Parenting in the Rearview Mirror
I remember thinking parenting had to be easier than most people make it look when I was a single guy. Then we had kids. Actually, our first child still often leaves us with the illusion that we have parenting under control. The second one begins to unravel our delusion that we can control much of anything. For most, I’ve talked to by the third child you are convinced that parenting is one of the most challenging and humbling things you can do on this earth. I remember saying to my wife Tammy, no one should write a parenting book unless they have at least three kids, and they are all successfully out of the house. I can’t find that in the Bible, but I believe it is from the Lord! So, I don’t really qualify to write a book on the subject just yet, but after 20 years of parenting and because this is just a blog, here it goes.
We have two in college and a 13-year-old at home. Recently all three are home for an extended break thanks to Covid 19. In just a few days with everyone back, we have been reminded we are not the ideal parents. This was not a shock to us, but it has been brought to light in a new way. All of our kids have at times compared us to other parents or families. But our two oldest have now been in other homes more, compared family mores in discussions with peers, and even discussed how they might parent differently. The conclusion from their vantage point is we are good parents but not great parents. That was a bit hard to hear but I have been reflecting on this for the last week or so. First off, I take the lion’s share of any failure in parenting. I believe the husband in a Christian home must lead in love, wisdom, and spiritual discipleship. I’d like to share where I have failed and to encourage other fathers to learn from my mistakes.
Looking back, the strengths are we have had a good marriage, a Christ center home, and all our kids love the Lord. But I have seen a few themes emerge that point out why our parent has not always been great, not just in my kid’s eyes but according to Scripture. In the end, your kids will not always be the best judge of your parenting. Don’t dismiss their feedback but please don’t hinge your estimation of parenting success on your kids’ opinions, let alone your own (1 Cor 4: 3-5). So, in light of Scriptures, I want to speak to some parenting fails. Again, I am focusing on the father’s role, but this should prove to be helpful to moms and single parents as well.
- A Father’s Words Can Be Weighty: Avoid Discouraging Your Children (Col 3:21)
The Bible has a lot to say about our words (Eph 4:29). As a dad, some of my worse moments have been when I have been clueless, careless, and even caustic in my speech. You know you are clueless when your kids look at you and shake their heads or say, “you don’t get it”. Or you say something so emotionally unintelligent your kids shout down or just tear up. So dad’s, the first point is “getting a clue”. Listen until you understand, not to make your point. If you are clueless long enough you spiral into careless words. I have had my kids say, you really hurt me when you said that, or “are you trying to make me mad?” Careless words are insensitive, often impulsive, and clearly unwise. Proverbs describes this like plunging a dagger into someone heart (Prov 12:18). So, my second point is to be careful with how you respond especially in a heated moment, also pray before you say anything if you sense your child needs a correction. But worst of all is caustic words. These are the moments I most regret. The weight of words I have said out of anger or pride has crushed my kid’s spirits (Prov 18:14; Col 3:8). I have had to ask forgiveness more than once for these outbursts. Thankfully they are rare, and my kids are forgiving, but there is no equivocating when asking forgiveness or excuses to be made for a father who speaks harshly with his children.
- A Father’s Discipline Can Be Powerful: Correct Gently (Eph 6:4)
Much like our words, any discipline should be carefully doled out. No doubt you will need to discipline your children at times (Prov 13:24). I believe it is the father’s job to be the primary disciplinarian when he is present. Obliviously mothers need to be the primary disciplinarian when a father is absent, or they are single parents. I grew up in that situation, so I know being the primary nurturer and disciplinarian is really hard for either parent but particular for those trying to play both roles. As a father I also know that went we discipline it can have a different impact on a child. We typically aren’t as relationally connected to our kids day to day, so we need to be attuned to our wives’ perspective before we discipline. We are also by biblical design the ones who pass down both blessing and curse (Gen 49:22-28). I have failed at times by not checking in with my wife to tailor the discipline based on more than the immediate infraction, and I have been too slow to use discipline at times out of weariness or laziness. We believe spanking has its place before the teen years, but our kids say (right now at least) they won’t use this approach with their kids. It makes you stop and wonder, is that just because it is 2020, they don’t have kids yet, or did we fail to be effective with corporal discipline? Whatever the case, as fathers we cannot discipline out of anger or use our strength to man handle our kids. While I don’t remember a time of being “abusive” I do remember moments where I disciplined a child who had a hard heart or was not going to gain anything from a spanking. Father’s resist the temptation to discipline when you think it will only further accelerate stubbornness or rebellion. Especially if you are frustrated or they can pick up pride in your countenance. Let things cool off or use other discipline methods in those situations. If you do spank your children make sure you are not angry, I suggest you use something other than your hand, and that your process includes a time of teaching repentance, forgiveness, prayer, and a hug afterward.
3. A Father’s Influence Can Be Compelling: Purposely Point Them Toward Christ (1 Thes 2:11-12)
This is perhaps where I have had the most success and the most failures. For fathers, especially in our culture today our sin is more often omission than commission. It’s what you know you should have done but you did not do (James 4:17). When I am distracted or being selfish, I am not purposeful in my parenting. I have times of regret where I should have been focused on my kids not church work. I remember times I was looking at my phone when my kids were trying to have a meaningful conversation with me. I have out of fear of alienating my teenagers been a bit slow to give them godly advice. As a dad I know my voice is among the most respected and needed when it comes to giving encouragement, direction and a sense of acceptance. I have failed to be consistent in these areas, especially when it comes to encouragement. Fathers, your words of encouragement can set a trajectory, mend a relational wound, and spur your kids on to attend church and to do good works for the Lord (2 Cor 1:3; 1 Thes 5:11; Heb 10: 24-25). You can even help your child be courageous in the face of persecution and adversity just by demonstrating you are proud of them and reminding them you respect their faith and that they have even surpassed your faith at their age (1 Tim 4:12).
So, my kids were probably right, we did a good job overall but as a dad, I can see according to Scripture where I was not a great dad, at least not consistently. I hope you can learn from my failures and what I have learned. It is never too late to start. The Bible is clear as parents we are to avoid discouraging our kids with words, we are to correct them gently when disciplining them and we need to be purposeful in your Godly influence. If you are a father, you might start with confessing to your spouse and then your kids where you have failed. Ask forgiveness and then ask if you missed anything. As a single parent or mother, you can do the same as the Lord leads. As I look back, I wish I had done that more and earlier. I encourage you to put these things into practice so when you look back you can say with the Lord’s help you have done a great job with one of the most important stewardship responsibilities any of us will ever have.