Being a parent is hard. It’s gloriously hard, but it’s still hard. Every single day you have to try and find the best, God-honoring, biblically faithful way to dry tears, exercise discipline, encourage perseverance, and hold character.
That, in and of itself, is difficult. What makes it even harder is that these decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. There are other factors that always seem to jump in and complicate our parental decisions. Many times, in fact, I feel like I’m trying to parent with one arm tied behind my back. It feels sometimes like I can’t act freely, like I’m being held hostage as a dad instead of making simple and direct parenting choices.
What are those things that hold us hostage as parents? What are those factors that chain us down and prevent us from acting lovingly and wisely for the sake of our children? I’d suggest at least these four:
1. My past.
All of us have a past, and that past is filled with both successes and failures. Both the successes and the failures from our past might hold us hostages as parents. If we were, say, particularly successful at playing a sport in our past, then we might force the same sport on our kids even if they don’t enjoy or be particularly good at. Conversely, maybe we have a nagging memory of some painful instance from our past – a time when we were made fun of, or when we got a bad grade, or whatever, and that experience might keep us from allowing our kids to take the same risk. In either case, we are bound by our past in our parenting.
2. My fear.
Nothing strikes more fear in my heart than something having to do with our kids. Sure, I might break my own arm or have to have a difficult conversation at work, but I’d far prefer that to happen to me than one of the children. When I think about the things they will face on a daily basis, be it from the internet, from the other kids at school, or even at the park, I can easily give into fear. And that fear can chain me down from allowing, with wisdom, the kids to make their own way.
3. My insecurity.
More than once I have been trying to discipline one of our kids for something. And more than once, I’ve felt the intense urge to back off the punishment that we have said would happen. I am tempted, I know, to back down not because the punishment was too harsh or unfair in some way; I’m tempted to back off because I can’t stand the idea of my kids being mad at me. Such is my own insecurity, and I don’t think I’m alone. Our insecurity can hold us hostage and keep us from staying true to our word when it comes to our kids, for we are more concerned with being liked than the growth of their character.
4. My pride.
And here is perhaps the most basic hostage-taker of all. It’s pride. There have been more times than I can count when I’ve flown off the handle, when I’ve prejudged a situation, when I’ve reacted too harshly, and what I need to do is take a step back and apologize to my kids. And then I don’t. I stick to my guns, not because I’m right, but because I can’t bear the thought of being wrong. Our pride chains us up and we are unable to reverse course, to listen, to understand, and most especially to admit that we are wrong.
See the pattern here? The things that hold us hostage as parents aren’t the things out there in the world; they’re the things in here – in our own hearts. And the only thing that will give us freedom from these chains is the same thing that will give us freedom in any other circumstance – the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s only through the gospel that we can parent freely because it’s only through the gospel that our parenting can cease to be about ourselves and start to be about our children.
At the same time, though, it is the gospel promise of God that finishes His good work in us. So amazingly, when we think we are struggling to find the best and wisest ways to parent our children, we find that God is actually using that struggle not only for their benefit, but for ours. He is growing us up into the image of Jesus even as He is using us to bring His love, discipline, compassion, and grace into our homes.