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Entries in Parenting (73)


But, what if you did everything?

I read an article this morning which upset me. I don't know the author other than that she is a mother. In her article this morning, she encourages other mothers to be diligent to teach their children the gospel. She suggests that if a mother is not taking the time to teach her children the gospel, then that mother should question her own salvation. My emotional reaction at my initial reading means I should probably not go into detail with some of my questions, but the one thing I really found most troublesome was her admonition to parent in fear.

I parented in fear, and it was disastrous. I was too often ruled by fear, and I believe it had a negative impact on my parenting, including my the spiritual growth of my children.

My children were taught the gospel. In our homeschool, in church, in kids' clubs, youth groups, Sunday school. We had regular conversations. My husband and I were their Sunday school teachers for a while, and we had a youth Bible study in our home regularly for a few years. We were active in teaching them. But today, I have a child who has wandered and not yet returned. I don't talk about it because it's no one's business, it would be disrespectful to my child, and because that child's story is not over yet.

This writer encourages mothers to be fearful about where their children are headed spiritually, and she encourages them to question their own salvation if they are not doing enough to teach their children the gospel. There is nothing wrong with self-examination and a healthy fear, but my concern is that some young mother reading that piece is going to take that admonition to an extreme which will possibly lead to a lot of false guilt later on. I've been there. The blame game. What didn't I do? How could I have done better? 

What if you did everything and your child still is not living for the Lord?

It has taken me many years to find peace with my own situation. I cannot begin to articulate the depths of the grief and sorrow my heart bears. Some days, if I allow myself to think about it too long, I'm in trouble. I must turn my trust to God. I cannot live in despair.

If you are a young parent reading this, please don't parent in fear. Parent with a healthy understanding of what God's word says; and it says that judgement comes for those who don't believe. But also parent with hope knowing that your child's salvation and spiritual development are overseen by a sovereign God, who can, and does, work despite all of your mistakes as a parent. No, don't neglect to teach your children; but remember that you are not the author of your child's salvation.

Resist the temptation parent in a daily mode of fear that all your efforts will not be enough. Fear is not always rational, and becomes irrational very easily. It causes us to make rash decisions without thinking through things clearly. Fear leads to guilt and recrimination later on. And when our kids don't comply with our teaching, it can cause strain in our relationships with them. Don't parent in fear. That is one of the worst things I ever did.

If your children are living with an active, healthy faith, don't thank yourself. Give thanks to God.


Is it the fear and pressure?

One of the things I really enjoy about my Greek class is that there are college aged students as well as seminary students. Every class, as the room fills up, there is the inevitable chatter as people sit down and wait for things to begin. I enjoy hearing their banter and laughter. I enjoy hearing the funny things they say. It reminds me of when my own kids were that age. What is different, though, is that I know that there was always a point when my kids were home when the banter and jocularity became an irritation and I told them to be done with it. When you get a little distance from your own parenting, and they're not your kids, it's a different experience.

It's the same with smaller children. When we have opportunity to babysit for a young family, it is enjoyable because we get to spend time with interesting little people and then we get to go home without any worry. Once, a number of years ago, we babysat an infant for a number of hours, and when the mother and father returned, they were apologetic because they were away for so long. I was not bothered at all. I would sleep well that night, and I didn't have to worry about a thing. I know that will be the joy of being a grandparent some day: our ultimate job is not to raise them even if we do have a lot of input. The pressure is off and can we enjoy them.

One of the things which robbed me of the joy of the moment in parenting was the fear: am I making a mistake? Am I doing something wrong? Will this have long term consequences? What will people think? That last question was something I asked often because I was very aware of the scrutiny that we put other parents under. I did it myself; that eye raise toward a parent whose child is muttering in church; that "tsk" when we observe a young person doing something behind his parents' back. Very often, when our kids are young, we are evaluated on how well-behaved our kids are. When I think about it, that's a lot of pressure to put parents and children under. Children shouldn't have to be the means by which their parents are evaluated. Christian parents can have very outwardly complaint children who actually live with very rebellious hearts. Yes, we want obedient children, but not so we can be applauded or avoid criticism; it's so we can teach them about life long obedience to God.

