I get it.
We have five kids and life gets hectic. Many times you want your child to just listen to you, stop doing what they’re doing and get their act together. Correcting, late nights, explaining yourself, engaging in why they did something, all takes effort. After a long day, that is often the last thing I want to do.
It is important for parents, in the midst of all the advice, books, blogs and hearsay, to take a step back and ask, “What is our goal as parents? What are we hoping to do? What kinds of kids do we want to send out into the world?” The answers to these questions will impact the way you parent.
Many times Katie and I will be asked about parenting styles; things like love & logic, baby wise, child directed feeding, parent directed. All kinds. Should you spank a child, ground them, put them in time-outs?
As parents, there is a sense of desperation. There is so much information out there, so many opinions, and we often feel at a loss. We hear successful parents talk about what they did, but what if your child is different than theirs?
One question has been running through my head recently as it relates to parenting (and I think it is one every Christian parent needs to think about). This question should shape how you communicate to your child, how you discipline, if you let them cry it out, etc.
The question is this: Does my parenting reveal the heart of God?
Let me explain.
God is a parent. He identifies himself as Father in the Bible, writers talk about his attributes as a parent (disciplining, communicating, loving, holding, cherishing, etc.). I think most Christians can agree on this point: God is our Father, we are children of God. I am a parent to a child, so therefore one of my hopes as a parent is to reveal to my kids what God is like.
Take a step back from your parenting for a second.
When your child thinks of how you discipline, communicate, connect, talk to them, interact with them, are they getting an accurate picture of what God as a Father is like? (And this isn’t just for men.) Your kids are connecting you to what God is like because they hear him called Father. They do that on their own. You are just revealing to them what God is like.
How you interact with them says to your child, “This is what God is like.”
Let me give an example about discipline. The question often comes up about time-outs, spanking, grounding, etc. Often as a parent, I fall into the trap of handing down discipline out of frustration or wanting it to move faster. What does discipline look like when we think about the heart of God? Does God disconnect himself from his children? Or is he with them? Does he leave them or go to them? Does he send his kids to their room? Think about Luke 15 and the Father running out to meet his son, the search for the lost sheep, the lost coin. Many of our kids fit those descriptions, and yet the heart of our parenting is nowhere near the heart of God as seen in Luke 15.
I have a hard time picturing God telling us to go work it out in our room, landing the boom on us or letting us “cry it out.” (As a caveat, there is a big difference between a child asking for space to process something they did and you making them have space in their room for something they did.) Instead, I see a God who pursues relationship and connecting. God is there in the muck, doing the hard work of loving a broken person, pursuing, taking the first step, not waiting on a child.
Your parenting reveals something about God; you are communicating to your children and to those around you what they should believe about God from your parenting.
So the questions every Christian parent needs to ask are not what is easiest for me or what works for my schedule. I understand those questions and desires, but those aren’t questions that should enter our heads. Instead, we have to ask: Is my parenting a true picture of the heart of God?
I don’t think this question gets asked enough about parenting. We look for tips and tricks and I’m all for those. At the end of the day, your goal (at least one of them) as a follower of Jesus with kids is to reflect the love of God to your kids and show them a true picture (as best as you can through the power of the Holy Spirit) of what God is like.
Why Parents Struggle With Connection
Let me take another step back, because I believe every parent wants to be connected to their child. We struggle to do it, it is difficult, we often don’t know what to say, but deep down there is something else happening.
Many of us don’t feel connected. We have skeletons in our past that whisper lies to us that keep us from engaging with our kids, that keep us from sharing our hurts, that keep us from being alive in Christ. And because we aren’t sure what the heart of God is like, we don’t know how to communicate that to our kids as a parent.
All we remember from childhood is abuse, broken promises, absent parents, or parents who hovered and put us in bubble wrap. Connecting wasn’t a goal, authority and discipline were. Keeping things in line, looking and acting a certain way, projecting a certain persona.
And since we’re being honest, connection takes time and effort. When I need to discipline my kids, I want to shout and tell them to go to their room instead of taking a deep breath, sitting on the ground and hearing why they did something and talking with them about the power of sin and the power of Jesus over sin. I want to push them away in my sinfulness so they’ll go to sleep at night and I can have some down time. But my down time and my comfort are not the goal of parenting.
But many parents (and I fall into this trap more than I like to admit) have their comfort, ease and down time as a goal.
I know what you’ll say: “I don’t have any adopted kids. My kids don’t come from a hard background.”
The truth is, because of sin, all our kids come from a hard background. Whether that is being in a foster care system, experiencing abuse, struggling to meet standards at a suburban school, hard backgrounds are everywhere. The background of a child isn’t even the point because the heart cry of your child and every child is connection. How do I know? Because it is the cry of my heart with my heavenly Father, and it is the cry of your heart.