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7 gifts your graduate will treasure for a lifetime

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For parents, high school graduation is riddled with mixed emotions. We are proud of our graduate’s accomplishments, excited about the infinite possibilities that lie in front of them, sad that our baby is all grown up and leaving the nest, and worried that they aren’t prepared enough to face the world on their own.
As parents, it’s our job to raise our kids to be responsible, compassionate adults. Yet when our children are young, the thought of them leaving us is far from our mind. We feel like we have all the time in the world to prepare them. But the truth is much more sobering: Our children are on their way out the door the minute they are born. Time flies—we hear it all the time, because it’s true. One moment you’re taking off your child’s training wheels or cutting the crust off his PBJ, the next you’re watching her walk across the stage to receive her diploma. When it comes to preparing your child for the world, there is no time to waste. Every moment we should be preparing them to go. Every day we should be helping our kids stockpile the knowledge, tools and skills they'll need to succeed in life.

But what exactly do our children need and how do we give it to them? To provide guidance, student pastor, Justin Ulrich, shares 7 gifts he hopes to pass on to his children.

1. Glasses—to see the world as it truly is.

One of our primary jobs as a parent is to help shape our children's worldview. Not by controlling their behavior, but rather by fighting for their heart. In a world where the negative and hopeless voices seem the loudest, I want to teach my children to be a force for good. I want them to see opportunities for change instead of just becoming frustrated and complaining about what is wrong. Sometimes the way we parent can give the illusion that they are at the center of the world and everything exists for them. But in reality, the debt is the other way around. It is we who owe life all we have to give. I want my children to understand they exist to serve the world and make it beautiful, the world does not exist to serve them.

2. A clock—to give them my time.

My kids are 5, 3, and 1. Their high school graduation seems so far away that it's easy to feel like I have all the time in the world with them. The parents of graduates know better. I am learning to recognize more every day that time is the most valuable commodity in this world. It marches on without our permission. We do not have all the time in the world, so we must learn to spend the time that we have with our children wisely. We cannot afford to put off what is most important while we entertain what is less important. I want to give my kids the gift of my time. Being in the same room with them doesn't count if I'm dividing my attention between them, the TV, my smart phone, my computer and my iPad. To make our time really count, we must be focused on them and what we want to build in their hearts.

3. A piggy bank—to prepare them for life’s financial realities.

So many young people have their futures derailed because of debt and financial irresponsibility. If we have given them everything they need, and our money has bailed them out of their dumb mistakes, we have not prepared them for life outside of our care. It is tempting to shield our children from financial reality by giving them what we never had, but we need to teach them the value of a dollar. Do they know how to save? Do they know how to handle a checkbook? Do they know how to tell themselves “no?" Ultimately, we want to teach our children how to recognize true value. Some things matter. Other things matter most.

4. A mirror—to help them find an unshakable sense of self-worth.

I want my children to learn to make peace with the person in the mirror, which is a delicate thing. It is not simply a matter of affirming them and inflating their egos. That creates a shallow sense of “self-esteem” that doesn’t actually help. For me, this means anchoring their sense of self-worth in their identity in Christ. I believe this is the only thing that is unshakable. So many voices will tell them what they aren’t, what they lack, what they need to become. I want them to be able to hear all of those voices through the filter of their Heavenly Father’s affection.

5. Failure—to teach them how to fail forward.

I want to give my children a few failures while they are still under my roof. I want them to experience some sting. I want them to have a few bruises while I am still around to help them make sense of it and learn from it. There are few things harder than this, because every parent wants so badly to protect and shield them from harm. We want our children to be happy! Still, the world is tough. Relationships are messy. If we jump in and rescue them every time it looks like they might stumble, they can never truly learn to run! Sometimes our kid’s temporary happiness and their character growth come into conflict. As a parent, we need to find the courage to value character more than comfort. We must prepare them to face a difficult world with the requisite toughness, and that is a lesson they can learn only by experiencing failure.

6. Keys—so they now that I am, and always will be, home.

Yes, we want them to leave. Our whole job as a parent is to send them out. That is the goal: emancipation. However, we want them to know that our home and our love will always be someplace they are welcome. We can be a refuge for them. We can be a place of help. However, we have to temper this with care, because it can easily turn into a “failure to launch” situation.

7. Other caring adults—to widen their circle of mentors and guides.

Every child needs at least 2-3 other caring adults invested in their story. These are trusted voices that we have allowed proximity to our child to help shape and guide them. We want to find people we know and respect that can partner with us to help prepare our children to face the challenges of life that awaits them. They will say the same things we would say, but with a different voice. They will be a friend with wisdom and experience that our child can come to when they don’t want to talk to mom or dad for whatever reason. Having mentors is a powerful tool, and one that I hope I can give to my own kids.

Just remember, if we take our call seriously, to raise our kids and prepare them to leave our home, we need to start today. We don’t have any time to waste.

What gifts do you hope to bestow on your child? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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