Every home is a laboratory where parents have the privilege of incrementally introducing their children to the culture around them. This incremental child development process prepares them to live in and engage their world well, while not being overcome by the culture.
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Parental fear is probably the most common struggle that caring parents have to deal with on a daily basis. It makes sense to me because I’m one of those parents. I want our children to have a fantastic life. I also want them to love God with all their hearts, souls, and minds (Matthew 22:37-39).
It would not be an exaggeration to say that I’m aware of the faith-fear tension on a daily basis. Some days I worry and other days, not so much. Typically, my “worry, don’t worry complex” is provoked by their behavior: If they are behaving well, then I don’t worry, but if they are not behaving well, then it would not be a stretch to say that I can project their current failures into the rest of their lives.
To think how my children can control me so easily does not speak well about my faith in God, which does lead me to a good self-analysis question about parental focus:
Are you more aware of God’s goodness and faithfulness to you when your child is behaving poorly, or in those moments are you more controlled by your unmet expectations for your child?
How you answer that question not only determines your “levels of worry and anxiousness” over your children, but it will influence how you respond to them, especially when they are not meeting your expectations.
Expectations manage responses.
The parent traps
If you are generally characterized by trusting God during parental situational challenges–even though you may not have perfected your trust in God–then you will parent with faith, grace, courage, and joy.
If you generally managed by unmet parental expectations, then you will be tempted to succumb to a plethora of parenting traps. Here are six common ones:
- Succumb to the temptation to control your child.
- Succumb to the temptation to be dictatorial without appeal.
- Succumb to the temptation to be self-reliant.
- Succumb to the temptation of fear.
- Succumb to the temptation to overreact.
- Succumb to the temptation to over-shelter.
One of the overarching expectations that hover over our parenting desires is to have the perfect 6-year old, 10-year old, or 15-year old. Without keeping the end in mind, you could become a thorn in your child’s flesh as you micro-manage the contours of their fluctuating behaviors.
Some people call this helicopter parenting, which is an unfortunate term because its lacks biblical clarity–a clarity that makes it sound better than what it is
Through a biblical lens, helicopter parenting could be more about selfishness, faithlessness, self-reliance, or fear-based parenting. It also spurns the unthinkable possibility that God could be engaging a child in spiritually beneficial ways that appear to fly in the face of your best life now theology. (Sometimes God uses suffering to mature us.)
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. – Luke 14:26-27 (ESV)
If your child becomes an adult who loves God more than he loves himself, or his wife, children, and anyone else, then you can rest assured that regardless of what happens to him, he will be okay.
A micro-managing parent will never understand this because their thinking is myopic (2 Peter 1:9). Their focus is centered on the moment: what is going on with the child right now. There could be several reasons for that kind of heart-motivated parenting.
- The parent is fearful of what the child may become, so he implements authoritarian, smothering control.
- The parent is lazy, and does not want to be inconvenienced, so he legislates behavior.
- The parent is concerned about his reputation, so he demands unquestioned obedience.
Faith through failure
A Gospelized parent is less tense, less stressed, and less angry, while more restful in God’s sovereign control of all matters big and small. Rather than trying to iron out all present-day wrinkles in the child’s life, he uses those wrinkles to equip the child for the future.
This kind of worldview reminds me of a long list of parents who have come to me seeking help for their children who were bouncing off the walls at that time. Today, many of those children are God-loving adults.
During the season of parental uncertainty, the parents were in a tizzy. I typically tell a parent like this how God saved me when I was 25-years old. Ten years earlier I was in jail. What you are seeing in your child should not derail your faith for what God can do.
I’m not saying God will save your child because He does not regenerate every person. Some children do reject God, live a life of rebellion, die, and go to eternal hell. Then there are other children who are converted as adults, like me.
Though it’s more pleasant to not consider these truths, we must not bury our collective heads in the sand and play pretend. We live in a fallen world, and some people choose to stay in their fallenness, a truth that does not diminish the goodness of God at all, though it should motivate all parents to reassess their reasons for loving God.
- Do you love God when your children do not love God?
- Do you mature in faith when your children are living out disobedience?
- Do you carry ongoing guilt for your parental mistakes?
- What needs to happen in your heart in order to be free from the guilt of parental mistakes?
- Is your faith fed by your parenting successes or by the works of Jesus?
An eye on their future
Trying to control the future outcomes of your children will always backfire. If you are tempted to controlling, smothering, dictating, or overly legislating your children’s lives, then I appeal to you to reconsider. If you are separating them from the culture that they will spend their adult lives, then I also appeal to you to reconsider.
The little people in your home will only be in your home for a nano-second. They will possibly spend ninety percent of their lives outside of from your parental jurisdiction. Equipping them is one of the most effective things you could do as a parent to help them live well in the world that will make up nearly all of their earthly existence.
My friend Willy came from Cameroon a few years ago. He had never been to America, and as a 19-year old young man, it was overwhelming in many ways. Willy was not prepared for what our Americanized world was offering him. Though he is doing well today, it was a struggle for him to adjust to a land he was not equipped to live in. He was a foreigner in our culture.
The best case scenario for Willy would have been a season of American culture indoctrination while he was still living in his home country, Cameroon. The good news was how God led him to a good local church that befriended, served, helped, and equipped him on all things about being a Christian in our culture.
Everyone is not as fortunate as Willy. There are some children who are being reared by fear-based parents who instill and perpetuate their fear in their children. They identify the taboos in the culture around them, isolate their children from them, without realizing the importance of incrementally (and biblically) introducing them to the culture they will inhabit.
