If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it will always be yours. If it doesn’t come back, it was never yours. But if it sits in your living room, messes up your stuff, eats your food, uses your telephone, takes your money and doesn’t appear to realize that you have set it free . . . you either married it or gave birth to it. If you gave birth to it, I can guarantee you: parenting laws and properties exist that are far beyond your control.

I first began to notice these laws about three months after our first son was born. As I began to complain-I mean, “share my feelings” (we Baptists aren’t allowed to complain)-to other parents, they nodded their heads in agreement. Let me tell you about a few of these laws.

Law #1: The later you stay up, the earlier your child will wake up the next morning. As our son lay in his crib, sleeping away so innocently, he could ascertain: a) how late his parents went to bed and b) how much they looked forward to sleeping in. Somehow, his tiny brain took those two factors and calculated his wake-up time to coincide with our deepest REM sleep cycle. Don’t let anyone tell you that a child’s mind is a blank slate. Each comes pre-programmed to test his parents’ patience.

Law #2: For a child to become clean, something else must become dirty. Again, this process defies logic. How can a child who has been playing inside the house enter the bathroom and, in a matter of seconds, turn a white towel brown and coat a sparkling sink with what appears to be an ocean full of sand? Some things . . . I just don’t want to know.

Law #3: Toys multiply to fill any available space. Here lies more unexplainable logic: the cheaper the toys, the more quickly they multiply-especially imitation Legos. These can’t be seen, but only felt when you step on them unexpectedly.

Law #4. The longer it takes you to make a meal, the less your child will like it. This law also has a corollary: the more expensive the restaurant meal you buy your child, the less of it she will eat. Just two factors control a child’s appetite: effort of the cook and cost to the parents.

Law #5. The child who doesn’t behave is always . . . yours. In a crowd of children, there always has to be one who misbehaves. What are the odds that it is your child? That’s right: 100 percent.

Law #6. If the shoe fits . . . it’s expensive. It is not only the shoes, but the jeans, the purse, the computer and the braces. Every other child can wear hand-me-downs, eat generic cereal, use cheaper Crayons-but not ours. The only things that fit our children are . . . expensive.

Law #7. The surest way to get something done is to tell a child not to do it. If you want something done, you know what to say. If not . . . don’t mention it.

Law #8. The gooier the food, the more likely it is to end up on the carpet. If it is exceptionally gooey, it will almost certainly end up on the back seat of your brand-new car, where it will remain undetected until it has dried permanently.

Law #9. Backing the car out of the driveway (or putting on a winter coat) causes your child to have to go to the bathroom. Some children have a delayed reaction to the first of these. They wait until you reach the turnpike before announcing, “I have to go, realllly bad.” Of course, the next exit is 15 miles away. If you ever see a man on the side of the road, shielding a small child whose pants are around his ankles, please wave politely as you drive by.

Law #10. I can’t remember Law #10. I used to be a smart person until I had children. Now I catch myself singing, “I love you, you love me. . .”

God has a law concerning parents, too: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Yes, there are many things about parenting that you cannot control-but you can control what goes into their hearts and minds. God wants you to raise your children embedded with His Word and equipped to walk according to His statues. Do this, and the dividends of your faithfulness will come to you in your old age.

When it comes to parenting, you pay now, or you pay later. The choice is up to . . . you.