Dear Friends, on my recent trip down south, I visited a friend, a teacher, who told me this story about the wrong goal as parents:
“I have a little girl in my classroom who never obeys me. It’s a huge problem. So I called in her parents and told them about her disruptive behavior. They looked at me blankly for a moment, then said, ‘We never tell her no. Your rules aren’t important. Our daughter’s happiness is more important than your rules!’ Then they left!”
I’ve heard the same story from youth pastors, from other teachers, from all around us—and I know you have too. Scary stuff! The friends who were with us that night all rolled their eyes and announced “As soon as this generation of kids grows up and takes control, we’re outta here! We’re packing our bags!”
It’s easy to see the consequences of this incredibly short-sighted approach, but you know, we ALL cling to some dangerous ideas about parenting. I know, because for the first 16 years of my life as a parent, I was nearly paralyzed, even though I was running marathons every day. I couldn’t believe how HARD parenting was AND—I couldn’t believe what a terrible mother I was!! I had all these children, a daughter and eventually five boys—and I felt like such a deadly failure. Every single night I went to bed with a videotape of all my failures and sins, and all the ways I had failed my children.
*Why wasn’t I more loving? Where was the unconditional love I expected to always feel for my children?
*Why wasn’t my home this beautiful, peaceful Christian home I had heard so much about on Christian radio and in church? Why was there so much discord and wrangling?
*Why weren’t my children turning out the way I hoped and planned?
*Why did I ALWAYS feel as if I wasn’t doing enough for my children?
*WHY was parenting SO hard?
I thought I knew the answer to all of these questions. A simple answer: me. It was my fault. I was a bad mother. I was a bad Christian. I was a “bad Christian mother”!!!! It doesn’t get any worse than that. Except yes—it did! How on earth could my children grow up to become good, faithful, believing adults with such a flawed mother? Surely I was ruining their lives—FOR ETERNITY!!
But I came to realize that most of my notions about parenting had come not from the brilliance and truth and grace of God’s Word, but from human reasoning. Even within the church. Over the next month, I plan to post about some of the truly dangerous parenting myths we’re laboring under. These come from this book that I spent three years writing (and agonizing and praying over!).
It’s been eight years now since the release of that book, and the freedom and joy and beautiful grace of God’s truths have changed my life as a mother utterly. I must share them with you! (For those of you with grown children, perhaps these may help your own kids who are parents?) I plan to do a series of four to five posts on these myths over the space of the next month or two. MORE—I want to give some books away. I really do. Because I know the difference it’s made in hundreds of readers’ lives, who have written me such poignant letters. (Stay tuned below on how to get a book.)
SO! I’ll start here, with this one—on our children’s happiness.
“OUR GOAL AS PARENTS IS THE HAPPINESS OF OUR CHILDREN.”
“I just want my kids to be happy.” How many times do we hear this? Especially now in relation to sexual identity. (Your daughter says she’s happier as a boy? Let’s start hormone therapy. Whatever it takes for our kids to be happy.) We see it on nearly every front. Kids 8–18 now spend an average of seven hours a day on electronic gadgets—because we let them—leading to obesity, mental illness, addiction, aggression and more, according to experts.
Many of us go into debt for our children, providing lavish birthday parties and exotic vacations. We fix the foods our children clamor for instead of what they need, while childhood obesity rates soar. We don’t allow our kids to fail. We don’t allow their sports teams to lose. We threaten our kids’ teachers with a lawsuit when our (lazy) students flunk a class. Keeping our kids “happy” is exhausting—for us and them!
Truth: Our job as parents is not to make our children happy, but to help them become “good”: compassionate, honest, responsible, hard-working. Trying to procure our children’s happiness is like catching a river with a sieve. We need to do for our children what they cannot do for themselves: distinguish between their short-term happiness and their long-term good. What is that long-term good? It’s the same as the way God parents us: for our holiness rather than our immediate happiness. But of course they’re not an either/or. Ultimately, holiness IS the way to happiness.
My sister-in-law planted a Japanese maple in her yard one year. Because she lives on a windy, stormy island, she staked it out so it had full support against the winds. But it began to sag. By the third year, it completely collapsed. The nursery owner from whom she had bought the tree told her, “The tree is too protected. It needs the wind to strengthen its fibers. It needs the wind to make it strong.”
Do any of us want our children to topple? Don’t we want them to be like the tree in Psalm 1, firmly rooted in the banks of a gushing, living stream? These gorgeous trees yield bright, bursting fruit through every season of their life.
I pray that we can love our children enough to parent them toward THIS kind of happiness!
The original article appeared here.