A Comprehensive Guide to High Stakes Parenting: Go Home and Love Your Family

My son was a fierce opponent when it came to cleaning his room. I mean, you would have thought that I asked him to climb Mount Everest. When he was eight, he threatened to call the “Pappy Police” on me. “Pappy” was my father; the same father who wouldn’t even let me eat cookies after school, but now bribes my kids with milkshakes and candy.

So, my son and I made a deal: my son cleaned up his mess. In exchange, he got some quality Pappy time. It was a win-win situation. But let’s be real here, not all parent-child hurdles can be solved with ice cream. Sometimes, kids are masterful tantrum-throwers, they brawl with their siblings and friends, and they may even become fibbing machines.

As parents, our every reaction to these incidents defines the kind of future relationship we’ll share with our children for years to come. Let’s keep that in mind while navigating through these tricky waters, with hope for lasting, intact relationships down the line.

The Bible tells us, “More tortuous than anything is the human heart, beyond remedy.” Jeremiah 17:9.

The eternal struggle between children and parents has been waging for centuries. We all want our kids to be little angels, and when they don’t live up to our expectations, we’re tempted to blame ourselves. We may even worry that we’ve done something wrong. I think it’s important to remember that our children are made from the same flawed cloth as us; our children have inherited their fallen nature from Adam, just as we have.

Parents also struggle with their own natural inclinations toward selfishness, pride, and power; becoming frustrated and lashing out won’t help anything. If only there were a manual for parenthood. Taking time to pause, reflect, understand your own hang-ups, and act thoughtfully will help forge a positive relationship between parent and child.

Parenting is the most important job in the world. Like Abraham in Genesis before us, God gave us the duty to direct our children with grace and virtue. There is no need for a despot’s rule here; we can encourage our kids to be happy, healthy, and Christlike all at once.

This may seem like an impossible feat at times, but there is hope. With the proper strategies, you can keep your kids disciplined while maintaining a loving relationship with them. As they grow up, your children will present more and more challenges. It’s a journey; each twist and turn gives us an opportunity to learn, to better ourselves, and ultimately, to make our household one of peace and love.

There are no shortcuts to good parenting.

Parenting has never been a walk in the park. This originated with Cain and Abel, when one took his brother’s life since he was so angry about something (Genesis 4:8). Then, Jacob took advantage of his brother, Esau, to get what he wanted (Genesis 25:29–34, 27:18–30). Joseph wasn’t even safe from his own family, as his ten older brothers decided they wanted him out of the picture for good (Genesis 37:18–28).

Even Jesus had an adventure of his own when he got separated from his parents at Passover celebrations (Luke 2:41–52). But against all odds, God made sure that everything happened according to His plan.

Parenting is a daunting task regardless of where you are along the journey, but with a bit of strategy and common sense, it doesn’t have to be impossible. Have faith, exert effort, apply some courage, and trust that everything will work out in the end.

Modern Parenting.

We all face the challenging complexities of parenting in the 21st century. With so many newfangled inventions and trends, it’s easy to forget the plagues, famines, and wars our ancestors had to face. Talk about a totally different world! Despite all of our progress, parenthood still remains an uphill battle.

Whereas kids used to fill their days with physical labor like farming, hauling coal, and mucking cesspits, today’s offspring enjoy extracurricular activities aplenty. Instead of exhausting work shifts, they’re whiling away their moments at play, whether it’s sport or theater practice. While our children spend their hours doing something far less grueling, we hope they’re learning things that can help them be successful later in life.

And then, there’s screen time; such a novel addition, compared to fishing or hunting, in times gone by. But its presence can be troubling, too; not only can addictions form, but screens may also facilitate dangerous interactions with strangers and unsupervised access to inappropriate sites. Computers, phones, and televisions— all new tools that foster both positive and negative results for our kids. Yes, indeed, parenting has always been an uphill battle, and this new millennium is no different.

Parents, no matter their background or culture, strive for the same goals: to keep their kids safe, healthy, and educated, while also fostering a loving and supportive home. It’s a big job. Christians in particular have the added challenge of raising their children with a Christ-centered worldview, ensuring they understand Biblical values and teachings.

