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Does it seem like parenting has gotten more complicated? I mean, as far as I can tell, back in the day parents basically tried to feed their kids, clothe them, and keep them away from explosives. Now our kids have to sleep on their backs (no wait, their tummies; no never mind, their backs), while listening to Baby Mozart surrounded by scenes of Starry, Starry Night. They have to be in piano lessons before they are five and can’t leave the car seat until they’re about five foot six.

It’s all so involved. There are so many rules and expectations. Kids can’t even eat sugar anymore. My parents were solid as a rock but we still had a cupboard populated with cereal royalty like Captain Crunch and Count Chocula. In our house the pebbles were fruity and the charms were lucky. The breakfast bowl was a place for marshmallows, not dried camping fruit. Our milk was 2%. And sometimes, if we needed to take the edge off a rough morning, we’d tempt fate and chug a little Vitamin D.

Trial by Error

I don’t consider myself a particularly good parent. I was asked to speak a few years ago at some church’s conference. They wanted me to talk about parenting. I said I didn’t have much to say so they should ask someone else (which they did). My kids are probably not as crazy as they seem to me (at least that’s what I keep telling myself anyway), but if I ever write a book on parenting I’m going to call it The Inmates Are Running the Asylum.

There are already scores of books on parenting, many of them quite good. I’ve read several of them and have learned much. I really do believe in gospel-powered parenting and shepherding my child’s heart. I want conversations like this:

Me
: What’s the matter son?
Child: I want that toy and he won’t give it to me!
Me: Why do you want the toy?
Child: Because it will be fun to play with.
Me: Do you think he is having fun playing with the toy right now?
Child: Yes.
Me: Would it make him sad to take the toy away?
Child: I guess so.
Me: And do you like to make your brother sad?
Child: No.
Me: You know, Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. That means loving your brother the way he would want to be loved. Since Jesus loves us so much, we have every reason to love others–even your brother. Would you like to love him by letting him play with the toy for awhile?
Child: Yes I would daddy.

I try that. Really I do. But here’s what actually happens:

Me: What’s the matter son?
Child: I want that toy and he won’t give it to me!
Me: Why do you want the toy?
Child: I don’t know.
Me: What’s going on in your heart when you desire that toy?
Child: I don’t know.
Me: Think about it son. Use your brain. Don’t you know something?
Child: I guess I just want the toy.
Me: Obviously. But why?
Child: I don’t know.
Me: Fine. [Mental note: abandon “why” questions and skip straight to leading questions.] Do you think he is having fun playing with the toy right now?
Child: No.
Me: Really?! He’s not having fun? Then why does he want that toy in the first place?
Child: Because he’s mean.
Me: Have you ever considered that maybe you are being mean by trying to rip the toy from his quivering little hands?
Child: I don’t know.
Me: What do you know?
Child: I don’t know!
Me: Nevermind. [I wonder how my brilliant child can know absolutely nothing at this moment.] Well, I think taking the toy from him will make your brother sad. Do you like to make him sad?
Child: I don’t know.
Me: [Audible sigh.]
Child: He makes me sad all the time!
Me: Well, I’m getting sad right now with your attitude! [Pause, think, what would Paul Tripp do?  Thinking . . . .thinking . . . .man, I can’t stop thinking of that mustache. This isn’t working. Let’s just go right to the Jesus part.] You know, Jesus wants us to love each other.
Child: I don’t know.
Me: I didn’t ask you a question!
Child: [Pause.] Can I have some fruit snacks?
Me
: No, you can’t have fruit snacks. We are talking about the gospel. Jesus loves us and died for us. He wants you to love your brother too.
Child: So?
Me: So give him the toy back!

Then I lunge for the toy and the child runs away. I tell him to come back here this instant and threaten to throw the toy in the trash. I recommit myself to turning down speaking engagements on parenting.

Growing What You Can

I want to grow as a parent-in patience and wisdom and consistency. But I also know that I can’t change my kids’ hearts. I am responsible for my heart and must be responsible to teach them the way of the Lord. But nothin’ guarantees nothin’. I’m just trying to be faithful, and then repent for all the times I’m not.

