Ah, the confusion of parenting! People angst about a lot of things in life – career, relationships, identity. But I think parenting is the one we angst over the most.
Why? Because we feel that the way our kids “turn out” reflects on us. There is an unspoken consensus that our kids are just an extension of us. How they behave and perform feels like a window into what goes on in our home. And that is scary! Really, how many of us would want a reality television show about our family broadcast around the world?
There are expectations coming at us from all over the place.
Grandparents always seem to have something to say to us about our parenting. It doesn’t seem to matter how good (or bad) they were at it, they always seem to want to give their 2 cents worth. “I never let YOU get away with stuff like that!” “Kids these days!” “If he were MY kid, I’d….”
Family members, whether close relations or not, also have an opinion. The most commonly used statement seems to be, “In our family, we do it this way. You ought to try it.” Not to mention the unspoken but clearly understood judgments that come your way when the kids are misbehaving at the family reunion.
Schools, too, inflict their value system on us. There is a lot of pressure on kids and parents. There’s a very specific mold that kids are supposed to fit into. Most kids never seem to make the grade unless they are top students or athletes or just really good at blowing smoke at the teachers. (I was one of those kids.) I recently spent a day at my youngest son’s junior high school and was struck by the amount of pressure that is put on these kids. Their day is packed full from the first bell, each teacher piling on expectations. And it seems that a student’s performance on the standardized tests is a reflection not just on the student but on the teacher, too. And they pass that pressure onto the parents.
We have a very flawed if not completely wrong view of identity. We draw our identity from all the wrong places. For example, we view ourselves from the lens of the culture which comes mostly from the media. Are we thin enough, smart enough, pretty or handsome enough? Do we have a degree from the right university? Is our house nice enough? Is it decorated with the right colors, the right furniture? Are our clothes from Macy’s or Walmart or the thrift store? Are our lawns weedless enough? Are our kids in the right extracurricular activities? Man, the list is endless.
We also frequently draw our identities from our families. Are we the good son/daughter or the bad one? How are we doing following the “rules”, often unspoken, of our family? We’ll form our identities based on a negative or a positive reaction to our upbringing. We either struggle our entire lives to break free of our families or try to live up to them.
Here’s a scary thought. Our identities can also, falsely, be taken from our church communities. Are we spiritual enough, good enough, faithful enough to “hit the mark”?
All of these places are the wrong places to look. Just when we feel we’ve measured up to some standard, someone better comes along and ruins it.
It’s one thing to live our lives based on the wrong identity but it’s even more tragic when we pass this along to our children. They are going to have a hard enough time figuring out their own identity let alone when they become responsible for bolstering ours.
We need to get our identities from the right source; otherwise the whole parenting adventure is one huge, selfish and frustrating endeavor. As a parent for 21 years, I always get a kick out of people who want to have children because they think children will love them back or fix their floundering marriage, or make life better for them. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Children, by their very nature, are powerless to give us anything. They are dependent, selfish creatures. They are demanding, self-absorbed, and as rawly sinful as they can be. They’ll run your “love bank” completely dry in no time. And that’s just as babies or young children. Just wait until they are teenagers! If our identities are based on the performance of our children, we are doomed. They are bound to disappoint.
Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE being a parent. It has truly been one of the greatest adventures of my life. But it has also been God’s most effective wine press for me. Being a parent means there is no escape for our flesh. God can and does use parenting as a tool to bring us to brokenness and therefore to great joy. However, we can also choose to become more selfish and carnal. It does come down to the question of where the source of identity is.
For us Christians, our identities should be soundly locked on what God says about us.
We are created in the image of God. (Genesis 1:26, 27) No other created being has this identity.
We are not animals, and contrary to a popular belief among parents, our kids aren’t either.
- We are free from condemnation. (Romans 8:1) Therefore, even when we mess up, God does not condemn or reject us.
- God’s love for us provides eternal security and real permanence. (Romans 8:39) Our kids do not. They will leave us someday and that is the way it should be.
- We have been given the Body of Christ. (Romans 12:5) When we are struggling and feel hopeless about our kids, our brothers and sisters in Christ are there to encourage and come alongside us. I can’t imagine being parent without all the incredible support I have had from my Body of Christ.
- God provides wisdom for parenting and all other things and gives His goodness to us. We do not have to strive to BE good. (1 Corinthians 1:30, 1 Corinthians 2:16) So even if our kids say they hate us, it shouldn’t shake our confidence or turn us into evil reactors. (If you are a parent of adolescents, you understand this already.)
- In the midst of spiritual warfare over our kids’ lives, God provides victory. (2 Corinthians 2:14)
- We actually are new creatures in Christ. (2Corinthians 5:17, Romans 6) The barriers of a dysfunctional family and/or personal sin no longer enslave us.
- Our new family IS God’s family. God is also the Father of our children. We are adopted sons and daughters, eternally secure with God, have received forgiveness for all our sin, have every spiritual blessing, are holy and blameless, have knowledge of His plan and get the joy of being a participant in it. (Ephesians 1)
So before we look further at the Parenting Challenge, it would be good to get our identities straight!
A Challenge to Parents, Part 3 coming soon.