September 15, 2019

Seven Observations For Parents (And the Best of IM’s Parenting Posts)

In the eight years (this month!) that I’ve been writing here at Internet, I’ve said a lot less about parenting than I should be saying.

Recently, a reader wrote me to say that he valued my view on many issues of life and family because I was older (52) and I’ve been through many of the stages of life experience that others are still looking forward to.

A conversation with my Advanced Bible class about God’s love as expressed in parenting, and my own reflections on parenting as my son announced his engagement have stirred up all kinds of potential posts about parenting.

So, instead of writing them all, I’d like to attempt a quick walk-through of some of my own observations about parenting. I’ll stir up more than I can respond to, I’m sure, and I don’t want to create the impression that I know the answer to all of the issues related to parenting, but perhaps this overview will help us locate some good topics for future posts.

So in no particular order, here’s some of my own observations on parenting that ought to be full blown IM posts. But my kids are grown. You people figure it out on your own. (jn)

1. You want to produce a happy, healthy, productive, well-balanced human being. If, in your urgency to produce a religious child, you produce a distorted child, you’ve not been a good parent. The end doesn’t justify the means in Christian parenting.

Sometimes I hear things Christian parents do (hot sauce on the tongue was the last one) and I have to wonder at what point we gave ourselves permission to think like this. We aren’t training dogs here. It’s a whole different matter. This is someone made in God’s image. There are no buttons and levers.

2. All sorts of things in parenting have no relationship whatsoever to any book you’ll read or seminar you’ll attend. Parenting isn’t some mystery that can be taught be experts. When you hear an ad for someone telling you they can make your kid into a near perfect child if you’ll only buy/attend their thing, you’re being taken for a ride on your insecurities. Relax. (Go to Number 3)

You’re going to mess up, screw up and make mistakes. Your family isn’t going to be that !$#$! picture on your church web site. Look at families in the Bible, especially the Old Testament. Read what Jesus said about families. This is where sin shows up. It’s where we fail and get forgiven. It’s where we get to be human and hurtful, but still belong.

A family can’t survive everything. There are limits, but determine that mistakes won’t be covered up and real life will be the canvas on which this picture is painted.

3. Show up, be there, be present, don’t leave, be predictable, be stable, be a presence. That’s not all of parenting, but it’s a lot. All kinds of people turned out really well, not because they were raised by little parenting geniuses, but because they were raised by people who were THERE in their lives. They came home. They made breakfast. They put them in bed. They didn’t chase their own hobbies and dreams at the expense of their kids. They were just there, for the kids, on schedule, like rocks and mountains. They came up like the sun every morning. They may not have been interesting or overly gifted. They may have not been creative. They may have made thousands of mistakes, but they were THERE.

That is huge, people.

4. Turn off the damned television (and attendant electronic devices.) Yes, that’s “damned” for those of you monitoring me for the local authorities. Spell it right. Turn the thing off and read to your kids. Get some animals. Ride bikes. Go hiking. Plant a garden. Buy a telescope. Get dolls. Get action figures. Go on weekend drives. Learn history. Go to ball games. Just decrease the television time.

I am NOT saying get rid of it. I think that’s a mistake as well, but you have to understand that at this point every parent is going to be under assault to use television, DVDs, the internet, the ipod, the way to keep your kids out of your hair. And that’s the problem. Not so much the content- which is an obvious problem- but the fact that I hear all kinds of parents basically say “Just get the kids watching something so we can do something else.” You’ll never totally avoid, this, but it’s insidious, and it is part of a culture wide program to turn your kid into nothing more than one of those human batteries in the Matrix, otherwise known as a passive part of the consumer culture.

Resist the surrender to the culture on this one. Save your kids and yourself from its temptations. Use it to further your goals, not to do your job.

5. The family dinner table. At all costs. As much as possible. No matter what the resistance. No matter how much coordination it takes. It is, always was and always will be, the key to good family life. Talking around that table is very important. More important than church, I promise.

6. Consider seriously the wisdom of putting your children into a large church program that separates them from you into children’s worship. I believe this is the worst thing evangelicals have done in the last 50 years. Other than a very modest extended session for very small children, you should be fearful of making your children the passive participants in programs that set them in front of big screens, DVDs, stages, etc. The demise of evangelicalism is the result of specialized programing. It has very limited usefulness.

7. Loving your children is not the same as you being happy. Loving your children will mean getting into places where you are unhappy, and then asking what does it mean to love that child.

Christian parents have a tendency to say that when they feel good about their child, then the child is being loved. Be careful of that road. Many Christian parents are willing to produce a child who is shallow, phony and manipulative towards them in order to get what they want from that child. Children will, as teenagers especially, give you what you want and buy into nothing you are selling. They will do this to survive having you as a parent. Then when they are away from you, they will sell that strategy and become whatever they really are, which may scare the _________ out of you.

You have to love the real child, and you need to get started with that as soon as possible. Your child’s individuality is your business. It’s your job to love them as a unique individual. A school or a church or a group of friends will never accept individuality in the same measure that you do. They can’t. Life doesn’t work that way.

But I am determined that even though I could name you a decent list of things that I wish were different about my children, I will NOT go there. I will love them as unique individuals, and I will be in their corner when NO ONE ELSE IS. I’m not talking about approving or endorsing. Not at all. If my children take a wrong road, I’ll say so and I’ll lament. But I will not give up on my child over a tattoo or smoking or a change of schools or a change of plans or even rejecting my politics or faith. Some of these things might devastate me, but this isn’t about me being happy. It’s about loving a person in the one role that God has given me.

[Some of my other pieces on parenting…
My Wife’s Post: Hannah Had It Right, But Just Barely.
How Christian Parents Royally Screw Up Their Kids
Finding Our Seats At The Ball Game
A Prayer for Alex: What To Do When Your Child Says He Doesn’t Believe


  1. Mick Lumsden says

    Sometimes I hear things Christian parents do (hot sauce on the tongue was the last one) and I have to wonder at what point we gave ourselves permission to think like this. We aren’t training dogs here. It’s a whole different matter. This is someone made in God’s image. There are no buttons and levers.

    the point is important and well made. But a word in the defense of Dogs. Mistreat a human and they can complain; mistreat a dumb animal and they can not.

    If youown a dog they will teach you more about unconditional love than any book. Image of God? How many murders do dogs commit in a year?