Parenting is hard.
Newsflash, right? While nobody who has ever had a child is surprised by that statement, what has been consistently surprising to my wife and I is that raising kids seems to get harder rather than easier. We thought it was hard when we had a kid in diapers who needed constant monitoring. Then we thought it was harder when our kids started going to school and we were worried about everything they would encounter out there in the big, wide world. Then we thought it was harder when our kids began to move into the teenage years as we tried to help them navigate the social and societal issues they found in middle and high school. At every stage, we have looked at each other, sometimes in exasperation, and said, “I thought this would get easier.” But it hasn’t. And I suppose it doesn’t.
That can be discouraging. I know it has been for us at times. So as I sit and write this morning, I’m thinking about some things that might have been encouraging for us to remember during those moments of fear, anxiety, and apprehension. What might be encouraging to the discouraged parent this morning? Here are four, if that’s you:
1. None of us really know what we’re doing.
Instagram is not to be believed. Despite the well posed pictures and cute stories of kids making a mess and parents not getting frustrated, none of us really know what we’re doing. We are all, as moms and dads, just trying to figure this thing out one step at a time. That doesn’t mean we can’t glean wisdom from people who have been parenting longer than we have; it does mean, though, that even the most seasoned parents don’t have it all figured out.
Now on the surface, that reality might seem to add further to our discouragement. After all, what hope is there for us if nobody knows the great secret to raising kids who love and are committed to Jesus? But the opposite is actually true. It’s an encouraging thing to remember that if we are confused, if we are questioning, if we are even afraid, then we are not alone. Not by a long shot. Even further, if we recognize that none of us really know what we’re doing it gives us the freedom to lean on each other’s prayer, council, and support and actually try and parent together rather than in an isolated kind of shame.
2. Time is the best gift, and a great ally.
One of the reasons we get discouraged as parents is that we don’t know what to do for and with our kids. Should we give them the piece of technology they want? Should we buy them new clothes? Should we take them on great vacations? What should we give them, and what should we do with them, that won’t mess them up? We can easily drift into decision paralysis, constantly analyzing all our actions to see if we have done more harm than good.
Here’s the encouraging word in this respect – time is the best gift we can give our children. Of course, it’s also one of the hardest gifts we can give. It’s a lot easier to give our kids a phone than it is to carve out uninterrupted hours with them. But nothing will ever replace, I believe, the simple gift of time we are willing to spend with our children. When you accept that as a fact, it simplifies a lot of things. Namely, it means that throwing a ball, or having a conversation, or building a Lego house, or listening to music, or whatever we can do that helps us spend focused, consistent time with our children is never the wrong choice.
Even further, time is not only the best gift, it’s a great ally. I know it can also be discouraging when it seems like time is slipping away from us and our kids are getting older quicker than we are ready for them to. But when we administer consistent discipline, when we say the same things over and over again, when we provide a constant safe space for our children, time is not our enemy – it’s our friend.
3. Principles are more helpful than prescriptions.
Let’s say you read some kind of parenting book. It’s written by an expert with a pristine track record in raising humans, so you naturally try to take everything the author says and implement it in your home exactly as you read it. How’d that work out?
Yeah, not great for us either, and the reason is simple:
Your kids are not the author’s kids. Neither are mine. We are all raising humans, not pets. And because we are raising humans, it means that implementing every detail of someone else’s home is at best, unrealistic, and at worst, destructive, because we are failing to account for the individual personalities, traits, and gifts in our own homes. Or to put it even more harshly, doing so is taking the lazy road of parenting rather than actually doing the hard work of thinking about how these practices would fit into our own homes.
Principles are good. Very good. Things we can learn from. But prescriptions are bad. If you are discouraged as a parent because someone else’s prescriptions don’t work in your home, then see if you can isolate the principle behind that prescription. Think deeply about the end game, and then rather than adopting the practice itself, contextualize that principle into your own household.
4. Jesus loves our kids more than we do.
And then there’s this. This beautiful truth. This life-giving reality. This hope-restoring bedrock. Jesus loves our kids more than we do.
One of the reasons we get discouraged as parents is because we have to daily recognize our own limitations. We want the best for our children, but ultimately, these are people who will – and should – make their own decisions. We are frighteningly limited in the end in terms of how much we can manufacture in our kids. But Jesus is not.
Jesus is unlimited in His love, wisdom, and power. And just as He gave His life for us, so also He gave His life for our children. He can do everything that we cannot. When we feel the weight of our responsibility in light of our lack of personal resources, we can look to the Son of God who loves our kids more than we do.
Parents, we have a hard job. One in which we will daily feel ill-equipped to perform. But take heart today. Lift up your eyes. Let that feeling of discouragement point you to the source of our adequacy and sustenance, and ask the Lord for another piece of daily bread.
Michael Kelley lives in Nashville, Tenn., with his wife, Jana, and three children: Joshua, Andi, and Christian. He serves as the Sr. Vice President of Church Ministries for LifeWay Christian Resources. He is the author of Growing Down: Unlearning the Patterns of Adulthood that Keep Us from Jesus, Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal: A Boy, Cancer, and God; Transformational Discipleship; and Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life.