I think this pressure on being the perfect mother is partly an overflow over the notion that a woman's worth is in her ability to mother. If that is where we get our primary value, we'd better do it right. Parenting is a godly work, but that is not what gives a woman value. What gives her value is the reality that she is created in the image of God. One of the things I learned a lot about when I wrote a term paper about abortion is that personhood is not a matter of function but essence. I am not a person because I am able to walk, think, speak, and serve. I am a person because I was created by God. My value is not a matter of being a perfect mother caring for my Better Homes and Gardens home while wearing Prada. I'm still a person as I putter in my house in my faded jeans and sweatshirt, and the dustbunnies waiting for my attention. And as I deal with a problem child.

I have no idea what kind of bad memories my children have taken away with them. We all have negative memories of our childhood. If they do remember me as a mother who was always fearful and under pressure, I can only hope that they are merciful, and that when they become parents, they will have understanding.


When too much parenting preaching is too much

My children are grown and on their own. My role as a parent, which has always been in a consistent state of growth, has changed. The issues of parenting are not pressing in the same way as when they were younger.  My children are on my mind, but on a day to day basis, my thoughts are not consumed with parenting as they once were.

I find it hard at times to listen to regular preaching about parenting. I seldom read parenting blogs, books, or articles anymore. And the reason why I don't it is that it provides a temptation to simply second guess everything I ever did. It seems to be part of the reality of parenthood (at least from my place as a mother; I won't generalize about fathers, since I've never been one) that we bear a lot of guilt for things we did. In many cases, our children share with us when they are older things they didn't like or ways we disappointed them, and we may feel a sense of failure. It's already there within our family dynamics as we remember when we made mistakes or didn't handle something the right way. To insert someone else's view of the way to parent just adds fuel to the fire.

I do understand that parents today feel just as much of a burden for their children as I did, and I appreciate their desire to parent for God's glory. Sometimes, I want to tell them that they are over thinking things, but I did exactly the same thing, and I would have felt discouraged if an older person had said that to me. And yet, I do wish that younger parents would also remember the importance of simply learning about Christ. And while pastors mean well when they do series on parenting, I also want to shout out, "Just teach us about Christ!" So much parenting advice is very individualistic. What worked for me may not work for you. And looking back, I know that most of the infinite number of mistakes I made were a result of my spiritual immaturity and pride. 

And the only remedy for that is learning about Christ, not getting advice from another parent.


The "real" older woman

I belong to a Facebook group of theologically-minded women on Facebook. I don't usually join such groups, but I joined this one. I don't participate in a lot of the discussions, but when I saw one about young people walking away from biblical teaching, I had to say something.

Experience Makes a Difference

During that Facebook discussion, I was talking to a woman whose children were 16 and under, and we were talking past one another, which was frustrating. She was perplexed when I asked her the age of her children, and the reason I did was because I have found there is a difference in discussion between women whose children are grown and women whose children are younger. Experience can make a big difference.

I have a friend who recently lost her son. I can offer prayer, love, and support, and even try to be empathetic, but I have no concept of the depth of her grief. Nor can I fully understand my friend who is a widow. Any counsel I have is purely theoretical. Now, if you want to talk about young people rebelling, I can do that, because I have been there.

The Sun Will Come Up

We want our children to embrace biblical truth, and the fear of them walking away from it can turn us into micromanagers. We may feel that we must "do" something to prevent the unthinkable. We may tend to treat spiritual training like making their bed, putting their toys away, and brushing their teeth; like a checklist. But spiritual training is much different. At some point, our children must take responsibility for their faith. When my children were younger, I was guilty of micromanaging, and it was borne out of my own fear. I was afraid of them turning away from biblical teaching; afraid of what would happen.

