The Roller-Coaster Ride of Parenting

By Ellie Gustafson

That our children turned out well might indicate we did something right as parents. Even though bad kids can come from good parents, God is the moderator in such matters. Parenting works best when plugged tightly to Him.

Both Jim and I had good parents. They gave us books, music, and places for the imagination. They loved us with firmness. Our small town was safe. Church was a given, and except for my parents splitting up, I had an idyllic childhood.

But how would my parenting go? First of all, what do you know in your early 20s? Not much, and we made lots of mistakes. Doing it over, I’d go about it differently, learning from today’s excellent books on parenting.

What did we do right?

  • Play—our most valuable tool. We romped on the floor, chased the kids, played games, read aloud, taught skills (boys sewing buttons, girls changing tires) and generally had
  • A pow-wow around a fake campfire in the middle of our living room gave each of us opportunity to bring up topics, and we’d talk briefly about each. As parents, we could discuss a range of sticky things.
  • I learned mid-course that encouragement was a better “fixer” than admonishment and saw child #3 go from slouch to straight after we changed our ways.
  • We bought a large forest as a tree farm. Like, just plain woods. No electricity, running water, shelter, bathroom. We all learned to make do without the basics. The boys ran chainsaws and drove truck and tractor. Rachel, though, balked at firewood hauling and opted to train as a Christian camp counselor. We sent her off with our blessing.
  • Daily devotions were a sometimes thing, but we tried to model our faith in day-to-day choices and conversations.

What did we do wrong?

  • How do we sin? Let me count the ways… Observing sinful parents who are saved by grace isn’t a bad lesson for kids to learn.
  • We were selfish, often inconsiderate of our children’s needs and schedules. I remember making son Eric wait nearly a half hour to be picked up—for some frivolous reason. He was not pleased, and I’ve always felt bad about it.
  • We slept in, requiring our kids to make their own breakfast and school lunches. They rose to that reality with reasonable grace, but it was not a good thing.

My bottom-line advice? Be there. Be available. Be supportive. Be positive, even in correction. [Oh, I’m sorry you chose to do that. What can you learn from it?] Give choices; make consequences clear. Train in self-management—money, habits, choosing friends, etc. Hard work, yes, but the rewards are eternal.

Proof of the pudding:

Eric and Lee—You gave us fun things to do (Indian clothes, tepee, snow trains), and even dangerous stuff (chain saws, driving tractors, logging). We appreciate you!

Rachel–You’re a fine example of life-long mothering. I’m watching and praying for you in this next stage.

April Joy— Happy GRANDmother’s Day! I feel so fortunate to live with you. Thanks for faithfully following God and pursuing Him.

Books I wish I’d had earlier:

  • Any of John Eldredge’s work.
  • Parenting with Love and Logic books—Foster Cline and Jim Fay.
  • Paul Tripp is new to me but seems to have a good following.

About Ellie Gustafson
Ellie Gustafson began thinking up stories at a young age but didn’t begin writing and publishing until 1978. A graduate of Wheaton College, she has been actively involved in church life as a minister’s wife, teacher, musician, writer, and encourager. Additional experiences include gardening, house construction, tree farming, and parenting—all of which have helped bring color and humor to her fiction. One of her major writing goals has been to make scriptural principles understandable and relevant for today’s readers through the undeniable power of story. I’d love to hear from you about your parenting adventures. Connect with Ellie at

4 thoughts to “The Roller-Coaster Ride of Parenting”

  1. This is great, Ellie, and it’s never too late!!! I always enjoy your blogs and take at least one valuable nugget after reading each one 🙂
    Emily Rees

  2. The Day I became a Parent
    I had not been dating my future wife for very long but marriage was becoming more and more an enticing probability despite the dearth of overt discourse on the matter. One thing was for sure I was madly in love for the first time since my childhood crush on Haley Mills but admittedly at this early stage, Mary not so much- understandable given that she had two kids to raise and I was languishing in a dead end job. One day we were heading back to Massachusetts after a weekend vacationing up north. Over a period of some months now Tommy five and Carole two had warmed considerably to this somewhat immature parental neophyte who to their delight was at times funny, engaging, entertaining and knowledgeable on many topics about which they displayed considerable interest. Yeah, I guess you could say I was kind of cool in their youthful eyes. This extraordinary bundle of joy was not only precocious but splendidly well behaved to the extent my disciplinary skills, or lack thereof I should say, had not yet been tested; unexpectedly the day of reckoning had arrived. In the back seat of our dilapidated Simca a ruckus was under full swing with giggling, wrestling, seat back kicking, poking, tickling and overall disruptive fooling around that showed no signs of abating after repeated warnings to stop. Mary, not having one of her better days, had lost control of the urchins and clearly was deferring to me to take action. “What me?” I thought. “What am I supposed to do? These are your kids.” Suddenly I experienced a stinging flashback of my early beginnings growing up in a house where there was no discipline and chaos ruled the consequences from which I never completely recovered. A passing thought of lessons learned in the Army also entered my mind. As my blood pressure shot through the roof I checked for cars behind me and slammed on the brakes, swerving into the breakdown lane. I flung the door open, exited the car, opened the back door and thrust my head in to get right in their ‘oh so innocent’ faces. At the top of my lungs I screamed “One more peep out of either of you I’ll break your arms and legs and drop you off at the nearest reform school.” I’ll never forget their look of sheer terror. Back in the driver’s seat I took a deep breath, turned the ignition and proceeded to have the most peaceful ride down 95 I’d ever known. You could have heard a pin drop all the way home to Danvers. Mary said nothing but her brief glance at me said it all-“Well done.” And so it was. Pretty crude first whack at it I admit but effective? You bet. And from that moment on I took control of my family and vowed that I would never, ever, let the kids run my household. In the years that followed I had to do lots of fine tuning, learn to be flexible and add innumerable tools to the parenting toolbox but I had taken my first big step into real world parenting. Now I can look back and admire just how wonderful my two step children turned out. It wasn’t all because of me of course but I know I did my job because they never stop reminding me.

    R. Collins
    June 2017

    Next installment- thoughts on corporal punishment.

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