Last week we began to look at what it means to be a successful parent. I suggested that while some people have a feel for what this means, many remain confused. Let’s now look at some of the reasons for this confusion.
Expecting to control the outcomes.
Parenting includes training and nurturing our children. Ultimately, we want our
kids to function independently as adults. We can stack the deck in their
favor, but we can’t control the outcome. Still, we try.
For example, in pursuit of the self-esteem myth, we’ll praise our kids even
when they turn out a poor performance due to poor preparation or effort.
Supposedly, we’re building their self-esteem and confidence. Or parents will
try to nag their children into changing their behaviors. They’ll work to have
their kids be the best player on the team and get top scores in school. They
do it because they think their kids’ outcomes depends on it.
Parents who try too hard to fix the outcomes do so at the expense of their
kids’ independence, and in a way, even sacrifice their own freedom. Our
children will encounter people, ideas, and experiences beyond our control
and influence. They will make their own decisions, and those decisions may
not come out the way we want.
Healthy Alternative: We should work to help our children become
independent adults. It doesn’t happen all at once; it takes time and training.
We hope to instill the right attitudes and skills, but in the end, we have to let
go. Our kids are not our possessions. They’re on loan to us by the Creator, and
we release them into His care.
But what happens when our kids make mistakes? If they do, it will be their
mistakes. The best thing we can do is to introduce them to Jesus. We can be
sure the Holy Spirit will do a better job of leading our kids than we will at trying
to control their lives. That doesn’t mean we have to remain uninvolved. Love
doesn’t quit at any age. We continue to love our children, but we do so in a
way that respects their independence and free will.
Parents act out of a need for love, meaning, or validation.
Do we need our kids to win or achieve a goal for their sake or to satisfy our
ego needs? If you sink your whole self into your children, what does that mean
when they fail at the activity, or they reject us? Do we desperately need
someone or something else to love us and affirm our purpose and value? For
many parents, that becomes their children, leading to expectations or an
investment of effort that goes too far.
Healthy Alternative: Our kids are not here to gratify our ego needs. Our value
is not defined by our parenting or by how our kids turn out. God has already
established our worth, having created us in His image. Like everything in life,
we give God our very best as parents, and then we leave the results up to
Working toward goals that cannot satisfy.
During the sermon on the mount, Jesus said:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay
destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven,
where neither moth not decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For
where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.
Matt. 6:19-21 NABRE
We put so much effort into acquiring material goods, fame, power, or
pleasure — things that give only temporary satisfaction, but no lasting
happiness. We work to get our toddler in a soccer league so he can become
a star player so he can get a good scholarship at college and then get a
good-paying job so he can own things, save up for retirement, and then retire
playing golf every day. Is that all there is to life?
Secular society works hard to remove anything that might look like religion
or a religious (and in particular, Christian) value system. Do we have a set of
values that we would consider absolute and everyone should learn — like
respect for others, taking responsibility, respect for life, caring for others,
mercy, sacrificial love, patience, kindness, loyalty, respect for one’s parents,
love for our family, generosity, forgiveness, chastity, truthfulness, perseverance
and respect for legitimate authority? Don’t expect the educational system or
entertainment industry to teach these.
Healthy Alternative: Jesus showed us how to live a healthy and abundant life
in this world, and how to receive eternal life in the next. Teach your kids by
word and example to live by the Two Great Commandments: to love God
and neighbor. Teach them to embrace the Beatitudes as a recipe for
happiness. Help them become disciples of Christ.
Relying on ourselves instead of God.
Here’s some surprising news: parents are not perfect! Yet, we are
supposed to be models and teachers for our children. If parents are expected
to be the guides for their children, who will help us to recognize and correct
our own behavior?
Healthy Alternative: No matter how hard we try, we surely will make mistakes,
and sometimes they’ll be whoppers. But for Christ’s followers, there is hope.
First, if we live as active disciples and remain attentive to the Holy Spirit, God
will not only guide us, but over time, he will heal us and make us into better
parents. Second, as stated under Fallacy #1, God can heal and help our
children’s wounds — even the ones we had a hand in. Third, our God is a God of
mercy, and if we acknowledge our sin before Him, He will forgive us.
Centering life around activities instead of relationships.
Everyone tells us we should have our kids in this or that activity because
those experiences are going to help them succeed. The “good parent” will
then devote as much of her discretionary time as possible to seeing that her
kids stay involved in enriching activities while acting as chauffeur, spectator,
Here’s the rub.
Values and character traits are taught, but they are largely caught by
observing and interacting with parents and siblings in a variety of settings. The
small and seemingly insignificant conversations we have can carry more
impact than we think. These opportunities will diminish as our families become
busier with activities. Relationships take time, and some of the best moments
happen spontaneously. If occupied with programmed activities, where
will we find the time for these moments and relationships?
Healthy Alternative: Activities are fine. But when they get in the way of a
nurturing relationship with our children or they become obstacles to godly
goals, we’ve let it go too far. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. It takes
prayer and discernment to recognize these boundaries.
Failing to introduce our children to Jesus.
Of course, the secular person doesn’t see the point. But even Christians can
miss the mark here. That is, we can tell our children about God and introduce
them to our religious traditions and practices, but if we fail to introduce them
to Jesus, we’ve missed the most important part. Knowing religious truths and
practicing acts of devotion have their value, but parents should realize that
knowing Christ is central to all of it.
Secular society works at extracting God out of everything. Some people say
they will let their children decide about God when they get older. That
statement shows ignorance about child development and naiveté about the
antagonism of secular society toward the Christian faith.
Healthy Alternative: Guide your children toward discipleship. Teach them
about God. Share about your experience following Christ. Bring them to
Church. Teach them about Jesus. Don’t expect this to occur passively. In
the end, your child will still need to give her own “yes” to Jesus.