Let Go of Parenting Myths
- Whitney Hopler Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2009 10 Feb
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Leslie Leyland Field's book, "Parenting is Your Highest Calling” and 8 Other Myths that Trap Us in Worry and Guilt, (WaterBrook Press, 2008).
Parenting wasn’t meant to be so difficult that it makes you feel worried and guilty all the time. If you often feel that way, it’s time to look at what assumptions you may have made about parenting. Here’s how you can let go of parenting myths that trap you in worry and guilt:
Hold your ideas up to the light of Scripture. You may have absorbed lots of messages from history, tradition, and our culture that don’t necessarily reflect biblical truth. Decide to check out whether or not your ideas about parenting actually come from the Bible or somewhere else.
Remember that God is the ultimate parent. God is our heavenly Father who reveals Himself in the Bible as a tender yet hurting Parent who longs for a deeper relationship with His children. God understands all of your longings and feelings – both positive and negative – for your children, because He has experienced all of that Himself. You can trust God to care about whatever you’re facing as a parent, and to help you through it.
Let go of the myth that says, “Having children makes you happy and fulfilled.” Although your children are indeed great blessings, they don’t exist for your own happiness and fulfillment. Their value is found in the fact that God made them rather than in how you happen to feel about them. Discover God’s real purpose in giving you children: to help you learn to love more like He does. As you give to your kids, you can grow to become a more loving person – closer to the image of Christ. Your kids may make you feel unhappy and frustrated, but during those difficult times, you can learn how to rely more closely on God and keep growing as a person. Even when your feelings toward your kids fluctuate wildly, God’s presence and help are constant. So no matter how you happen to feel toward your kids, you can count on God to use them to fulfill good purposes in your life and in theirs. Questions like “Is parenting really worth it?” and “Am I fulfilled as parent?” are irrelevant. Instead, ask yourself: “Am I parenting faithfully?”, “Am I parenting consistently?”, and “Am I honoring God as I raise my children?” You’re responsible for that; God is responsible for all the rest.
Let go of the myth that says, “Nurturing your children is natural and instinctive.” Biblical love is very difficult to live out because you’re sinful, your kids are sinful, and you live in a sinful world. The call to love is a radical one. God is calling you to do something that only He can do in you. So don’t pretend that loving your children should come easily to you. Acknowledge that it’s messy, costly, and arduous. But since God has an unlimited supply of love to give you for your kids, ask Him each day to help you love them even in the midst of challenges, and you’ll find the strength you need.
Let go of the myth that says, “Parenting is your highest calling.” Even though your work as a parent is an extremely important and valuable contribution to the world, it’s not your highest calling. You’re called to love God above all else. Resist the temptation to devote yourself to your family over God. Make sure that God is your absolute top priority in life. Pursuing God first will actually free you to love your children more, because you’ll be closely connected to the Source of all love: God. Keep in mind that it’s possible to love and serve your family too exclusively. God calls you to serve others outside your own household to expand His kingdom in the world. Your true family includes the entire worldwide family of believers; not just relatives like your kids. Be there for your kids, but lose your life in Christ’s life – not in your children’s lives – so you can fulfill your greatest call.
Let go of the myth that says, “Good parenting leads to happy children.” Exchange shallow hopes for God’s deeper purposes. Instead of just trying to make your kids happy however you can, encourage them to be holy. Holiness is the way to happiness. It doesn’t serve your children’s good to try to fulfill all of their desires or shield them from life’s injustices or the consequences of their bad decisions. But if you encourage your kids to pursue God first – before other things that may make them immediately happy – they’ll grow to become people who can stand strong in life even during the toughest circumstances.
Let go of the myth that says, “If you find parenting difficult, you must not be following the right plan.” Again, learn to rely on God rather than formulas. Parenting advice abounds, and many of the philosophies claim to offer the biblical plan for parenting. But the truth is that the Bible doesn’t prescribe a single model of parenting. God’s Word gives you the freedom to raise your unique kids in the way that’s best for your particular family. Reject one-size-fits-all parenting systems. Parenting is more about people than process. It’s all about relationships. Instead of trying to follow a particular set parenting program, seek to build close heart-to-heart relationships with each of your children and urge them to develop close relationships with God.
