Brandee and I always dreamed of having kids. Even when we were kids, one of our greatest ambitions was to become parents. Well, you know, independently… we didn’t know each other when we were kids. But hey isn’t it convenient that we eventually did meet each other? For most of us when we get married, the idea of kids is both exciting and terrifying. Being responsible for a job or a car or a mortgage is one thing. Being responsible for the upbringing and worldview of another human being? Multiple human beings?
I’ll be honest, when Brandee and I got married, I got a lot of books on marriage… and I didn’t really read them. Okay, there was one book I did read (I’m not going to tell you which one, just in case you gave me a book when I was engaged). There was something about getting married that felt so natural and logical. When it came to having kids, though, I read everything I could get my hands on. I read blogs, watched videos, took multiple classes, went to conferences, all trying to understand how not to suck at parenting and screw up my kids.
Eventually, after getting pregnant (my wife got pregnant… I mean we were pregnant… you know what I mean) and bringing our daughter into the world, I realized my tendency was to settle back into so much of what had been hardwired into me by my world and culture. It was very much a tendency to “be conformed to the patterns of this world” which Paul explicitly warns us against.
Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
While that passage isn’t just about how your raise your kids, it certainly doesn’t exclude it. Everyday, I’m finding myself more and more having to fight against what the world tells me my kids need:
Okay, yes it’s a bit click-baity, but it’s true. Your kids don’t need a parent that looks like what our culture has deemed to be a “good parent.” It’s amazing how easy it is for us to fit (or strive to fit) that mold. I’m not saying you shouldn’t put your kids on a soccer team or piano lessons or go on fun vacations or feed them organic apple sauce. Instead, consider that our kids are made by God for something greater than themselves, and we have the awesome privilege of shepherding and loving them to experience the fullness of that life. So, here goes… your kids don’t need you…
To feed their inborn selfishness.
Man, it’s amazing how quickly our children start to show just how sinful our hearts can be. Selfishness isn’t something that’s learned, it’s hardwired into their little hearts. While no one sets out to raise spoiled, entitled children, many of us find that it’s far easier to give into their demands rather than teach and demonstrate something better. We say it’s better to give than to receive, but when it comes to the food they eat, the toys they get, the TV shows they watch, basically every shopping trip you ever go on, we often fail to actually live it out. Luke tells about Paul’s words to the Corinthians:
In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Acts 20:35
Paul didn’t just pay lip service to Jesus’ words, he lived them out. For us as parents, it’s not just about telling our kids not to be selfish, we have to show them what that looks like. Not only do we have to push back against their inborn selfishness (and boy can that be a battle), but we have to push back against our own innate selfish, entitled hearts too. If we don’t want our kids addicted to their screens, are we as parents reinforcing that conviction with our own actions? If we don’t want our kids to be lazy, are we showing them with our own faithfulness and diligence? If we don’t want our kids to be spoiled, instant-gratification hungry little monsters… well you get the idea.
Our kids get a pretty comprehensive lesson in selfishness from the world. They don’t need that from you. Instead, they need you to show them what selflessness, patience, faithfulness and generosity look like.
To push them to a “secure” life.
My parents didn’t have much growing up in Korea. Then they left what little they had to immigrate to the other side of the world so that they could pioneer a new life for themselves and their kids. They made some serious sacrifices and they suffered a ton, especially those first… well, actually, many years. So it’s not really that surprising that they pushed me hard to make good grades, to be a stellar student so I could go to a great college and secure a good paying job. They didn’t move to the other side of the world just so I could be poor. They literally told me that on multiple occasions. The obsession with security isn’t just some asian tiger-mom meme… it’s really the foundation of the American dream. I promised myself I wouldn’t put that kind of expectation on my kids, the kind of expectation my parents had on me, but now that I am a parent, I can’t help but feel a little anxious. What if they’re not that smart? What if they’re not that socially adept? What if they fall off the monkey bars and get hurt? When those fears creep in, I find myself in the same position my parents must have been in.
But that’s crazy. For those of us who believe that God is real, that he loves us, and that Jesus is the king of the universe, what sense does it make for us to say I trust you with the eternal future of my soul, but I can’t trust you with my kid’s education, or his future profession, or her future spouse, or even her safety and well being? Remember what Jesus said about that?
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
When Sammy was born, I told our pediatrician (who was also our community group shepherd at the time) that I felt helpless to give my daughter a secure life. “She could die at any moment,” I said. A little dramatic, I’ll admit, but seriously, what parent hasn’t thought that? Peter replied, “Phill, you believe that God is sovereign, and that he loves your daughter more that you ever could. You can trust him.”
If we as parents can find our way to trusting the Lord with our kids’ security, we can have the incredible privilege and joy of setting them up to chase God and the adventure he’s prepared for them. We get to explore with them. We get to challenge them and experience life with them. We get to do risky, difficult, meaningful things with them. Your kids don’t need you to keep them safe. They need you to push them to a life of adventure and mission.
To fight for control over the trajectory of their future.
After reading and consuming so much about parenting the last several years, it’s amazing how much stuff there is out there trying to convince you that there is in fact a way to establish our child’s path towards a very specific kind of future. If you do this… then your child will grow up to be a well adjusted, successful… doctor. No, engineer. No, teacher. Whatever. For many of us as parents, it’s natural to fight for control over the trajectory of our children’s futures. People started asking us almost as soon as Sammy was born if we were going to make her go to Texas A&M where Brandee and I both went to college. “I don’t know,” I would say, “I guess I’ll ask her.”
We want good things for our kids. Of course we do. We aren’t monsters. But I’m starting to realize my definition of “good” isn’t necessarily God’s definition of good for them. I didn’t get to play soccer when I was a kids. I didn’t do boy scouts. I never went to Disney world. And you know what? That’s okay. I hope my daughters get to experience the fullness of life, but it’s okay if Disney world isn’t a part of that life. I went to a great university, got married to someone I love with all my heart, and get to do something professionally that I love doing. Do I want all of these things for my kids? Of course I do! But it’s not my job to give it to them. I can’t. They don’t need me to set the course for their futures; they need me instead to encourage them, disciple them, and maybe most of all, to pray for them.
I’m so grateful to be a dad to Sammy, Avvy, and JoJo. I’m their dad, not their god. I can’t be. I’ve learned, and continue to learn that so much of what the world says is “good parenting” my girls just don’t need. Every day that ends with Brandee and I praying over our girls as they get ready for bed is a reminder of what they really need, the life-changing reality of Jesus rescuing them from their sin and setting their feet on the fullness of life they were made for. We’re so happy to be a part of that life with them.
Interested in reading more about parenting? Check out: “Reflecting God to our Kids”