These children grow up socially awkward, culturally disengaged, and evangelistically hindered because of their “sheltered in Cameroon while living in America” childhood. They live with inordinate fears about the culture, borne out of ignorance, poor parenting, and bad theology. Rarely do these adults have unsaved friends.
How sad is that?
Jesus had scores of unsaved friends. Wait a minute! All of His friends were unsaved. Jesus was sent to an unsaved world, in order to live in it, engage it, and serve it, for the purpose of converting it (Philippians 2:5-11). His missionary efforts in our culture are legend. There have been books written about how He lived in the world, while not overcome by the world.
The socially-awkward, ill-prepared child cannot be like Jesus that way. He will have to create a holy huddle that is sequestered from the culture while dropping Bible tracts like bread crumbs that hopefully will lead those outside his camp to their church doors. What he can’t do is penetrate his culture with the Gospel of Christ.
When I say “introducing your child to the world” I am not talking about teaching them how to curse, drink beer, watch porn, smoke cigarettes, and other sin-festive things like our what our culture does.
I am talking about familiarizing your child with the ways of the world while teaching him how to not imbibe it. Some of the future, adult goals for children are not to be (1) surprised, (2) repulsed, or (3) tempted by the culture they will step into as young adults.
If you don’t teach them how to do this, then like a child reaching up to touch the hot stove because he did not know it was hot, your child will be burned by the culture that you so meticulously kept away from him.
Your home is a laboratory. You should be continually stretching (challenging) your children so you can understand them better, in order to teach them more effectively. If you have more than one child, then you know very well about their uniqueness, which is why you cannot do cookie-cutter parenting.
For example, to say that alcohol is evil and you’ll go to hell if you drink it is fear-motivated parental ignorance. While you may bind the conscience of one child, and he treats alcohol like a plague all of his life, your next child may not be so motivated. Children need loving instruction, not fear tactics.
Each child needs your time, nurturing, instruction, and biblical clarity. You do this by talking to them, asking them all kinds of questions, while motivating them according to how God has made them (Proverbs 22:6). You discern where each child is spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. You seek to discern their theological awareness and their acumen to pick up on theological truths.
With these kinds of assessments, you begin plotting a trajectory (in your mind) that will (1) lead them to the cross, and (2) then into the culture. Christ came to where we were. He converted us to His way of thinking, and then told us to go into all the world (Matthew 28:19-20; Luke 24:49).
- Do you have a good, working knowledge of how God created your child?
- Do you give blanket edicts to your children, not considering their uniqueness?
- How are you customizing your parenting to each of your children?
If you are not already, then I appeal to you to think big (future) picture. Stretch your children. Give them opportunities to succeed and fail. Your home is a laboratory where it’s not about passing or failing. It’s a training ground where both passing and failing are opportunities to put on Christ.
If your child succeeds, then you will want to discern any self-righteous or arrogant issues. Success is a great opportunity to identify, isolate, and affirm humility. The test of prosperity is a wonderful opportunity to parent.
If your child fails, then you can encourage him by showing him what went wrong and why it went wrong. You can teach him how to discern and address the heart issues that typically accompany failure, i.e., fear of man, discouragement, or anger.
Failure and success are what their future life will look like. They will win; they will lose. You have an amazing opportunity to walk them through these things right now, while equipping them to live well in the future, in God’s world.
Hiding children under bushels
Sheltering is an important part of parenting. Parents understand this, but sheltering and fear-based protection should never be the beginning and the end of your child’s life. If it is, then your children will be culturally confused and spiritually tempted when their time comes to stand without your guidance.
It may seem wise (and convenient) to shelter your children. But if you do, then beware: You’ll be hard-pressed to know them the way they need to be known, and while you have the opportunity to train them. You will learn your children when they are tested. It’s better to create those tests while they are with you rather than waiting for them to leave you, and they are floundering in their culture.
Bringing the future home
One of the ways we have equipped our children for the future is by connecting them with adults. They have been socializing with adults ever since they could socialize. We understood how we had less than two decades to instruct them, and how they would possibly have 70+ plus years in an adult world, so we strategically and appropriately gave them a few adults to play with while they were young.
Like all children, they naturally gravitated to their own kind: other kids. Like fish to water, they have always loved other children. This is where we had to be intentional by connecting them with older, bigger, and wiser people. Small groups in the local church have always been a good and safe place for this kind of adult training. Hospitality in the home is also an excellent context.
Getting “adult reps” in while they are young is a good idea.
Call to action
My hope is that you will ask the Spirit to illuminate your mind with some practical ways you can prepare your child to live well in his future life. Parenting is hard work. Duh! This is why your first call to action is to ask God how to proceed. Each situation, family, and child are different.
Though I do not believe what we did is best for you, here are some of the things we have done with our children. These things have worked for us, as we’ve tried to live in the grace, wisdom, and courage of preparing our children for the future.
Systematic Theology (ST) – We began teaching our children ST by the time they were four and five years old. Concepts like omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, anthropomorphic expressions, hypostatic union, etc.
Bank Accounts – We set up bank accounts for each of them around five years old. They really loved getting the suckers from the bank tellers.
TV show, Cops – Around eight years old, we watched the TV show Cops with them for a while, teaching them about drugs, alcohol, and other cultural problems, while teaching them the importance of the law and respect for police officers.
Cultural language – Around eleven/twelve years of age, I began teaching them a theology of language, while introducing them to the culture’s version of the language (cursing). This also included motivations of the heart.
This is one chapter from my book, The Sex Talk: Leading your child into the rest of his life