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How can parenting be this hard? It’s exhausting. It’s all consuming. It’s the worst job you’ve ever loved having. Either kids have gotten much more demanding over the years, or parents have decided to make their lives more difficult than they have to be. Most parents I know–including the two that live in my house–are often bothered, usually stressed, and always tired.

No doubt, some of this is unavoidable. From running them around town, to helping with homework, to breaking up fights, to cleaning up puke, to mending broken hearts, raising kids is a lot of work.

But if we are going to work hard, let’s make sure we are working hard at the right things. The average Christian parent in the West is probably more involved in the day to day demands of parenting than almost any other parents in the history of the world. And yet, these same parents are likely more worried about being terrible parents than were their parents or grandparents, let alone their great- or great-great-great-grandparents.

We are all about to freak out. And it may not be over any of the right things.

I seldom feel like a really good parent. I love my wife and love my kids deeply, but being a husband has always seemed pretty straightforward (thanks to my wife, no doubt), while I’ve always felt much more inadequate as a parent. There are dozens of things I wish I did better. Not many, however, are worth fretting and fussing.

Here are four things parents should stop freaking out about.

1. Food. I know you read an article once about how bubble gum stays in the small intestines for 73 years and that kids these days aren’t getting enough flax in their diet, but it will be okay. Be sensible. Make them try new things. Keep the complaining to a minimum. Put some apples or carrots in the lunch box. But after that, let’s take a deep breath and relax. So what if McDonald’s food looks the same after sitting on the counter for three years. Don’t leave it on the counter for three years! Everyone knows you are supposed to eat the fries while they’re hot.

2. Sleep Methods. Kids need sleep, probably more than they are getting. But don’t freak out about how you train your little ones to sleep. Some methods will tax the parents more than others. Find one that works for you. Don’t let your toddler run your life. Eventually they go to sleep. Have you ever met a teenager who can’t sleep in in the morning because his parents never taught him well as a 9-month-old?

3. Clean Rooms. I hate messes. I keep my desk pretty tidy. As soon as I get to my hotel room, I unpack my suitcase, hang up all the fancy clothes, and place everything else neatly into drawers. I like order. I want my kids to clean their rooms. Mom (or Dad) shouldn’t have to do everything for them. But in the grand scheme of things, their toddler or teenage pigpen isn’t going to make or break them as a follower of Christ. World War III should not be fought over clothes on the floor.

4. Measuring Up. It looks like every other family is excelling while yours is failing. And you know what? It looks like that to those excelling families too. Their kids are so polite. Theirs are always reading. Theirs can do any sport they try. Theirs can play the piano. Theirs are so friendly. Theirs are so respectful. Theirs are so smart. Let’s be honest: some kids do play their musical instrument better. Some are more athletic. Some are more spiritual. But wishing your kid was another kid is a pretty bad way to love your kid. In reality, the proud parents almost always have less to be proud of than they think, and the woe-is-us parents doth protest too much.

So does that mean parenting is a laissez-faire experiment in letting children do whatever they want? Of course, not. There are things every Christian parent should work hard to have in place. They just don’t have to do with how much ice cream the kids eat and whether you can breastfeed on roller skates. Work hard for the things that matter.

Things like going to church every Sunday, no matter if its the Super Bowl or if soccer practice starts at 10 a.m. The best way to raise kids who put church first is to be a parent who puts church first.

And discipline. As in, have some. You are bound to be stricter than some of your friends and looser than others. You’ll be amazed by the family that allows seven minutes of screen time every month and by the family who has the kids in bed by 8 p.m. sharp every night. We will make different rules. But have rules and enforce them. Kids need boundaries (adults too, come to think of it).

Work at making true spirituality a part of the home. This may mean a wonderful discipline of family worship around the table or stories at bed time or long walks every night. The important part is that our kids see that following Jesus is not just for Sundays.

In all and through all and surrounding all of this, let your home be a place of fun and laughter. Talk to your kids. Tease them. Let them tease you. Show them how much you love your spouse. Be affectionate. Play games. Wrestle on the ground. Kiss their owies. Stay up late when the teenager is finally ready to open up. What matters most are the things the kids think about least--the things that are such a regular part of their lives that their whole world is being shaped by them whether they realize it or not. If the home feels safe, if mom and dad love each other, if your children trust you, if there is some basic semblance of routine and some palpable, even if not totally explainable, sense that these weird people actually like each other, then that’s a whole lot to be thankful for.

The world doesn’t depend on you being perfect. And neither do your kids. So do what you can, be grateful for what you have, and pray like crazy.

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7 thoughts on “The Great Parental Freak Out”

  1. Jason Williams says:

    Outstanding article! So encouraging!

