Have you ever considered what it means to be an intentional parent? Have you thought about what hangs in the balance? Fourteen years of parenting, reading countless books and listening to the sage of advice of many who walked the parenting path before me has taught me much. Ironically, what stands out the most is how much there is left to learn about being an effective parent and how often I still miss the mark. Hitting the mark is tough even in the best of circumstances; with work, after-school activities, help with homework and other personal demands the bulls eye looks awfully small and so far away. Maybe you can relate. One thing is clear to me — effective parenting is not something that easily comes. It takes great effort and it takes intentionality. The effort part is for another discussion, but what about intentionality?

An intentional parent is not a perfect parent (none of us fall into that category); rather, it is a parent who has “mentally determined upon some action or result related to parenting.” The key is “mentally determined” since every good habit starts with a mental decision. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a single good habit I have that just happened. An intentional parent is an “on purpose” parent.

As parents, our greatest tendency is to react to our children rather than plan in advance. To complicate it even further, we acknowledge this tendency yet do little about it. What does this say about us as parents? The question we need to grapple with is why do we tend to continue down the same unintentional path? There are at least three practical reasons I have identified in my own life that make it difficult for me to be an intentional parent: vision, know-how and accountability. See if you can identify with any of them.

Our biggest obstacle starts in the mind — we simply don’t take the time to contemplate what hangs in the balance. To state it another way, we really have not taken the time to understand and embrace what is gained and what is lost by investing in our children as intentional parents. Most of us would agree, upon reflection, more is to be gained by taking an intentional approach to parenting our children. So, action step number one for becoming an intentional parent is to imagine what you want your relationship to be like with your child and what his or her relationships will be like with others once your child has reached adulthood. Add to that the legacy you want to leave and you start to catch a glimpse of what hangs in the balance.

I imagine my children growing up one day and investing their lives in their own family and those around them. Can that happen if I never invest time with them? Of course, but chances are they will be more apt to do it and more effective at it if I invest in them as young children. When Emily, our now 11 year old, was younger and wanted to play Old Maid when the football game was on, my first thought was “not during the game.” As I look back now, I can say some of my funniest and fondest memories were playing a simple card game like Old Maid with our girls. It is amazing what you can teach a child about life during a basic game of Old Maid.

Our next challenge is lack of know-how. We have very little idea of what an intentional parent looks or acts like. In short, we are missing a plan. It is a bit like driving in a foreign country without a map or directions of any sort. You may eventually reach the destination but the frustration and loss of time makes the journey miserable and it is rarely worth the price. The solution is easy but it takes time. Research, read, utilise resources like Focus on the Family and survey your friends, especially those with grown children. One good resource can launch your journey to becoming an intentional parent. For me, it was a book by Tim Kimmel entitled Legacy of Love.

Being an intentional parent requires changing your strategy and approach as your child changes. If you are like I was early in my parenting I wanted to discover the know-how or “program” that worked, implement it and expect everything to fall neatly into place. I soon discovered the “neatly into place” part was a hurdle. I remember one particular aeroplane ride before we had our first daughter, Nicole. I was stuck next to a screaming child; you know the one who never stops screaming the entire flight. I still hear myself saying, “I can’t believe they are not able to control their child. My child will never act like that in public.” Famous last words, right? Fast forward to my first aeroplane ride with Nicole when she was about six months old. It was a piece of cake — not a peep out of her the entire time. Everyone was so complimentary and a proud Dad I was. I had the program figured out or so I thought until my second aeroplane ride with Nicole near her one year birthday. To say it was miserable and embarrassing would be an understatement. From the time the plane took off she started screaming and I was reduced to a helpless Dad — duped by a one year old. Some program on “how you should act in public” I had! My child had changed — it was time for a new strategy.

Once you have your vision and plan in place you are faced with implementation. Every parent understands the daily challenges of raising a child as life speeds by us like a NASCAR race. In my own life it is here in the daily battle that I have discovered the importance of accountability. My wife is the best intentional parent I know. She made a decision early in the lives of our children (Nicole is 14 and Emily is 11) to empower her friends to hold her accountable in her role as an intentional mother. As a result, when inertia begins to pull her away from intentional parenting her friends remind her of the vision, the plan and of what hangs in the balance. This accountability enables her to course correct and to escape falling “out of the habit” of intentional parenting. Who have you allowed into the center of your life to ask you the difficult questions and to challenge you to be an intentional parent?

Having a vision with know-how and even accountability means nothing unless and until we act. Actions require energy and time which, for busy people, always feels in short supply. If you are like me, fear and self-centeredness are oftentimes a big hindrance to being an intentional parent. A sense of scarcity and the lack of understanding of the consequences of inaction allow fear and self-centeredness to rule and block our otherwise good intentions. What will I need to give up in the way of time and energy to deliver in this area of my life? What will it cost me personally? It takes courage to be an intentional parent. So, what do you think — is it worth your child’s future and your legacy to become an intentional parent? Will you muster the courage it takes to impact a life?

I know what you are thinking — where are all of the action steps, the secrets, the plan? Well, right now Emily needs help with her homework so more on the know-how will need to wait. Keep your eye out for the next article at http://www.couragethemonkey.com/. Intentional parenting calls.