It isn’t easy to parent centered around the Gospel of Jesus.
Parenting with expectations of perfection and with no sense of needing to repent on the part of the parents themselves is much easier than the alternative. But the results, I fear, are not worth the ease, and so I continue to pray for the love and grace and wisdom AND THE HELP from Jesus to grow our kids with grace and send our kids with gospel.
The alternative, I am learning the hard way almost daily, is much more difficult. It is worth the difficulty, though. I guess ask me in 20 years, but I can tell you that even in the middle of it, even on days when my thoughts scream “I don’t want any more kids,” even on days when I totally blow it as a dad, I still get this sense of peace that our gospel pursuit as parents is worth it.
Sure. Every little screw-up my kids make. Why not treat them like they shouldn’t have done it? Why not act like they should’ve known better? Why not weigh their blossoming hearts down with such expectation that they begin to think and live looking over their shoulder at me rather than fixing their eyes on Jesus? That sounds like a good idea.
For those parents who have been honest enough to admit it to me that they parented that way, their assertion is consistent – it didn’t reap what they thought it would in their kids’ lives.
To be fair, we also need to apply the gospel to our personal expectations and parental efforts. Good parenting does not guarantee good kids, nor does bad parenting ensure bad kids. Our efforts cannot be focused on the product of what is to come in our kids’ lives. We don’t have any control over that. Thank God, our great God of grace, that His beautiful resurrection power can make something beautiful in our kids’ lives even in spite of my ugly parenting.
I don’t control what will be reaped. But I can give attention at least to what I cultivate into their hearts and minds. And that is why parenting with high expectations can cultivate into kids’ hearts and minds a sense of shameful guilt and ongoing disappointment.
So, what would it look like to parent with expectations surrendered? It might look like a dad whose eyes give I-forgive-you looks rather than you-disappoint-me looks. It might look like a mom whose frustrations become captured thoughts transformed by Jesus into gracious encouragement rather than condemning tantrums tearing down eager hearts. It might look like a family schedule that demonstrates intentionality rather than insanity. It might look like parents who pray for sent graduates rather than prestigious graduates.
And as strange as it sounds, it starts with repentance. But not on the part of our kids. On the part of dad and mom.
When I repent of idolizing my expectations, first privately, I am surrendering both my personal expectations as well as those I have for my kids while asking for help from Jesus to value my kids for who He is making them to be. Not who I am manipulating them to be.
When I repent before my kids, I am demonstrating a belief in gospel grace that secures me with love in such a way that I feel safe to confess my sin even to my kids. I am also modeling for them a relationship with God who loves me with expectancy rather than expectation. And that is good, because He is good.
This way of parenting won’t ever be easy. It will likely never become my default. At least without His help. And that might be His favorite prayer from His children.
A prayer that can only be uttered from the lips of a mom or a dad who have believed and who keep believing and learning the depths of this glorious gospel. A gospel that declares the unmerited love of the God who came near not with expectation of my perfection but with expectancy toward my restoration.
May we parents keep believing and learning Jesus.