I have four kids and besides the Lord’s grace, I’m banking on the fact that there really are just a few non-negotiables in parenting. There are plenty of ways to screw up our kids, but whether they color during church, for example, is not one of them. There is not a straight line from doodling in the service as a toddler to doing meth as a teenager. Could it be that beyond the basics of godly parenting, that most of the other techniques and convictions are nibbling around the edges? Certainly, there are lots of ways that good parents make parenting a saner, more enjoyable experience, but even the kid addicted to Angry Birds who just downed a pack of Fun Dip and is now watching his third Pixar movie of the week (day?) still has a decent shot at not being a sociopath.

I remember years ago hearing a line from Alistair Begg, quoting another man, that went like this: “When I was young I had six theories and no kids. Now I have six kids and no theories.” I must be smart. It only took me four kids to run out of theories.

Getting a Few Things Right

I look back at my childhood and think, “What did my parents do right?” I watched too many Growing Pains reruns and played a lot of Super Techmo Bowl (LT could block every extra point and Christian Okoye was a stud). I never learned to like granola or my vegetables (kids, stop reading this post immediately!). But yet, I always knew they loved me. They made me go to church every Wednesday and twice on every Sunday. They made us do our homework. They laid down obvious rules-the kinds that keep kids from killing each other. They wouldn’t accept any bad language, and I didn’t hear any from them. Mom took care of us when we were sick. Dad told us he loved us. I never found porn around the house or booze or dirty secrets. We read the Bible. We got in trouble when we broke the rules. I don’t remember a lot of powerful heart-to-heart conversations. But we knew who we were, where we stood, and what to expect. I’d be thrilled to give my kids the same.

I worry that many young parents are a) too adamant about the particulars of their parenting or b) too sure that every decision will set their kids on an unalterable trajectory to heaven or hell. It’s like my secretary at the church once told me: “Most moms and dads think they are either the best or the worst parents in the world, and both are wrong.” Could it be we’ve made parenting too complicated? Isn’t the most important thing not what we do but who we are as parents? They will see our character before they remember our exact rules regarding television and twinkies.

I could be wrong. My kids are still young. Maybe this no-theory is a theory of its own. I just know that the longer I parent the more I want to focus on doing a few things really well, and not get too passionate about all the rest. I want to spend time with my kids, teach them the Bible, take them to church, laugh with them, cry with them, discipline them when they disobey, say sorry when I mess up, and pray like crazy. I want them to look back and think, “I’m not sure what my parents were doing or if they even knew what they were doing. But I always knew my parents loved me and I knew they loved Jesus.” Maybe it’s not that complicated after all.


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236 thoughts on “Parenting 001”

  1. Steve Nelson says:

    What an incredibly well written article! It’s very funny and easy to relate to. Certainly some aspects of parenting are ridiculous, and the same goes of Christian parenting. We don’t have to deliver the baby a certain way, hold the baby a certain way, and feed the baby a certain way to raise a godly kid. However, I wonder if the article goes too far. Is the goal to disciple our kids, or for them to have “a decent shot at not being a sociopath”? I know it is tongue in cheek, but really, what is the goal? And how does that impact our parenting? We should certainly use volumes of love and grace and to give other parents some freedom. Amen! But let’s not take this too far. It isn’t enough anymore (and perhaps never was) for parents to feed and clothe their kids and to take them to church. This is an ugly world, and we need to be preparing our kids to impact this world. The last paragraph has some great stuff in it, but then it implies that it’s okay if you don’t know what you are doing. I’m sure it’s not intended, but the message I get is: just wing it and it’ll turn out okay. Parenting is complicated. It takes work, thought, and God’s guidance. Sorry to be a downer. I just hope this is not feeding the misconception that our parenting efforts really don’t make much difference.

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  3. We got so much enjoyment out of this post, and it’s just so full of common sense. And that second, more realistic conversation … oh, my goodness. We could not stop laughing. Thank you. :)

  4. gina says:

    great article! Put God first, get to the heart, common sense, roll with the the punches Parenting! But I am still waiting for the “The Inmates Are Running the Asylum” book!

  5. Mindy says:

    FANTASTIC post! I related with everything you typed. A sigh of relief just escaped…and I feel great!

