As a parent, it is an interesting thing to me to see different parenting styles. I tend to mull over the underlying purposes in every philosophy in an effort to see if it is (1) Biblical and (2) Practical. There is more to parenting than keeping the child fed nutritiously, dressed appropriately, realistically healthy, and behaving normally. It is so easy to forget that even in those early years, it is the job of the parent to orient their child’s thinking toward God, give him the correct information about God, and then be watching for when the Lord begins drawing the child toward Himself. From salvation until the day they leave the nest, it is the parent’s job to prepare that little fledgling to fly on his own. We are to mold and shape that arrow so that it will eventually be launched…not remain in the quiver. (Psalm 127:4-5) I think it is possible to see a young child, even around 5 years old, and know pretty well how his character will turn out simply by observing his actions now. Proverbs 20:11 says, “Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.”
My children are very young still (ages 6 and under), so I draw on my own upbringing, and my husband’s upbringing, but mostly the Scriptures for practical guides in this parenting adventure. Sometimes it helps me in a practical way to look ahead a bit and keep the arrow pointed in the right direction. If I know where I’d like to see my child in 18 or so years, then it helps me today as I continually set them on the right path to that goal. Personally I do that by thinking through different scenarios. This is not an attempt to be pessimistic, though I do tend to let my realism degrade into pessimism. It is rather an attempt to prepare for the worst and hope for, pray for, the best in my children’s life. I know that the earlier my kids learn a lesson, and therefore the longer the habit or truth is within them, the more ingrained those character traits and truths will be. So these are the things I think about…
What if my child wants to get married?
Will they pick a good spouse? (Maybe there’s a clue in what kinds of friends they have.) Will I be making it hard for her to “leave and cleave”? (Genesis 2:24) or will my daughter be constantly coming to me for “refuge” from her husband? Several of my friends have told me that their very wise mothers told them, “Know this now, that when you have your first big fight with your husband, if you show up at my door, I will send you back to him. Don’t even think about coming to me for affirmation or sympathy. You work it out with him.” Sound harsh? Not at all. In reality, those statements were given with a wink, knowing that they had raised their daughters to know that once married, that relationship with their spouse will trump any relationship with mommy & daddy. It’s a lesson that begins way before the child says, “I do.” Will I cut those apron strings, or will I be the mother-in-law that no one wants? I understand that when the kids are young (like mine are) that they need to know that mommy & daddy will take care of them, and that knowledge transfers to their perception of how God takes care of them. But as they grow older into their teen years, it will gradually dawn on them that mom & dad won’t always be there for them. There will be times when they will have to make decisions on their own and live with the consequences good or bad. And especially when they are married, it will no longer be about what does mom or dad think, it will be about what my spouse thinks. Do they know that? These are the things I think about often.
What if my child, or his spouse, or his own children, have chronic medical issues to deal with?
How many of you deal with diabetes, or some other auto-immune disorder? In our own family, my husband deals with chronic pain from an injury resulting in nerve damage and other problems, and we’ve dealt with that since the day we were married. What if their first born child is born with a heart defect or a cleft lip or some other physical problem? Will my children know how to cope with something similar should God allow it into their life? And what’s more, will they find joy in even that circumstance? There’s only so much that I can do then to help my child…they must find their strength and fortitude in God, not in mommy. These are the things I think about often.
What if my child is poor, or does not have many comforts of life?
Ah this is a hard one. As a parent, we naturally want to give our kids so much, but generally I see much better character traits coming from kids who have virtually nothing, than from those who live a relatively easy life. With the economy the way it is, this is not as unrealistic as we may think. I once heard a radio host advise a mother who was worried about her young son. They had suffered a fire in their home and because of the trauma of rushing out of the house and losing everything they owned, the boy now would be beside himself if he didn’t leave home without an emergency set of supplies in his backpack. Before bed he wanted certain toys set out in case they had to run from the house, he could grab those “things.” The counselor wisely encouraged the mom to wean him away from trying to cope by adjusting his surroundings. Because it’s those kinds of kids who grow up to be a husband who comes home to a messy house and blows up at his wife for not keeping things perfect for him. Rather the parents were to try to show him that the most important things in life are not things. And as a Christians, we ought to know that God may even take people that we love out of our lives. Does my child know that his relationship to God is the most important thing over all. I may lose everything and everybody, but God keeps my soul. “It is well with my soul.” Does my child know that? Or is he allowed to throw a fit when he doesn’t get what he wants? Do I just melt every time that cute little face asks for something? Or do we cultivate an attitude of deferred gratification? Am I raising her to be a glutton, not with just food, but also with possessions? These are the things I think about often.
What if God calls my child into the ministry?
So let’s say my daughter makes a good choice and marries a good, godly young man. What happens if he comes to her and says, “I think we need to consider full-time ministry. What do you think about being a missionary or being a pastor’s wife?” Will she rejoice in the great calling of God on her husband’s life? Or will she have a hard time conceiving of leaving her home town to do whatever God wants her to do? Let’s take it further. Let’s say my daughter and her husband are agreed that it does seem that God is calling them into missions overseas. Will I make it difficult for her to leave, or will I be joyful for them that they are doing God’s will no matter what? Will they leave with sorrow for me and my worries that I won’t see my grandchildren enough? Or will they go out to serve God with joy and great anticipation? These attitudes and relationships are cultivated over time. If my child is rarely allowed out of my sight or if I “worry to death” every time they go to camp or on a missions trip, how do you think that will affect things? These are the things I think about often.
