I assumed that parenting would primarily be about shaping and molding my children into maturity. No one told me that it would really be about shaping me into a more maturity. I was relatively young when I became a parent. You probably were too. But I had an edge over most folks. I had been in youth ministry for ten years and so I knew kids. I watched parents parent and often could clearly see what they should have been doing. Their kids would tell me lots of the inside scoop and so, of course, I believed mine would as well. I could see the principles to teach and enforce. I could see the power of unconditional love. I could see the need for clear limits. I thought that I could do this thing the right way.
Twenty years of trying has exposed the arrogance of that belief. Parenting has been much harder, much more confusing, and much more exposing than I ever would have imagined. Let me give you two examples.
“I thought I was more loving than I am.”
Recently, I heard a woman comment, “I never knew I had an anger problem until I had children!” I knew just what she meant. I came into marriage a pretty even-tempered, levelheaded person. And while I have had a few spats in my marriage, I could not have imagined what it would look like to argue with my teenage children.
It is not an uncommon in my household (as I am engaged in intense discussion with my child, asserting parental authority), that Lynne whispers to me from behind – “Now which of you is the child?” Fortunately, I know that she is not being disrespectful – merely pointing out that I have too much of a stake in winning this particular discussion.
I expected my children to be rational. And when they aren’t, I well may stoop to fight the battle at whichever level they choose. In the midst of dealing with my children, I have discovered a side of my heart that I did not know was there at all, much less as pervasive as it is. I can start out wanting what is best for them and quickly shift to: “I will be heard and respected!”, demanding that they see my point At that point, my commitment to love them and pursue what is best for them has gone out the window. It has become about me, not them. I have discovered an incredibly self-centered part of my heart that has brought me back to my need for God’s mercy, and has often sent me back to my kids with an apology and a desire for forgiveness. So, in this little piece of parenting, God has been at work in me changing my heart.
“I thought my knowledge and love to be enough.”
Over the years, Lynne and I have also faced times where we knew what was going on but had no idea what the right thing to do was. There were times when formulas and principles just didn’t seem to fit. There were times where justice seemed to be required and yet mercy felt right. There were also times when we could see pain or struggle going on in their hearts and yet couldn’t find a way to get at it. We wanted to bring comfort or clarity and all we could offer was loving presence. There were times when we believed that the Bible was filled with sufficient prescriptions that we if could find them and “Do it right” that it would guarantee some kind of beautiful outcome – only to find that our children have minds of their own and make their own choices.
Parenting has brought us to a place of much deeper dependence upon Christ as the only One who can work in their hearts in eternal ways. Someone told me recently that James Dobson said “Parents take too much credit when their children turn out well and too much responsibility when they turn out poorly.”
That rings true to me.
About the Author
Palmer is an ordained Presbyterian minister. Palmer is married to Lynne, has three children and has been in Charlotte since 1979. In his spare time, he enjoys golf, tennis, walking and reading.
Thank you for your honesty and insight… and the great work you do through the Barnabas Center- Bry (one of Palmer’s Young Life kids in 1978)
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