I am a mom of four teenagers and young adults. I look back over the past 20-plus years of pregnancy, babies, toddlers, kids, messes, trips, packing, school, planning, feeding, cleaning, hugging, listening (and blocking out—Nope, I don’t need to hear the Minecraft story again!), sleepovers, playdates, birthdays, and everything else that goes into raising (hopefully) well-adjusted human beings.

But if I could tell my younger self one thing, I know what it would be. I don’t know if young-mom me would have listened, and maybe this is not the sort of thing you can grasp at the beginning of the journey, because what I know now is so different from what I was sure of then. As a young mom, I was seeking out a magic formula. I truly believed that if we could get all the right things, in the right quantities and ratios, we would produce great kids. But let me do you a favor and dispel that notion for you.

There is nothing you can do that will guarantee any outcome. And there you have it. The most significant thing I’ve learned in two decades of parenting. I know it’s so counterintuitive, and maybe disconcerting. But it can also be liberating—no matter how much you mess up, your kids can still finish strong. And even if you get it all as close to right as humanly possible, they can still struggle.

Their journey is going to look a lot like your journey. They’re going to learn some things from their parents the easy way, and some things the hard way. There will be others who come alongside and contribute to their story. And there will be parts that are just between them and God. He is going to pursue them and their hearts just like He pursued you. That is what makes the kids of today the hope of the future.

Read all the parenting books, or don’t read them. You’ll do some things well, and some things you won’t. But pursue Jesus, and pursue relationship with your kids. That’s the secret.