3 Things That Matter Most in Parenting

3 things I took my older daughter to St. Louis this weekend for a soccer tournament. Her team lost the game that decided who would go to the finals. After two great games, they really didn't play well in the last game. I took home a frustrated and sore young lady.

As we were making the four-hour trip home through the rain, I had some time to reflect on what it is that we're doing as parents. To some people, the weekend we just spent (my younger daughter and husband were in Minnesota for hockey) may seem crazy. And as I drove home, I really wondered whether it was worth it.

But as I pondered, I boiled our parenting down to three things. We want our kids to be healthy, filled with joy, and aware that character matters -- to us and to God.

Being healthy and filled with joy aren't always things that I, as a parent, can control. Our kids can get sick or injured. It's our job as parents to make sure they receive the care they need to get healthy. We just spent four weeks rehabbing an injured foot for my older daughter. She received the OK to play this weekend about an hour before we left. There wasn't anything I could do to make it better except take her to the physical therapist and pray.

When it comes to joy, there's only one source for that -- God. Psalm 16:11 says, "You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." True joy is found in God's presence. For our kids to know joy, we have to lead them to God. We have to teach them about the great things He has done. But the truth is that we can't make our kids seek God. We can teach them and pray for them, but they must choose to follow God to receive His joy.

So our job becomes to make sure that God is an everyday part of our kids' lives. We can't just take them to church on Sunday and expect them to have a fulfilling relationship with God. We have to weave God into everyday moments in our lives. We have to pray with and for our kids, open up conversations about who God is and the amazing things He has done. We have to point out places where we see God at work. Because the ultimate goal is to lead our kids to Him so they can experience His joy.

The last item on my parenting list is something that we have a lot of control over -- making our kids aware that character matters. My kids play some fairly rough sports (if you don't think soccer is brutal, watch the pros play sometime). They often come home bruised and battered. It would be easy to leave character on the sidelines when the play gets rough. It would be easy to be upset with teammates when they lose. It would be easy to forget who they are on the field.

But character matters everywhere. It's not something you can leave on the sidelines. Who you are on the field needs to be the same as who you are off of the field. And that's true for every endeavor our kids undertake. The only way they can truly understand that, though, is if we're teaching them over and over and over again that it's important to be a picture of God everywhere they go and in everything they do. They can bring glory to God no matter what they're doing -- but only if they understand that character matters.

We can teach our kids that character matters by making it a priority in our parenting. When we see something on the field or when they're playing with their friends that doesn't stand up to the character test, then we need to point it out and talk about what to do differently next time. When we discipline our kids, we need to not just deal with the actions but with the character underneath. Character matters to God, and it should be the focus of our parenting.

As you have a few spare moments in your day today, consider what your parenting priorities are. Do you put an emphasis on health, joy and character?