Parenting is a courageous endeavor.
I remember when Joshua, our first son, was born. After his delivery, these wonderful nurses came to the room, cleaned him up, weighed him, and then took him away. My wife and I ate steak for dinner, watched a little television, and then went to sleep, only to be awakened a couple of times during the night when those same sweet nurses brought our son back to the room so we (and by we I mean she) could feed him.
That was day 1. And then came day 2. Everything was great in the morning; a steady stream of friends and family came by, all impressed by our handsome little boy who seemed so well behaved. We ate a great breakfast and had a leisurely morning. Then, just after lunch, came checkout time. One of the nurses wheeled my wife out of the front door of the hospital in a wheelchair. I followed proudly behind with our suitcases, balloons, and gifts. We got to the corner, Jana got up from the wheelchair, and the nurse said good-bye and walked back inside.
All of a sudden, we were alone. Just like that. And that’s when the sudden realization hit me, for the first time, that here is a life that has been entrusted to me by God, for better or worse. It is a near paralyzing fear that most any parent can attest to.
As our kids have gotten older, I’ve found remnants of that old fear coming back again and again as we try the best we can to make decisions for our family. In the midst of all of them, I am finding that active, gracious, intentional, consistent parenting is not for the faint of heart. It takes strength, resolve, and most of all, faith.
Conversely, there are certain things that we can do as parents that do not exercise all these characteristics. There are ways we can parent like cowards. Here are three of them:
1. Be their best friend.
I think there’s probably inside every parent the desire to be the “cool parent” – the one the other kids like to be around. The one who tells the funny jokes, or wears the cool clothes, or the whatever. It’s very shocking to me when I see inside myself that same insecure middle-schooler who is still trying to sit at the cool kids table, especially when that tendency rears its ugly head in my parenting. When it does, I find it difficult to say no, or when I do, second-guessing my decision because I’m worried my kids won’t like me any more.
In reality, though, trying to be my children’s best friend is cowardly. It is the easier road, the one lacking discipline and responsibility, paved with an easy acquiescence to every desire all born out of that same insecurity that told me which clothes to wear or not wear when I was 13. But the gospel frees us from that fear. It frees us because the gospel reminds us that we don’t really need any approval from any man. Or woman. Or child, for that matter. In the gospel we have the approval of God in Christ. That approval arms us for the hard road of parenting. It frees us to do the difficult work of discipline. It propels us to choose what is best rather than what is convenient, easy, or comfortable for our children, even if those choices make them not like us in the moment. Because of the gospel, I don’t have to be friends with my children. I can instead be their father.
2. Overschedule their activities.
I am many times overwhelmed at the wealth of opportunities our kids have before them. It seems like every other day that there is a new sport, or a new club, or a new class, or a new whatever that our sons or daughter can be involved in. And because we love our children and want them to be successful and have fun and find out what their likes and dislikes are, the temptation is always to say yes. But when you say yes all the time, you eventually end up with a schedule so overcrowded that there’s no room to breathe. Though involvement in sports or clubs or whatever might be fine in and of itself, I believe that the desire to push my kids further and further in to more and more stuff is not really for their benefit – it’s for mine. And that’s where it becomes cowardly.
I might find myself overscheduling their activities because I’m afraid they are going to miss out on something. That they won’t be the coolest kid involved in just the right thing. So I stand passively by against the onslaught of potential opportunities knocking at our door. But the gospel frees me from this, too. The gospel reminds me, and helps me to raise our children, to know their worth and value is not measured by the amount of stuff in their schedule, but instead by the death of Jesus on the cross. And because of that, it’s perfectly fine to take the courageous road of self-limitation.
3. Manufacture their desires.
There are many things I remember fondly from my own childhood. Some of them I was pretty good at; the others I remember myself being better than I actually was. I think inside any parent is the desire to share what they enjoy with their children. The rub comes, though, when your children are not interested in the same kinds of things that you loved and maybe excelled in when you were their age.
Cowardly parenting tries relentlessly to manufacture the desires of their children so that they love the same kinds of things that you did. When we do this as parents, we might convince ourselves that we are just spending quality time with our children, but in reality we are working to bend their God-given shape to our own likeness. We are trying to relive our own experiences through them instead of recognizing that, though they might look like us on the outside, God has knit them in a different way than He has knit us. The courageous way, the way of Jesus, is to humble ourselves. To not hold onto our own selfish desires, but instead, to consider our children better than ourselves. Practically, it means that their “thing” becomes our “thing” instead of trying to make our “thing” their “thing.”
Parenting is serious business. It’s serious responsibility, given to us by God. By His grace, and through the freedom that comes from the gospel, we can bear up under the weight day by day, and parent with courage.