By Cyprian Nyamwamu
One of our objectives as parents is to develop the capacity to be loving and responsible fathers and mothers.
With this realization, it is clear that the role of parents in a family is extremely crucial not only for the present generation which they interact with but for the many generations that come after them. Their roles are like the proverbial stone that is thrown into a still lake. The stone will land in the water and send out ripples and waves of water for a long time before the water calms down in the future.
The following essay written by Mark. W Merrill captures this challenge based on research that was done over several years. Let it serve as a reminder that we need to take our God given responsibilities very seriously as they have a huge impact in the lives of many people who come after us. Will that impact be positive or negative?
‘A parents’ legacy’ By Mark W Merrill
Parents have you thought about your legacy lately? In case you have not let’s start with the basics. Webster Dictionary says a legacy is ‘something handed down from one who has gone before”. Parents, we will eventually be that ‘ones who have gone before’- the leavers of the legacy ( both good and bad) that parents create.
Jonathan Edwards was born in 1703 in East Windsor Connecticut. He attended Yale University at age 13 and later went on to serve as president of the college of New Jersey (now Princeton). When he was 20 years old he wrote a list of personal resolutions. Among them was “ask myself, at the end of every day.. wherein I could possibly, in any respect, have done better.”
In no area was Edwards’ resolve stronger than in his role as a parent. Edwards and his wife Sarah had eleven children. Despite a rigorous work schedule that included rising as early as 4.30 a.m. to read and write in his library, extensive travels, and endless administrative meetings, he always made time for his children. Indeed, he committed to spending at least one hour a day with them. And what if he missed a day with them? He diligently made up the hour when he returned.
Numerous books have been written about Edwards’ life, his work and influence on American history and his powerful professorial legacy. But the legacy that Edwards would probably be most proud of his legacy as a parent. The scholar Benjamin B Warfield of Princeton has charted the 1394 known descendants of Edwards. What he found was an incredible testament to Jonathan Edwards. Of his known descendants there were 13 college presidents, 65 college professors, 30 judges, 100 lawyers, 60 physicians, 75 army and navy officers, 100 pastors, 60 authors of prominence, 3 United States Senators, 80 public servants in other capacities including governors and ministers to foreign countries, and one vice-president of the United States.
The story of Jonathan Edwards is an example of what some sociologists call the “five-generation rule.” How a parent raises the child- the love they give, the values they teach, the emotional environment they offer, the education they provide-influences not only the child but the four generations to follow. What parents do, in other words, will reach through the next five generations. The example of Jonathan Edwards shows just how rich that legacy can be.
But the five generations rule works both ways. If we fail to work at being good parents, our neglect can plague generations. Consider the case of Max Jukes, a contemporary of Edwards. As an adult, Jukes had a drinking problem that kept him from holding a steady job. It also kept him from showing much concern for his wife and children. He would disappear sometimes for days and return drunk. He made little time for loving and instructing his children. Benjamin Warfield has also charted Jukes descendants. What he found further supports the five generation rule. Warfield was able to trace 540 of Jukes’ descendants. They offer a stunning contrast to the Edwards’ legacy. Of Jukes’ known descendants, 310 died as paupers, at least 150 were criminals ( including 7 murderers), more than 100 were drunkards and half of his female descendants ended up as prostitutes.
Of course this doesn’t mean that people are simply a product of their parenting and that who they are is determined entirely by their ancestry. There have been many who descended from men like Jukes and overcame great obstacles to succeed. Others have come from loving homes like Edwards’ only to descend into a troubled adulthood. But these are the exceptions not the rule.
The stories of Jonathan Edwards and Max Jukes offer powerful lessons about the legacy we will leave as parents. Five generations from now, it is likely that our professional accomplishments will be forgotten. In fact, our descendents may know little about us or our lives. But the way we parent today will directly affect not only our children, but also our grandchildren, our great grandchildren and the generations that follow.
To become a good parent one has to reflect on the virtues of our Heavenly Father. God the father is dependable, faithful, a good listener, loving and merciful. Love transcends all boundaries and when a parent is seen to love then the restriction of time cannot contain it and generation after generation bask in the shadow of this love.
Dear parent what will your legacy be?