What if my children don’t want to leave the nest?
This hypothetical situation is probably an easy one for me to answer. I was never one of those girls who gushed over the babies at church. I didn’t particularly like babysitting either. For me, I tend to very much look forward to when my kids need me less and less. I think though that most ladies know that their kids won’t be with them forever. Do we really want to have our children live with us perpetually? Would that be healthy for them…or for us? Of course, the answer is that I WANT my kids to leave home and make something of themselves in life…to expect great things from God while attempting great things for God. (William Carey) I WANT them to be independent and self-supporting in every way, economically, emotionally, and spiritually. Call me a “Heathcliff Huxtable”, eager for the kids to get a job, get out of the house, and leave me alone. But in reality, as you know from watching “The Cosby Show” it was more about raising children to be responsible adults, and then resting and rejoicing when the job is done…and at some point that job has to be done. Yes, there is a time for nurturing, protecting, and providing for our kids when they are young. But wouldn’t you rather gradually ease them out of that and into their adult roles, instead of abruptly letting them sink or swim when they turn 18 or when they say, “I do”? I look forward to when my children only see me as an adviser and friend. That’s not the case now, but it will be when they are adults.
Both my husband and I were eager to leave home as young adults. Some people may call that strange…that somehow something must be wrong if your kids want to leave you. On the contrary, it’s a good thing. We have very close relationships with our parents and in-laws now. It’s not so much pushing the kids out of the nest as much as not feathering the nest so much that it makes an unnecessary struggle for the child…who will have to leave eventually anyway. Studies on eagles have shown this:
Ornithologists have observed eagles coaxing, even taunting, their young from the nest, rather than just giving them a shove. When the fledgling eagle is almost ready to fly, parents have been observed to swoop by the nest with a fresh kill. Instead of landing in the nest as usual to share the meal, the parent lands near the nest and eats in plain view of its squawking, hungry teenager. This behavior continues until the fledgling is hungry enough to venture out of the nest, at which point the parent will share its food. (source)
While it seems that parents usually have no problem getting their teenager to have a job or do chores, how do we fare when it comes to spiritual independence? What about building the habit of daily Bible reading and prayer? Will they think in terms of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, kindness, etc. in all circumstances? Or do I want my kids to fall apart spiritually when an adverse event happens, forsaking church, forsaking godly counsel, forsaking the Scriptures, questioning and accusing God? We must teach them to run to God in times of trouble without running to mommy & daddy. My husband has worked with teenagers for about 14 years and I know by simple observation that sending kids to camp and Missions Trips and retreats and other extended times away from home are good times of priming this pump of independence. It can reveal where there are deficiencies, and it can challenge them to “buck up” so to speak in a lot of areas. It will also help them to open their eyes to ways that they themselves can minister in God’s name apart from their parents for a short time. But it is within the safe oversight of youth leaders and then parents after they come home.
When it comes to my 6 year old, how do I point him in that direction? Must I always have my son within my sights? Not really. Obviously, we always have our children’s safety in mind, but sometimes they have to fall down to realize that mommy was right to say, “Don’t climb that.” But in the same way, he will learn ways to accomplish things that mom never thought of…all by himself! As I’ve observed this new trend of “Attachment Parenting”, I find myself more and more disagreeing. It’s ok to discipline a child so that she cries. (Prov. 23:13-14) Feeling remorse over wrong actions is biblical. I even believe it’s ok to let a baby cry, so that she learns to cope and comfort herself. Of course, it’s all within obvious limits of decency and kindness, and I may write another article about this another time. “Helicopter parents” has been a term that I’ve heard teachers and principals use to describe parents who “hover” around their kids no matter where they are, at school, a friend’s house, even at college. The problem is that the child (or young adult) will never behave as he otherwise would without mommy & daddy there. It causes problems with submitting to the current authority figure, especially if mom & dad like to rescue the child from any adversity. It confuses the child as to what leadership really is, because mom & dad always trump anything the teacher or professor has said. It embarrasses the child because he is viewed by his peers as not being able to handle it without his parents. Personally I’ve observed that it basically shows that the parent never has really trusted the child or whatever adults are responsible, even in little things. Am I a helicopter parent? Do my kids only behave when I’m around. Do they feel superior to any other authority figure besides mom & dad? These are things that I think about often.
So in the end, I think through these “what ifs” and others not to scare myself or worry needlessly, but rather I want to prepare myself and my kids. When I want to take a quick look around and see if I’m headed in the right direction, I’ll ask my “what if” questions. It helps me to see areas that need more attention and work. What if I DON”T change this attitude in my child? or What if he continues to behave this way without correction? Jesus said, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62) Meaning, we must keep our eyes on the goal in order to make a straight path to it. These are the things I think about often.