For years, I didn’t take my kids to “Dinner Night Out” because it required too much work to get all the kids there, unload the car, and hold fast to all of them through the meal. Now that my youngest is eight, I recognize the luxury I have, sitting in a booth playing thumb wars and telling jokes with my older kids. Watching the others in the restaurant I flashed back to the few times I ventured out, and remembered how hard it was, and how often I worried what others thought as my kids took off their shoes, spilled drinks, made multiple trips to the bathroom and sometimes played an unpermitted game of tag while I threw an extra tip at the understanding waitress.

To any parent of young children, be patient. We can see you have a squirrel of a toddler. We’ve been there. It feels like yours is the only child acting up in public. He’s not. He's the age he is, and everyone gets that kids his age act this way sometimes. Yes, he’s rolling on the floor in the restaurant while you wait for the check. It’s not like you can leave, and we've seen you bear hugging him into stillness for a time.

To the parent of slightly older children, be patient. They'll learn what they need to know, you've got them going to school, reading, doing all the things they need to do. They're still bundles of energy, and what they need most, is to be secure, constantly secure of your love. That means, no matter how tired you feel, how worn, how frazzled, you love them. You hold them when they let you, and you write notes to them when they won’t. You tell them in word and in deed, I may be tired, but I will never tire of loving you.

To the parent of middle-schoolers, be patient. This is a hard time for them, harder than it is for you. You, as the adult, know this is temporary. They, as the children, only know everything is being stretched in ways that sometimes hurt, and that it feels permanent. They will cry. They will rage. They will snarl. They will sulk. You must love them more. You must love them more. You must love them more. It’s not easy, because we’re still just as human as we were with the toddlers putting their feet up in the booth while you waited for the check. We’re still wondering, when will it get easier?

The answer is, if you look backward, it did get easier. It will again. You learned to love this person who is growing into a more grown-up person, at each of his or her seasons. You learned not to be tugged on the heart by the snarls, but to understand, all behavior is communication, and most adolescents communicate one thing, “I feel alone. I feel somehow wrong, everything feels like it doesn’t fit.” Your job is to say, “I know, but you're not alone. Your feelings are not wrong, everything is being stretched. You are growing, and growing sometimes hurts, but we will love you through this hurt.”

To the parent of the high school student, be patient. You’re getting tested yet again, on how deeply you love. How much you love, how fiercely you can love. You are being stretched, and as you know, being stretched sometimes hurts. You might cry. You might want to rage. You might want to snarl or sulk. Don’t. Your job is to love through the hard times, to show your children that love transforms hard times.

To the parent of the adult child, be patient. God waits for each of us, and has for all of eternity. He showers love on us daily, calling us back to him. We will tremble with joy at the news that our children coming to visit. God does the same. Love is eternal, love is always, love is permanent, love does not change — but love changes each of us, making us into people who love more deeply, love more as God loves.

The goal of parenting is not school, or success, or accolades. It’s love. The only goal of life is to fill all the hearts we've been entrusted, with the secure knowledge that love overflows and is never exhausted.