Give up your own agenda and seek God’s will for each of your kids. Your children will learn much more from the life you live before them than they will from the programs you follow or the rules you set for them. Ask God to help you live as faithfully as possible so your kids will learn well from your example. Make parenting decisions for every one of your kids according to his or her uniqueness rather than trying to squeeze them into a prefabricated mold. View your children as people instead of products. Spend lots of time with them so you can get to know them well and let your relationships with them develop organically. Instead of trying to do everything right as a parent, just do your best each day. Place your trust in God rather than in your own efforts or a particular parenting program.
Let go of the myth that says, “You represent Jesus to your children.” In some ways we are all called to bring Christ to the world, but don’t trap yourself in a role you weren’t meant to play. You can never be Jesus; you need Jesus. Ask God to help you always be aware of the fact that you’re a sinner saved by grace. Your ultimate work as a parent is to point your kids to Jesus, and you can do that best by having them see you relying on Him daily for guidance and strength, and by doing all you can to humbly serve your kids and other people. When you fail, don’t despair. Remember that God’s work in your children’s lives doesn’t depend on you. He will continue to draw your kids to Himself, no matter what. But through His grace, you can help point your children toward Him.
Let go of the myth that says, “You will always feel unconditional love for your children.” This false idea of love can burden you with guilt. Love isn’t a feeling; it’s an action that transcends feelings. Although you won’t always feel an unconditional love toward your kids, that doesn’t mean you actually love them any less. God, the ultimate Parent, still acts in love toward us even when we infuriate and hurt Him through our sin. If you ask Him, He’ll give you the strength to act in love toward your kids no matter how you happen to feel about them or their behavior at any particular time. You may struggle with negative emotions toward your kids, but those emotions can serve a good purpose by motivating you to turn to God for help to love your kids despite your feelings – and to grow into a more loving person in the process.
Let go of the myth that says, “Successful parents produce godly children.” It’s dangerous to make too much of yourself and too little of God by assuming that your own efforts will determine your kids’ destinies. God alone is sovereign over your children. He will use every part of your parenting – even your sins and failures – to shape your kids into the people He wants them to become for the sake of His kingdom. Don’t expect your children to be finished products; realize that we’re all works in progress in this life, no matter how old we are. God’s Spirit – not your own work – will spiritually transform your kids over time. Release yourself from the pressure of thinking that the state of your children’s souls depends on how successful you are as a parent. Faithfulness, not "success," is what God requires most from you. Your kids will ultimately make their own choices after you raise them as faithfully as you can. Trust their futures to God.
Let go of the myth that says, “God approves of only one family design.” God is not limited by families who don’t fit the mold of what your culture, your church, or other people think. If you’re a single parent, have more or less than two children, or function in a nontraditional way (such as having the mother work fulltime outside the home while the father stays home with the kids), God still seeks a relationship with you. You’re not called to worship a particular family model; you’re called to worship God alone. A variety of family structures that honor God are not only possible, but benefit the church and the world in some ways because they show the unity of God’s Spirit working through diversity. God will take every part of your family life – including the parts you feel you don’t get “right” – and use it all to accomplish good purposes.
Adapted from “Parenting is Your Highest Calling” and 8 Other Myths that Trap Us in Worry and Guilt , copyright 2008 by Leslie Leyland Fields. Published by WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc., Colorado Springs, Co., http://www.waterbrookmultnomah.com/.
Leslie Leyland Fields is the author of six books, including Surprise Child: Finding Hope in Unexpected Pregnancy. She has received the Virginia Faulkner Award for Excellence in Writing and nominations for the Pushcart Prize and has written for journals such as Christianity Today, The Atlantic Monthly, and Today’s Christian Woman. The mother of six children, Leslie divides her time among parenting, writing, commercial fishing, and teaching in Seattle Pacific University’s master of fine arts program. She and her family on Kodiak Island, Alaska.