We Need Not Parent in Fear
Would you believe that many, if not most, of today’s working parents (especially mothers) spend just as much time engaged in parenting activities as stay-at-home parents of the 1970s did? I, for one, was astonished to discover that trend in one excellent, well-researched article.
Having written about the benefits of having moms stay at home if they can, I wondered, can this be true? The article outlined how “hyper-parenting” begins in utero, as moms today pay much more attention to their diet, read more parenting books, and sign up for more classes. It continues when the baby is born, with more monitoring, exclusive breastfeeding, sugar-free diets, homemade baby food, and Pinterest birthday parties. Apparently, parents today read more to their children (that surprised me), initiate more crafts at home, enroll their children in more lessons and sports (that did not surprise me), help more with homework, and the list goes on.
Interestingly, after all the additional time, energy and expense, today’s parents are still more anxious about the job they’re doing — and still worry it’s not enough.
Why Are We Hyper-Parenting?
What has driven all of the change? The article sums up the motivation: economic anxiety — “doing everything to ensure children climb to a higher class or at least not fall out of the one they were born into.” While the article didn’t mention it, I know from my experience and friendships that parents also simply want their children to be happy. They believe all of this effort and activity contributes to that well-being.
It is worth noting that many Christian parents can be just as preoccupied with providing every opportunity, protecting from every potential danger, and sacrificing to meet every desire. These loving parents may be somewhat less concerned with upward mobility than secular parents, but they similarly believe they are simply taking seriously the responsibility to be loving stewards over their children’s lives.
“Christians need never parent out of fear of punishment for getting it wrong.”
The article interviewed some experts who said that while there are some indications of benefits in upward mobility, there is no question children are experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety, are more dependent on parents, lack self-reliance, and experience less satisfaction with life. Suicide rates among teens and young adults are much higher than in previous decades. In addition, many parents, especially mothers, feel more stress, exhaustion, and guilt, and have little time for spouses, friends, and other activities.
What Do We Fear?
As I reflected on these realities, I was struck by the fact that the bottom-line motivation behind it all boils down to fear. The article cited fears about children’s financial future and position in the world, but we might add some justifiable fears about greater risks to the physical safety of children in neighborhoods and schools. There is also evidence, fueled by the dynamics of social media, which suggests many parents are driven by a need for approval (a fear of what others might think).
These fears are grounded in earthly realities, and miss transcendent truths. These fears stir a response in human nature which addresses fears by seeking to do more and control more. In proper perspective, doing more may be a healthy response, but an unhealthy anxiety and fear that drives us to do more and more in order to assure a result flies in the face of what we hear in God’s word. And, as the article indicates, this kind of doing does not necessarily lead to happier, better adjusted, self-motivated children.
In fact, when we parent in fear, there’s a greater chance we will raise up fearful children. No parent wants to raise fearful children. As Christians, we also will be concerned that parenting out of such fears may foster in our children the lie that effort is more important than trusting God.
What Parents Cannot Do
The truth is that our efforts alone cannot guarantee any result, and the degree to which we depend upon our efforts may even put us at odds with God. Paradoxically, God’s way is for us to understand that he is the only one who truly controls anything. Our work is to “fan into flame the gift of God . . . for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:6–7).
“When we parent in fear, there’s a greater chance we will raise up fearful children.”
Christian parents, if you find yourself in the cycle described in the New York Times article, I encourage you to take a deep breath, try to cease your anxious striving, and ponder the assurance we have of God’s help and care for us as we do everything in life, including parenting our children. God does not want us to do anything out of anxiety, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let [our] requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard [our] hearts and [our] minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7).
Facing Fear with God
When, as parents, we become driven by fears for our children’s earthly well-being, we are forgetting what we know about the goodness of our God. God promises us that “his divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3).
When we are anxious about whether our children will be able to get good jobs or be able to provide for themselves or their families, yes, we should make sure they get a good education and learn to work hard, but we also need to remember and be teaching them the higher truth in Philippians 4:19: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Our children’s ultimate provision is not up to our effort or theirs, but to God’s.
When we are concerned about our children’s future, we should stop projecting out our desires, and make sure that, instead of anxiety, they see the reason for our hope. What can blow away the anxiety that creeps into Christian parenting? For starters, ponder in wonder this amazing truth:
He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3–5)
“Even if we do everything in our power, our kids may still have difficult lives and may ultimately reject Christ.”
Our greatest parenting task is to be sure our children see our hope and learn about the way they too can have this glorious assurance in Christ.
When we face inevitable parenting challenges, challenges that illuminate the reality that we are in far over our heads, we must remember and draw strength and hope that it is God who promises, “For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you’” (Isaiah 41:13). Do you believe God wants to help you? Are you daily praying for this help?
God Knows We’ll Make Mistakes
Because of the saving grace available through Jesus Christ, Christians need never parent out of fear of punishment for getting it wrong. God knows we will not always get it right. God’s love rests on the perfect sacrifice of his beloved Son, Jesus, who did get it all right. Yes, there are consequences for foolish decisions, and we should make every effort to make responsible, godly decisions, and teach our children to do so, but our future and the future we want for our children does not rest on our getting everything right. Isn’t that wonderful news?
It is so freeing to know that our God is not standing somewhere on the sidelines waiting to see if we will get our children into the right schools, or involve them in enough sports, or even protect them from every possible earthly danger so that they never experience suffering. God holds our children’s future, and he is eager to guide and direct our parenting to help lead our children toward the things that assure a deeper joy and satisfaction than anything the world will ever be able to provide.
This God is watching to see if we are
- loving him most and best (Luke 10:27),
- praying earnestly for his help and leading as we parent our children (Philippians 4:6–7),
- being obedient to his leading rather than catering to the world (John 8:31),
- working to introduce our children to the wonders of who he is,
- training our children from his word to understand, and long to be, the kind of people he wants them to be (Deuteronomy 6:4–7),
- teaching them about the amazing sacrifice Jesus has made so that they might live in joy forever (1 John 4:10; Colossians 1:21–22; Ephesians 1:7),
- displaying joy in Jesus and the life we (and they can) have in God (John 10:10; 15:11); and through all of these things if we are
- encouraging them to love, trust, and enjoy God above all things.
The Result Is God’s
It is sobering to remember that even if we love and trust God, and do everything in our power to live our lives to display the goodness of God, and teach our children diligently the wonderful truths of the Bible, our kids may still have difficult lives and may ultimately reject Christ. We are promised that God will be with us as we parent, but we are not promised our children will have easy lives or be saved.
“Children are experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety, are more dependent on parents, lack self-reliance, and experience less satisfaction with life.”
The truth is our children are not our own. We are merely stewards of them while they are young; they belong to God and he decides their future. None of our anxiety, worry, and fear changes this reality, and, paradoxically, this is glorious news! We are free to trust not in our own efforts, but in the loving God who first entrusted these children to our care.
Because God controls the outcome, we have perfect freedom to do all that we are able, drawing upon his strength, and then trust him for the result. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the best schools, most prestigious jobs, and accolades from the world, preoccupation with these things has the power to divert our eyes and our children’s eyes from God. Working to make sure our children receive these things will amount to nothing in eternity.
But if we introduce our children to the glories of their Creator and Redeemer, they have the opportunity of both an earthly life of deep joy, which sustains them in the trials and suffering that will surely come, and eternal joy in the presence of God, where there is no suffering or pain. That is the purpose of parenting, and the result is God’s. So parent diligently, but “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5–6).