“… Teach them diligently to thy children…” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
“Why don’t you just let me make my own mistakes?” David shouted over his shoulder as he stormed out of the house. Jill and Stan stood in complete shock.
What on earth would make their mild-mannered son lash out like this? Hadn’t David always complied in the past? Jill looked to Stan for answers, but Stan was as confused as Jill.
Days earlier David didn’t seem too upset when Jill had once again jumped into his social planning. She had explained to David how she would prefer he and his friends spend the weekend at their house swimming and watching movies––rather than attending the end of summer backpacking trip they had planned.
David and his friends, who were all getting ready to start their senior year of high school, were good kids––really. I mean sure, they’d gotten speeding tickets and skipped out on classes from time to time, but for the most part they weren’t kids who looked for trouble.
Four of the boys had grown up in church together. A few of the other boys had become part of their group over the years. Jill and Stan were not too sure about the values of some of the newer boys, but they had confidence that David’s core group of friends were level-headed young men.
So, why were Jill and Stan so afraid to let David too far out of their sight? It’s not that they didn’t trust David. They were just trying to protect him from harm. Or from being exposed to anything that might tempt him to do wrong. What if the boys encountered a wild animal on their trip? What if one of the boys brought alcohol or talked about inappropriate pictures they’d seen on the internet? How could they protect David if they weren’t there to oversee his activities?
Maybe this story sounds familiar. In almost two decades of youth ministry my youth pastor-husband and I encountered kids whose parents were not at all interested in what they did with their time. And we also knew lots of teens whose parents were very involved in their kids lives.
And do you know what we learned? There is a balance. A tightrope parents must walk that lands somewhere between “I’m here for you. I’m not gonna leave your side” and “I’ll leave you to yourself to figure things out.”
In our experience we discovered that neither extreme is helpful. Our eldest son––who did not become a part of our family until he was 15 years old––had up to that point been virtually without parental supervision. He found security in having to be home by curfew. Our parental oversight showed him we valued him and cared about him. However, our biological son pushed against the rules when he turned 15 because he felt like we were holding him back from becoming a man.
What’s a parent to do––right? No, really––parenting can be so confusing. Can I get a witness?
When our son-in-law worked as Resident Director in a boys’ dormitory at a Christian College, he met young men who began their freshman year ill equipped to self-discipline because they’d so relied on their parents. And some who weren’t allowed to play video games found themselves skipping class to play their roommates’ games.
How on earth are parents supposed to know when, where, and how to guide their kids without micromanaging their every step? While under-parenting can throw our kids to the wolves, is it possible that over-parenting can turn our kids away from faith?
Let’s unpack this question shall we? First we must ask God to help us discern our motives raising “good” kids. If you’re ambition is for others to think you’ve done a good job as a parent then it’s time to evaluate your motivations. Is it possible you’ve become a glory stealer?
God says in Isaiah says, “I’ve created you for my glory.” Glory means to represent His character. God created us to allow His light to shine through us so that His character will give others an accurate view of His character––and draw them to Himself.
When we raise our kids for what people think of us we are asking them to reflect our glory rather than God’s. Maybe you don’t think you’re a glory stealer––I mean that phrase sounds rather harsh doesn’t it? But if you tell your kids stuff like:
- “You represent our family out there, so don’t blow it.”
- “When you don’t do your homework how do you think that makes me look to your teacher?”
- “Don’t talk in church; what will people think?”
In a way what you’re saying to your kids is, “You’ve gotta measure up so I look good to my friends.” When kids figure out that their obedience is how you measure your success in the parenting olympics, they’re likely to resent and even rebel against your self-focused motivation. (From what we’ve observed, this realization and rebellion often occurs around adolescence, when hormones are raging and rationale goes out the window.)
We must teach our children that the most important relationship in life is one with Christ. And that living in a manner that pleases and glorifies Him will help them build a life with no regrets. That doesn’t mean they won’t make mistakes, but they will have a solid foundation. Just like Jesus’ parable in Matthew 7, the man who built his house on the rock––rather than the sand––was safe when storms came because his house stood firm (see Matthew 7).
And while we as parents would love to build our kid’s house for them, we simply cannot. But, with God’s help and wisdom, we can guide them in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6).
So, how does a parent guide their child to become less dependent upon them and more dependent upon Christ as they mature? This is not for the faint of heart. But you can know that if God has called you to this (and if you’re a parent He has), then He will give you His wisdom and strength for this incredible ministry of parenting.
Jesus said, “The student will become like his teacher.” (Luke 6:40)
Notice Jesus didn’t say the student will be like the teacher teaches him to be, but rather he will emulate the characteristics and values he observes in his teacher. As a parent, you my friend are that teacher. So, how can you live in a way that shows your kids a life that reflects God’s glory? How can you train them to love God and others in the way Jesus commands in Mark 12:30-31?
From my book, Moms Raising Sons to Be Men, I share the following insights:
If your child is a Christian, he is not ordinary––he is a child of the Most High God. Made alive in Christ to accomplish kingdom purposes! Helping your children see themselves through this wonderful identity in Christ will train them to anticipate the future God has planned for them (see Ephesians 2:10).
NOTE: If your child’s not a Christian, the best witnessing tool you have for winning him to Christ is your own life of joyful service to Christ. Be ever mindful that your child is observing how you live to see if your relationship with Jesus makes a difference. Religious duty will not draw your child to your Savior; rather, your wholehearted surrender to the One you call Lord will speak volumes to him as he tries to decide whether he needs or wants a relationship with Jesus.
If you desire to guide your child toward dependence on Christ, you’ll need to create ways for them to rely less and less upon you as they mature. Did you know the best place for your kids to make mistakes is while they’re still living under your roof? Think about it. If you raise your children in such a bubble they never fail, when they move out and make mistakes––and they will––they’ll not have learned the proper way to recover.
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