I hesitate to write a parenting post, only because I'm not an expert, just a father trying his best to parent the way God wants me to. Our kids are still young, so there is no "finished product" to evaluate to see if what I'm saying even makes sense. So when you read the following, take those above caveats in mind.
Parenting involves hard truths. It is a way that God searches your heart, humbles you, and softens you for His service. I've learned five hard truths about being parent, that I'd like to share with you:
1) There is no guarantee that your kid will be great. When I say greatness, I mainly mean biblical greatness, which involves knowing, loving, and serving God. It means living above the world, living an extraordinary life on mission. I'm referring to kids who become adults who have an impact for Christ on their generation. It's hard to accept the fact that God doesn't really give us a guarantee that our kids will achieve this. We need to disabuse ourselves of the bad theology that says Proverbs 22:6 is an ironclad guarantee that if we "follow the formula", inserting our kids in one end of the evangelical assembly line, that they will come out at the other end as perfectly formed Christians. This is not a note of despair, but a breath of fresh air. It means that our job is to simply be faithful with our children, to provide the kind of loving, nurturing, providing, spiritual environment where faith can best grow. We're to sacrifice for them, discipline them, teach them, and motivate them to fulfill God's call on their lives. But we cannot change our children. We cannot alter their hearts. Only God through the regenerating work of His Holy Spirit can produce the kind of righteousness we would like to see. This is very important, both for lazy parents who are tempted to be less than faithful and overly analytical parents who bludgeon themselves daily with the false notion that they are constantly failing. This reality is why we must pray fervently for our kids.
2) Your child, upon entering life, is a sinner in need of regeneration. Nobody likes to think of their child as the bad kid, right? I'm amazed at how blind we parents can be to the faults of our own kids and supersonically sensitive to the faults of the kids of other parents. It seems our generation is likely to be more defensive on this than our parent's generation, but maybe that's just my experience. It seems that we parents are more likely to defend our child at all costs against any accusation of misbehavior and constantly point it back at the other kids, whose parents are obviously less intentional than we. But if we believe what the Scripture says about humanity, about the Fall, about every person's desperate need for redemptive grace, then we'll stop hurting our children by defending their sin. The truth is that one day it may be the other kid that commits the outrageous acts in the church nursery and then the next week it may be my child. I must constantly remind myself that my child needs a work of the Spirit as much as the other kids. Parents, we need to be less sensitive when it comes to criticism and/or correction of our kids by other parents and we need to acknowledge that our kids are not the perfect angels we like to think they are.
3) There is no method, no strategy, no system that can do the work of the Holy Spirit. We evangelicals love our parenting formulas and every year the strategies seem to change. Now, I'm grateful for the many tools provided by ministries like Family Life Today and Focus on the Family and other organizations. They have helped Angela and I immensely. I'm grateful for books, for seminars, for conferences. But I have come to realize that I must first pray for my child's salvation. That is to say that it is my hope and prayer that each of one of our children come to faith in Christ as their Lord and Savior. Why? Not only do I care deeply about their eternal destiny and their intimacy with God now, but the Holy Spirit is the only agent who can actively change my child's heart. Parenting is much more of a joy when the Holy Spirit is doing His work in the lives of my children. The Spirit can take my faithfulness, my teaching, the environment I create and can use that to work in the heart and lives of my children. There is a great temptation to sort of "forget" or "eliminate" the role of the Spirit in parenting. We can too easily become enamored with our system of character-formation (which is important) and almost convince ourselves that parenting is all up to us. Yep, our kids will be good because we did it right! That's humanism. You don't have to be a Christian to parent this way. It leaves no room for the miracle of the gospel.
4) You will make a lot of really big mistakes You are not going to get it all right in your parenting. You will have glaring blindspots that your kids will one day lament as they consider their own parenting. But guess what? This is where God's grace bleeds through. Be faithful, be humble, be apologetic, be present--and God will use you to mold the lives of your kids. It's better to realize this up front than to fool yourself into thinking that you'll be perfect, that whatever mistakes your parents made you will now iron out. It's better not to convince yourself that you've finally mastered the balance between grace and law in your home. It's better to go through your parenting years with the humility to realize you don't have all the answers, the grace to apologize when you mess up, and the confidence that God can somehow take your flawed efforts and shape the hearts of your children. What encourages me about my children is to know that God loves them infinitely more than I love them, that God wants their spiritual success, their wholeness, their character more than I do. It encourages me to think that the huge, glaring gaps in my parenting will be filled by the Heavenly Father.
5) You need to unselfishly prepare them for their mission. The biggest temptation we parents face, I think, is to consider our kids as our kids rather than God's children. Don't misunderstand me, when I look at my children, I think all the time, Wow, these are my kids, this is awesome. And yet I have to remind myself that they are God's children more than they are my children. This matters because it affects the way we parent. If we have children for our own pleasure and enjoyment, they will ultimately disappoint us. And we will ruin them by trying to mold and shape them, either into our own image or into the person who completes what we feel we lack. Instead, like Abraham, like Hannah we must relinquish control of our children to the Lord for his mission. This means rather than overprotecting them in a germ-less Christian bubble, we teach them and train them and equip them for life. We don't assume the gospel and the great doctrines of the Christian faith, we drill these truths deep into their hearts and souls, so that they can carry this deposit of faith in their generation. It means we start teaching them essential life skills so they can go into the world and make a difference. It means we work hard at identifying their gifts and talents and how so they can discover their God-given vocation. Preparing our children for life means we slowly prepare our own hearts for the moment they will leave the nest, so we don't hang on and destroy their adulthood, so we don't hover over their relationships, their marriages and hurt their mission.
*This is by no means an exhaustive list of principles and truths, just some that I've been reflecting on lately.