Recently I’ve been plagued by a question. It has to do with my kids. I have four children. My daughter is my oldest. She’s nine. The rest are boys; six, four and nearly two. They are great kids. I love being a dad. With each passing moment I’m reminded of the fact that we are drawing closer and closer to the teenage years, that lovely time of life when boundaries are tested, strings are slowly cut and children cross the threshold from being kids to being adults. I’ve seen first hand how difficult raising teenagers can be and not too long from now I will experience this beautiful mess for myself.
Some people approach this time of life like Mark Twain. He said, “When a child turns twelve you should stuff them in a barrel, seal the lid and feed them through a knot hole. When they turn 16 you should plug the hole.”
See here’s the challenge – and it leads in to my question – I’ve seen horrible parents raise incredible children and I’ve seen incredible parents raise children who relentlessly reject everything about their own heritage. So I have to ask…
Is the quality of my parenting measured by the character of my kids?
It seems like the obvious answer would be ‘yes, of course’. You always judge a business by the product they produce, so if family is your business then your children are the best barometer or your skill as a parent. Unfortunately, experience doesn’t demonstrate this to be true. Kids who grow up with great privilege make wrong choices. Others who grow up with every odd stacked against them become exceptionally successful. Our children are not a product. They are people. Therefore, our success or failure as a parent can’t be solely determined by the content of their character. Their must be something more.
So I look to Scripture. Like many things, it seems we’ve gotten our measurement of success backwards. Today we judge parents by their kids. In Scriptural times kids were judged by their parents. Consider Solomon. The Bible identifies Solomon as the wisest king Israel would ever know. During his reign the nation was unified and experienced almost universal peace. Silver was so abundant during the reign of Solomon that they stopped counting how much of it they had! Can you imagine being such a successful leader? The Bible tells us that political leaders all over the world sought out Solomon’s wisdom on everything from economics to agriculture, from political prowess to social justice. To suggest that Solomon was successful is a massive understatement. Yet when Solomon sits down to write his book of Proverbs (wise sayings), how does he start? Does he give his resume? Does he tell of all his great works? Does he mention the fact that his kingdom is greater and more successful than his father’s before him? No. As he begins his magnum opus on all things wise Solomon states simply, “The proverbs of Solomon, the son of David…” Solomon was king, the most successful king Israel would ever know, yet in his time of greatest triumph he wasn’t identified by his works. He was identified by his father.
Scripture does this a lot. The history of the Israelites after Solomon is not nearly so joyous. The kingdom splits and one king after another rises to take the throne and attempt to lead both Israel & Judah. Do you know how each king is evaluated? Either they walked in the ways of their father David or they didn’t. From one generation to the next everything was measured by the example of their father David. But there’s more here than that – it’s difficult to illustrate the number of times God looked to the leaders of Israel and said, “I will bless you…because of my servant David.” By this time, David was long gone, yet his influence remained. WHY? Because he was a great parent? NO. Because he was a godly man. The Bible calls him a man after God’s own heart.
And that’s the answer to the question.
We can’t judge the quality of our parenting by the character of our kids – it’s not an accurate measurement. Kids are not products to be produced, they are people to be led – to be influenced. If the quality of our parenting is measured by the character of our kids then God must be the worst father ever. And we know this simply is not true.
Listen to this – God wants to free you from the pressure that as a parent you are not enough. It’s true. He wants you to understand something. As a parent, YOU WILL NEVER BE ENOUGH. You can’t attend enough games or watch enough recitals. You can’t discipline enough. You can’t be gracious enough. You can’t write enough checks to guarantee your child a successful, happy, holy life. As a parent, you will never be enough. So stop trying.
Stop trying to be a great parent. Stop trying to meet every need. Stop trying to give every gift. Stop trying to enforce enough rules. Stop trying to be cool enough, relevant enough or hip enough. You will never be enough. You simply CANNOT be God for your children.