Newborns and infancy.

Whether you’re raising your first baby or your fourth, no two kids are exactly alike, and every new little person requires an adjustment period— and sometimes, a whole lot of coffee. The number one challenge during this crucial stage is that parents miss it, and the children don’t get the physical facetime they desperately need.

Two-thirds of all two-parent households have both parents working. Almost a quarter of children ages 18 and under reside with one parent: that’s an astonishing 19 million children living with a single parent. There are more than ten million children and infants in daycare. This is a result of the increasing number of parents who work outside the home, and the number of children raised by single working parents.

With parents juggling and hustling, exhaustion permeates parenting. Any disciplinary issues can create even more stress. All of these challenges mean that many parents have less time to spend with their children during their early years and, therefore, have less influence over their development.

Terrible twos and toddler years.

I think everyone knows this stage is a challenge, even if they don’t have children of their own. At this developmental stage, children are mobile and curious. They can speak, some more fluently than others, and they communicate their basic needs and wants. Yet they still don’t quite understand “no,” or logic and reason. They do, however, understand “mine” very well, and sharing with siblings or church friends may be a struggle. Parenting two-year-olds and toddlers is exhausting. You only thought you were tired with a newborn.

Too often, parents allow entertainment to babysit. During the first three years of life, a child’s brain is both more receptive to positive influences and more vulnerable to negative ones than it will be in later years. The majority of infants and toddlers are exposed to roughly one to two hours of TV or videos every day. Just think of what the toddlers’ brains are absorbing without parental supervision, both good and bad!


At this age, kids begin to gain a bit of independence. You’ll often hear them say, “I’ll do it myself.” Parents usually give their children a little room and aren’t on top of every single movement. With this independence, children start testing their limits, determining if Mom really meant, “Don’t color on the walls!” Was Dad serious about “No peanut butter near the TV?” Youth are also very curious at this stage, often inquiring, “Why? Why? Why?”

Excessive online sharing (by Mom and Dad) is a tremendous issue for modern parents. A lot of emphasis is placed on having “Insta-worthy” kids. Parents compare themselves and their kids to others online. Not only do they post images of kids’ silly sayings and sweet moments, but too many of today’s parents also curate pictures of inappropriate content, from potty training to what little Timmy threw up. This too often results in fame-hungry children and parents who live by the numbers— the numbers of likes, comments, and shares, that is.

Ages 6–8.

Keep in mind that family relationships are the most influential force for children at this stage of development. Kids at this age have started school. Even if they don’t attend a brick-and-mortar, traditional school setting, they still participate in church classes, co-op courses, dance lessons, team sports, hobby groups, field trips, and more. They now participate in activities under the direction of adults other than their parents, and interact with children other than their siblings.

Children’s realms now consist of people with possibly very different values, some that may even oppose those of your family. These different faces now influence them and can introduce new ways of thinking. Children are also learning to submit to authority other than that of Mom and Dad. Around age seven, kids enter the age of reason. They become more capable of rational thought because of increased cognitive, emotional, and moral development. They now have an internalized conscience and can control impulses more effectively. While they don’t fully have the intellectual capabilities to verbalize these new experiences, they may act on them, creating new challenges at home.

At this age, kids usually spend more time at school than they do at home. If they have extracurricular activities, this further limits interaction with Mom and Dad and restricts a very important part of childhood: parent-child bonding. As a result, their emotional needs may not be met, and even though they’re beginning to reason, they don’t yet have the ability to communicate what they’re experiencing and feeling. This clash leads some children to become withdrawn, or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, to lash out for attention. They may even experience depression, anxiety, or attention disorders at this age. This is very different from years past.

A startling 17.4% of kids between the ages of 2 and 8 are diagnosed with a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder, which translates to 1 in 6 kids. This is a huge increase from just a few decades ago.

Ages 9–10.

