, and no way to know the price of your mistakes until they can not be repaired. Why do people keep doing this? Are we crazy?
I believe that we continue to do this because the Psalms tell it like it is. Children are a reward from God. The reward is completely worth the investment. The reward may seem slow in coming, but once you have received it you will understand.
Just like every investment, you have to pay up front. There is no return without investment. It just doesn't work any other way. First comes the work, then comes the reward. You don't get the trophy without playing the entire season. If you don't run the race, you don't get the medal. But remember this: God is so good to us that He made the race of parenting have a lot of built in joys, fun, and laughter along the way. Enjoy the things that have joy and let them strengthen you for the times that are less than fun. Keep on going no matter what.
Just so you know, and can't say that you were never told, there is no retirement from parenting. If you are close to your own parents, spend some time listening to their concern for you. They are not retired from parenting and neither will you ever be. Your role in your children's lives will change dramatically over time. In fact, if God grants you longevity your roles will actually reverse in time. We have been and continue to live this with our mothers. You will never, ever stop being the parent to your child. Ever. Children are permanent. There is no retirement. Instead, there is the reward.
How can you invest in your child in such a way as to reap the reward? Here are a few tidbits I've gleaned across the years:
Enjoy each phase of your child's life. Each stage of childhood is different and represents your child's maturing body and mind. Actively seek out the fun and the joy in each phase. Of course there are challenges, and you must face those head on, but focus on those things that make your heart sing with pride and laughter.
Study your child. Become a student of your child. Learn what triggers them to anxiety or anger or laughter or creativity or excitement or passion. Learn to offer more positive triggers than negative. This is your child's only childhood and you can show them that life is mostly good or mostly bad. Whichever you teach now they will carry with them for the remainder of their lives and this will effect your reward.
Remember that you are the adult. In your child's first twenty five or so years of life, at least, you must do the heavy lifting in relationship building between you and your child. Your intentions in the relationship will create the dynamics of this bond. Give the respect you want to receive, offer the courtesies that you want returned, speak in tones that you wish to hear come back to you. Set the example. This too effects the reward.
Don't rush the reward. You see, the reward of good parenting is a good friend. But hear me clearly: it is vital that you remain the parent for many, many years before you can enjoy the reward of having a beloved friend in your child. Most of you, my dear readers, are a long way from this reward. You are still investing. Enjoy this part of the process. Put your heart and your soul into being the parent that your child needs you to be in order to rest fully in the reward that is to come.
Dearest friends, if you don't hear anything else today, know this: There is no retirement from parenting, but instead you have a great reward that is far better than retiring. The reward of good parenting is a good friend. Children are a reward.