  2. John S says:

    uh oh, comments on parenting styles, look out :>) Parents who read this may be tempted to line up into ‘yes, I agree all those overachieving, food policing, minutiae schedulers are off base in their priorities’, and ‘hey wait a minute, we are trying to teach our kids to do everything with all their heart unto the Lord (even eat and sleep) and you are cutting us down’.

    To me there is a fine line between a parent freaking out about food habits, and a parent who genuinely believes they are helping their child to sleep better, study better, stay healthier, and have more energy through diet, so they can be more fruitful in life now and be better prepared for the future to be a more fruitful disciple of Christ. Parents will disagree on method, and I agree that a discussion is good (for errs on both sides), but a parent might read this as calling their motive ‘freaking out’ which seems to have a negative connotation.

    I agree with this article as a big-picture, what’s most important view. However I think having more (some?) Scripture and/or Biblical principles referenced would be helpful, to help it seem less like opinion. Ok I know this would make for a longer article, but (for example) here’s guessing it’s not immediately evident to many how letting your kids tease you is a good part of Biblical parenting. I agree that it can be, but when most parents are trying to teach their kids not to tease others, and to honor their parents, it is a challenging concept.

    thanks Kevin, I love your thought provoking and helpful articles and love the Gospel Coalition!

  3. Cindy says:

    Yeah, amen! We’re strict on the bedtime schedules during the school year, and getting the homework done. Honesty is a line in the sand. Food has to be tried once, and if it’s hated, then I try not to make it again, or at least, give an option. (They’re at the point where they make their own breakfasts on weekends, and schools lunches all the time.) Taste buds grow, and so there’s usually an ask to try again in a year. We pick the hills we’re gonna die on as parents, and to be honest, there just aren’t that many. ‘It’s just hair’, ‘You’re gonna have to live with the fall out’, ‘You really stink – Febreeze yourself before you sit near me’, and other such things can be commonly heard around our house of teens. When someone asked if they could have purple streaks & I whipped out the dye, they nearly died. They don’t realize we were young too (at one point), and just don’t shock that easily.

    I still remember hopping in the car with my folks, driving to the local Mickey Ds for cokes, and just sitting there in the parking lot, shooting the breeze about whatever was going on our lives. That’s what we have with our kids…far more meaningful than bagging at them about clean rooms, doing their laundry (they’ve been responsible for their own since they were 9 & 10), and the like. They’ll talk to us about anything and everything. It means the world. We define success as parents in one way: that our kids grow up to love the Lord with their entire being, and pursue Him with everything they have, passionately, wholly, committedly. If they do this, we’ve succeeded.

  4. Alyssa says:

    So aptly written – thank you! It’s really a matter of spiritual battle. The devil would gladly have us worry the rest of our lives over plastic bottles and piano lessons and forget to pray and zealously work for our children’s salvation and holiness. Don’t stop fighting for God’s kingdom first and everything else second – for God’s glory and not my glory as a parent.

  5. Marissa says:

    Thank you for an excellent article! I think part of the freak-out factor comes from looking around what other families are passionate about (healthy eating, excelling in sports, learning the entire Westminster Shorter Catechism, etc.) and feeling the pressure to do ALL of those things.

    I’d love to be secure enough in my identity in Christ to look at what someone else is doing well and think, “Good for them!” instead of, “We better to get to work on that or my children will be ruined forever!”

    In the meantime, I’ve given my kids permission to tell me if I’m making a face like the woman in that photo!

  6. Lily says:

    ” In reality, the proud parents almost always have less to be proud of than they think, and the woe-is-us parents doth protest too much.” I just want to make a little comment on this. Parents with “good” kids aren’t there to make anyone else feel bad. They are happy their kids are kind of awesome, but they REALLY don’t want anyone to envy them because they happened to get kids that seem perfect… which they AREN’T. For the record, everyone has their own challenges. I have pretty great kids, and I thank God every day for them, and I certainly don’t take credit for this.

  7. Ray DeBriae says:

    I’m 80 years old and see thing different than this generation. I grew up in the country where everyone had to do their share of work with GOD’S help. I ate what was served and did not complain. We didn’t have sports in school. We played pickup sport with the neighbors with what we had. Our day was sun rise to sun down. We didn’t have all these pain killers (or drugs) let they have today. We just tough out our pain. My parents got their first TV when I was fourteen. We didn’t have any problem getting out of our chair to turn on or off or change the channel on our TV. I have seen each generation getting softer and softer. Today this generation needs a cell phone to turn or the light in their house. I think if this generation fought in WWII we all would be speaking Japanese or German. After eighty years I wouldn’t change a thing the way I grew up. Life was simpler back then and I made it this far..

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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