Preteens take the concepts they were exposed to from ages six to eight and start to put words and actions into their thoughts. They also begin to anticipate middle school and beyond. They may have taken classes or lessons before, but now they play in competitive sports leagues, perform in theatrical productions, and take their interests more seriously. Their friendships deepen and become more complex; they begin to feel the effects of peer pressure; and they notice changes beginning to happen in their bodies as puberty approaches. School subjects become more complicated, and homework increases as students near middle school. Changes in family dynamics— like parent divorce or remarriage, family blending, or the birth of younger siblings— often occur when children are in this age bracket.

Bullying is an unfortunate, but sadly common, occurrence at this age. As children experience more independence and form closer attachments to friends their same age, they may start to vie for a position of authority over others. Envision a wolf pack, with all parties pursuing the alpha position. Children can now understand intent and see things from others’ perspectives. Sometimes, this results in meanness or exclusion. At this age, I remember preferring one friend over another, to the exclusion of that third friend. Children rarely begin with the intention of bullying, at first merely testing their power. These behaviors become bullying when not nipped in the bud and when a child is not given proper direction in managing these new experiences and feelings. The child vying for authority may take things too far, and the one being excluded may shrink into obscurity. Neither extreme is healthy, and both extremes will lead to future complications if left unchecked.

Those of us who are raising special-needs children face an additional layer of challenges. The term “special needs” refers to any of various difficulties (such as a physical, emotional, behavioral, or learning disability or impairment) that cause an individual to require additional or specialized services or accommodations (such as in education or recreation), such as autism spectrum, ADD/ADHD, physical disabilities, or emotional trauma. As you can see, this covers a wide range of issues, but overall, it includes children who, for whatever reason, deviate from how their peers typically learn or behave and who may require special assistance.

Diagnoses continue to increase. A 2018 report revealed that an estimated 1 in 44 children aged eight in the U.S. had autism spectrum disorder, or ASD. Only one out of every 2,500 kids was believed to have ASD in 1966.

Embrace the Journey.

Considering the gravity of the challenges inherent to parenting, particularly those new to parents today. There are no quick fixes or shortcuts to good parenting. From the second you get that positive pregnancy test, you enter a world of preparation with books, blogs, YouTube videos, and TED Talks. This all pales in comparison to the reality of parenting.

The formative years are an incredibly pivotal time when your child’s physical, mental, and overall development unfolds drastically. Just three short weeks after conception, the brain begins to form and grow faster than you can say “playdate.” By age five, those little noggins have developed all of their senses and capacity for making decisions, understanding emotions, and recalling memories.

These years are so much more than memorizing times tables and reciting spellings. It’s during these formative years that our littles learn about love— unconditionally receiving it, and giving it right back. They also learn what behaviors are appropriate (and which ones require a time-out or two), how relationships work, and the value of listening. All of these insights will continue to blossom as they grow, but now is the time to lay the foundation for further personal and intellectual development. As children grow up, so must parents, adapting to new challenges along the way.

Whether you’re raising a toddler or an eleven-year-old, remember that parenting is a journey, and we’re all learning as we go along. Our children cherish spending quality time with us; just being present, patient, understanding, and encouraging can make all the difference. Keep calm when handling issues that arise; use suitable reactions while teaching consequences; let them explore their environment independently; don’t forget to ask for help if needed; and be consistent with your approach. You’ve got this, parents— embracing these moments will ensure your little one grows up to be ready to take on the world.

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Thad Cardine

Thad Cardine is the Chief Executive Officer of Shield Bearer Counseling Centers and author of Solutions to Common Parenting Dilemmas: Answers to Issues that Drive Moms and Dads Crazy. With over 30 years devoted to leading nonprofit organizations, writing curriculum, teaching in private and public schools, speaking, and raising five wonderful children with his wife and best friend Jamie, Thad Cardine feels he has found the true definition of success. "Success for me is when your faith, your values, your passions, your work, and your family all coalesce." Shield Bearer removes the barriers to receiving mental health services and provides licensed counseling, support groups, educational workshops, and seminars to help families and individuals better their lives and heal since 2005.