When my daughter was first born she had some respiratory problems and spent 7 days in ICU. Once she got home we had to give her IV antibiotics through a pique line in her head. There was one evening I was holding her and considering the future I had planned for her when I was struck by this one thought – As her father I want to protect and provide for her, but there are so many things I simply will never be able to do for her. I will never be able to protect her from a broken heart. I will never be able to save her from the lies of cruel people. I won’t be able to keep her from making foolish choices. I can’t do these things for her, but I know the God who can. So I resigned myself to this one thought – I can’t guarantee my children a successful, happy or holy life, but I can give them an example to live up to. I can be like David and provide an example worth imitating. I can strive to live in such a way that when future generations look back they can hear God say, “I will bless you…because of my servant Chad.”
There’s a world of Scripture to back up this style of parenting.
- I Corinthians 11:1 says, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”
- Philippians 3:17 says, “Brethren join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.”
- 2 Timothy 2:2 says, “These things you’ve heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful people who will be able to teach others also.”
It begs a follow up question – Do I have a life worth imitating and what does a life like that really look like? Scripture answers that question too:
- Galatians 5:22 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Against such there is no law.”
Did you catch the last phrase of that verse? ‘Against such there is no law…’ In other words, you can’t get enough of these things. More than that – you can’t give enough of these things! Am I, as a father, as a man, as a leader living a life worthy of imitation? Is what I’m producing in my life and the life of others characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control?
This is the challenge of parenting:
- Too much LAW and children REBEL.
- Too much GRACE and children become entitled or spoiled.
How, as parent, do I know when it’s time to lay down the law and when it’s time to give grace? There is a fine line between DISCIPLINING and COACHING.
- Discipline is about right verses wrong.
- Coaching is about choosing good, better or best.
- Discipline calls for justice and judgement or grace and mercy.
- Coaching calls for patience and self control.
- Discipline calls for discernment.
- Coaching call for wisdom.
- In moments of right versus wrong we DISCIPLINE. When correcting bad behavior we DISCIPLINE. These times are always crystal clear. My kid just lied about something. It’s time for discipline. My child was caught cheating on a test. Spanking, grounding – pick your punishment, corporal or capital, a wrong must be righted. My teenager ignored curfew. Car keys are lost. Discipline is always about teaching a child the difference between RIGHT & WRONG.
- COACHING is always about teaching a child the difference between good, better and best. Should my child play sports or music? How should they spend their time, more on academics or building significant friendships? Choosing baseball over piano isn’t about right verses wrong. It’s about good, better or best. How is your child ‘bent’? What are their natural abilities, interests and experiences? Where do they excel and how? There’s no right or wrong here, simply good, better or best. As a parent how can you draw the best out of your child?
There is certainly more to parenting than this.
- Luke 15 tells the story of the Prodigal Sons – I say ‘sons’, plural, because both sons in the story are far from the heart of their father. One son rejects the Father and rebels against the example he set. The other son ‘religiously’ tries to earn the love of the Father by always obeying every rule. Though, for all those years, he continued to live under the same roof as his father, he becomes bitter and as estranged from his father as his younger brother.
I’m struck by the fact, in the story of the Prodigal Sons, that never once is the parenting skill of the father questioned. Instead the father is shown as an example of patience and love; grace and mercy; justice and judgement. He is a picture of God our father. I wonder if you’re the rebellious son or the religious son? Either way you’ve become estranged from your father, not because you have a bad dad, but because of your bad belief and bad choices. Like the father of the Prodigal Sons, God stands ready to receive you by His grace into his family and will celebrate when you come.
God is a perfect father. He has shown us what to do, told us what to do and now he is saying to every parent – now go do it yourself. Stop trying to be a great parent. Start becoming a godly example for your children to follow. You can’t be God for your kids, but you can be exactly the father or mother God designed you to be.
BTW…Ezekiel 18 talks about this is as well. Give it a read and let me know what you think.