Hands up, all who agree that parenting is not for the faint-hearted.
We’ve all been told that we have an awesome responsibility to train and raise our children in the ways of the Lord. We may start out with zest and enthusiasm, but it doesn’t take very long to realise the challenges and distractions that come against us every day; and sometimes, every moment! We determine to take these in our stride. And then we discover that the battles are not necessarily always against the external influences but some of the toughest ones are found right at home, in the hearts of our children and in the issues we each personally grapple with.
Like the winds and waves that come against a seemingly solid rocky cliff, our resolve to be great parents can be slowly eroded as fatigue and discouragement set in, slowly but surely. If you have been there, you know what I’m talking about. You know the feeling, and it’s not a nice one. All you have are questions but no answers. And worse still, the loudest questions are those that taunt, accuse and condemn your ability and credibility as a parent.
I’ve been there too — many times. God may have blessed and graced me to be a father to my seven children, and indeed, I know my roles and responsibilities as a steward of these blessings. That said, how I view parenting and what I expect of myself may not always be accurate, even though I strive to be as biblical as I possibly can. And that’s why I need to be reminded of the following over and over again.
1. I am not a perfect parent. This sounds like a no-brainer, but I desperately need to remember this and not beat myself over the head each time I fail. But my perfectionist streak gets the better of me, time and time again, and I feel really lousy when I mess up or am told that I have overlooked something again. But perfect I am not, and the truth is, I will make mistakes. I can be aware and learn from them, or I can wallow, be condemned, and give up.
2. I do not have perfect children. Another obvious point, but don’t we all wish that they are perfect? I know that my children all struggle with their sinful natures, and yet, my idealistic streak keeps hoping that I will wake up one day and suddenly discover children who are always cheerful, polite and obedient. (Interestingly, as I am writing this, there is a whining and crying child in the background.) Oh, how my countenance falls each time my expectations of them are not met! But they are not perfect, and it is utterly foolish and unreasonable of me to consider otherwise. Remembering this enables me to understand their struggles, as I do mine, that I may be patient and compassionate in my dealings with each of them.
3. I cannot monitor every activity my children engages in. I will be as involved in the lives and activities of my children as I possibly can. But to be present physically 24/7 and to know every detail is simply not practical. The biggest irony is that often, children break the rules right under the parents’ nose, right in the home where boundaries are clearest! What about when parents are not around? You can set up an entire tracking system but there will come a time when their own schedules will take them out of the house and they will have to make decisions on their own. Admittedly, this is toughest as we watch our children grow. We know there is a need to let go. We just don’t know if we are doing it too soon or too late. My prayer is for knowledge not just to be lodged in their heads, but that godly wisdom would rise and rule in their hearts.
4. I am not responsible for my children’s sins. As parents, it grieves us when our children sin. When they are little, it may be lying or throwing a tantrum. But as they grow, they may read books, listen to songs, watch movies that are just not right. We tell them, they know and yet there is a curiosity in them that needs to be satisfied. We pray they wouldn’t sin, and yet they do. And we feel as if we have failed miserably in our instruction and training. I am reminding myself that my part is to teach and impart. But if they choose to disobey, to sin, it would totally break my heart, but the responsibility remains theirs — and the consequences too.
5. I am not the one to meet my children’s every need. Today, just being dad is not enough anymore. You must also be friend, coach, mentor and teacher (did I mention pastor and counsellor too?). And every parenting talk and sermon adds another descriptor to the already endless list of who you are to be and what you should be doing. In short, we are never doing enough and we are the one to blame for any dysfunction our child may display. Hey, I will watch out for my children’s needs. Yes, I will be dad, the best that I can be. But if they hope to have one that never fails them, man, will they be disappointed. My prayer is that they will quickly learn and find sufficiency only in Christ, and Christ alone.
6. I do not have all the answers. By now, this statement should not be a surprise at all. Yes, it’s ok to say “I don’t know.” I don’t know why things are happening this way. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know when the children will love the Lord passionately and serve Him wholeheartedly. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. What I do know is that God is faithful and His Word is true. That is who and what I will cling to, regardless how my children are behaving or responding, and especially when I don’t know what I know anymore!
7. I am not the one who provides for my children. At some point, every parent struggles with needs and wants of our children. With seven children, this is a very real point! Just this week alone, I have been advised (warned) that certain expenses have increased and that I should not faint when the next statement arrives. Sure, as dad and head of the household, it is my responsibility to provide for the family. That could be a huge burden for me if I do not first understand and then remember that it is the Lord who provides as we serve Him and Kingdom faithfully.
8. I do not have to worry nor be anxious. I am not joking. I know that you think this is totally impossible. After all, we love our children and that is why we will always worry for and about them. That said, let us be reminded that there is an extremely fine line between loving concern and anxious worry. I am concerned for my children, and rightly, I should be. However, when I dwell on that and all the unknowns, it begins to eat me up from the inside out! My focus on the Lord shifts to my own inability to comprehend nor resolve the issue. It turns to worry and before long, I am taking it out on myself and my children. This reminder is for me to always trust the Lord, regardless. He has great plans for each child and only He can bring it to pass in His time.
9. I do not have to journey alone. Sometimes, parenting can seem like a very lonely journey on a very long road. Allow this to stick in your mind and you will soon be having the biggest pity-party ever. Unless you are a single parent, always remember the partnership of your spouse. Discuss and pray with one another often. And don’t forget the extended family through the Body of Christ. At times, the same point I have been making, when made by another may bring conviction in the hearts of my children. Ouch! That just dented my pride. Precisely, for often, it is our pride that restricts us from sharing our challenges with others, or learning from them. This only leaves us stranded and alone.
10. I do not have to take everything so seriously. If I can remember the above, it would be much easier to remember this. Then again, this might be the first and most important reminder to heed. Serene and I say this often, “If we don’t laugh about it, we will go crazy!” Most definitely, we could do with a lot more of that when we parent. In most cases, it is not the end of the world. Don’t let our uptightness, our pride, our need for control, our worry, our ‘face’ rob us of the joy of loving and walking with the children God has so graciously blessed us with. I know this is more easily said than done, hence, the need to be reminded over and over again. Not only will this be good for the parents, but also for the children. After all, who wants to live in an environment where there is only stress, anger and anxiety? Stop frowning. Smile more. Laugh.
Oh, how I need to revisit these points often in my parenting journey. You may have more to add but I would be happy if I can remember these for starters, consistently. And most importantly, that the Lord is enabling me by His Holy Spirit to achieve what He has called me to do as a father. May He enable you too!