  6. jami r. says:

    I like his common sense approach that reassures helicopter parents that they do not need to do everything right but only the most basic things, like teach your children the Bible. BUT, he doesn’t seem to recognize there are outside the norm kids out there who have serious problems that a basic approach won’t work for–kids who have eating disorders, get pregnant, run away, are suicidal, some from very upright Christian families who have devotions with their kids, take them to church, catechize them, etc. So, it’s not as simple as he makes it out to be. Garden variety kids require his basic approach but if you have a child with problems, you had better be armed with God’s grace, Scripture, wisdom, and everything else you can be to help that child make it to maturity without abandoning their faith.

  7. Leslie says:

    Sounds like you had pretty solid parents and childhood yourself, so that might be one reason parenting comes very naturally to you and seems simple enough – for others who weren’t as lucky, it’s not quite as simple as that! You ask the question – what did my parents do that was right? Some need to ask, what did my parents do that wasn’t right (even though it’s painful) and how can I improve so as not to repeat negative patterns from one generation to the next. I found the conversations in the book you referenced not particularly applicable either – probably because it’s not relating to where the child is at developmentally, which the author does not seem to have much knowledge of.

  8. Andrea Kay says:

    Thank you for making me laugh harder than I have in, I think, years. You may have saved ME from going to the asylum because I have been so stressed out about the wrong things regarding my kids. Also, the mock conversation with your kid, i understand, taken from real events, is really what we all needed to hear. It reminds us that we are not alone, we really can be the parents and we need a sense of humor while we do it.

  9. Cortney says:

    This is inspired. I’m not even a parent, and I can identify! Thanks for the much-needed slice of reality, grace and laughter.

  10. Jennifer Olsen says:

    Thank you

  11. Debbie Stone says:

    My 26 year daughter sent me this blog today to read, and at the end of her email, she said “I always knew I was loved.” She is one of four and we did the things you are doing with your children, and a book didn’t tell us how. We loved Jesus and each other. My youngest is in his last year of college, and I could not be prouder of my four. Good luck, and have fun. We get one chance at childrearing and it should be fun.

  12. Tracie says:

    Thank you! I needed to read this. Now I will try to *not* freak out when my son does silly things like drinking four bottles of Mountain Dew and then stays up for three days and nights while at Bible camp (true story). I’ll trust in God’s grace and keep loving him because he’s mine. (But that camp counselor might have visions of him in the State Pen.) Now I will think of this post every night I wake up at 3 a.m. and wonder what he’s up to.

  13. Tim Vermilyea says:

    thanks… i’m past the parenting of young children stage and beginning to enjoy the grandparenting of young children. i’m going to be sure my son and daughter-in-law read this posting – it may help them enjoy raising their 3 a little more.

  14. Cherie Evans says:

    To those of you who were less than impressed with Kevin’s parenting post, who think he failed to address the parents who came from dysfunctional backgrounds I say this. First Kevin prefaced this article by saying that he found several of these parenting books helpful. He is just using humor to encourage Christian parents to take a much needed deep breath, step back and rest in God’s sovereignty in our kid’s lives. I have 3 great kids and 7+ grandkids. I am constantly amazed at what God is doing in their lives in spite of me:)

  15. Thanks for the excellent and encouraging article. Just linked to this post here: http://comewearymoms.blogspot.com/2011/05/friday-favorites-7-and-emerging-from.html

  16. Ellen Bell says:

    He makes his point well. Loving Jesus and loving them is half the battle. Teaching them to be a friend of God and against the world is the other half. :-)

  17. Ian Connell says:

    the ideas in this post remind me a little bit of nurture shock, though that book lacks the crucial point of gospel-centeredness (i think i just made that word up). the simple fact is that parents don’t have nearly the influence over their kids as many think they do, particularly when it comes to intentionally trying to shape who they are and what they’re going to do. the parents’ presence and behavior definitely play a role, particularly in politics, food, and the arts (not to mention spirituality, be it Christ-centered or demonic), but ultimately our children will make their own minds up about what they like, what they believe, and what they choose to do.

  18. Kristy says:

    This was the most refreshing article I have ever read on parenting!

  19. Hope C. Taylor says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

  20. This is a wonderfully entertaining and poignant piece! I very much enjoyed its wit and its sensibility. I must share this on my recently begun blog. Beautiful! A great read!!

  21. WOW! I so needed to hear this! We have 4 young children (4,3,2,1) and I’m due in a week. I think we have majored in the minors at times with our children. I can honestly say when I think of my parents, I think the same thing. They loved me and they loved God, and they made sure I knew both of those things. Thank you for this eye opening article!

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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