The Goal of Parenting
Being a parent is the most challenging thing I have ever done. Being a parent is also one of the most important things I have ever done.
I used to think the goal of parenting was perfectly obedient children. Of course, besides being impossible, it is a crushing weight on both the parents and the kids. Before I became a parent, I expected my kids to misbehave and to need to be taught manners and right and wrong, but I thought consistent discipline and loving care would create well-behaved children. But, children are not predictable, they will not be bent to your will – they have their own minds and emotions and desires. They are not good kids in need of a little guidance, they are sinners in need of a new heart.
After banging my head against a wall for a few years I realized (with the help of friends and wise voices in my life) that the goal of parenting is not perfectly behaved children, but fostering a heart in my child that respects others, themselves, and God. Most of the time I think that is done by sacrificially loving them and evoking wonder so they see the beauty and mysteries of this world.
Our natural inclination is to serve our own interests and kids are a microcosm of this fact. We don’t have to teach our children to say mine, that is their natural disposition. My son Sean is almost 4 and my other son Joshua just turned 2. The thing that makes my blood boil more than anything is when one of them hurts the other. Sean will grab something out of Joshua’s hand or Joshua will knock down a lego tower Sean has just finished erecting. It breaks my heart because instead of fighting for each other they are embittering one another. I want my sons to spend their lives sacrificially loving others. I tell Sean all the time, you’re the big brother, that means you have to look out for Josh. I want so desperately for them to fight for each other, having the other’s back no matter what.
I also want my sons to understand Imago Dei, that they are made in the image of God. If I can show them that God created them with inherit value, for a purpose, then my prayer is that they will see value in themselves. They won’t look for value from their peers or from their work or from their talents, they can be free to pursue a full life, confident that they are loved and valued regardless of their circumstances or broken relationships.
The foundation for respecting others and themselves starts with respecting God. Understanding God as their creator shows them that they are not the center of the universe, but that God is the great joy and glory of creation. As they see God for who he is they will see themselves as loved children and others as fellow brothers and sisters, stumbling through this life. Proverbs says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and I hope as my boys fear God they will live out the story of their lives as a subplot to God’s great story.
There is so much pressure to have well-behaved and well-adjusted kids, but I’m learning that a little ruckus and loving with wild abandon is a lot more effective at nudging my kids in the right direction – and it is a lot more fun too. Matt Chandler says we cannot change our children’s hearts, all we can do is gather kindling around them for God to ignite. So I’m piling anything flammable around them so God might light a spark in their hearts.
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