What happened is that the sun came up the next day. I learned that life goes on, that God is gracious, that he still loves me despite what happens with my children. I did not disappear. I was okay. When our kids turn away from biblical truth, we're still their parents, and we still love them and still speak the truth, even if they don't act on what we've told them. I wish when my kids were teenagers, I'd had someone who took me aside and said, "I've been there, too; you'll be okay."


It is true that every woman is an older woman to someone, but I am coming to understand that there is something special about the real older woman: the one who is 60, 70, or 80. She has time on her side. She has lived through a variety of experiences and seen God's faithfulness through them. Much of our maturity is born out of struggle and suffering, and the woman who is truly older has had those opportunities. A 28 year old woman is an older woman to a teenager, but when I think about how immature I was at 28, and think back to some of the counsel I gave, I see that it was a lot of twaddle. I didn't know as much as I think I did.

I am blessed to have real older women in my life and I am seeing that there is no replacement for the simple life experience they have. I have not lost my parents, or a child, or a spouse. I am healthy, and have had a happy marriage for 30 years. Any struggles I have are really minor. Compared to what they have endured, I have had very little struggle. I have a friend who has lost both a child and her husband, as well as siblings and both parents. There is wisdom she has which I just don't have yet. Yes, we are an older woman to someone, but it's not the same as what a real older woman has to offer.

There are times when experience doesn't count for much; in fact, sometimes, relying on experience can lead us astray. In the case of older woman, experience is important. It is what makes a woman a real older woman.


When your child sees a troll in the mall

Many years ago a good friend of mine told me a very funny story. Her son, four years old, was with her as she entered a mall. There were two sets of doors: one from the outside into a the foyer, and one between the foyer and the actual mall. There was a pay phone in the foyer. As she and her son approached the first set of doors, outer doors she spotted a woman on the phone. Knowing her child as she did, she tried to distract him. Children that age don't always have a lot of tact. However, she was not able to prevent his observant little eyes from seeing this woman, who was clearly a dwarf. Breaking the silence of the space between those two sets of doors, were the little boy's said excited cry, "Look, Mom, a troll!"

Well, you can imagine my friend's humiliation. Trying to usher him out quickly, she told him to be quiet. As they opened the door into the mall, he said in amazement, and still audibly: "Look, she even has a little purse!" That was a fairly humbling moment.

Humility. Parenting small children helps us in that regard. With small children, we see that despite all of our training, guidling, instructing, and leading, children refute our fond notions of how much control we have. Children will do and say what we don't expect. In fact they will do what we are raising them to do: act independently.

This does not change when our kids become young adults. Their independence proceeds. Suddenly, they make decisions which may puzzle us. Whose house did he grow up in? How did she come to that conclusion? Older children humble us less in the foolishness typical of childhood, but more in the regular reminders that though we have certainly influenced them, ultimately, they are God's creation, made in his image to reflect him. While they will reflect their upbringing, there is no guarantee they will mirror us exactly. Cloning is not the objective. While of course, we want them to love our God and embrace the faith heritage which they were raised in, that may look different from their parents' lives. My children already have different lives than I did at their age. My oldest is 27, single, and sharing an apartment with her brother. At 27, I had two children, a husband, and a mortgage. 

There is often a lot of competition among young mothers, and it doesn't always subside as kids grow. Instead of taking pride in our child's ability to read independently or tie his shoes, we take pride in whether or not the child is in professional ministry, how many children they have, or what their jobs are. It is a bad habit in both cases. While we raise our children, pouring ourselves into them year after year, it is still God who blesses. Taking pride in their success or complete responsibility for their failures only reveals that we think we have more control than we do. Frankly, I'd rather not think I control my child. I rather think the Spirit of God does.

Watching my adult children as they grow and mature is humbling, although not like my friend in the mall. I see that despite my many failings in teaching them, they do the right thing. Despite the occasions of my own bad example, they show compassion, kindness, and mercy. And despite the times I failed them, they continue to show love toward us, and include us in their lives. I don't get to see them as often as I would like, and I do have one child who isn't very good at keeping in touch, but  I'm thankful for how they have grown and how God has blessed them.