What’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever done? A 5000-piece jigsaw puzzle of a polar bear in a snowstorm? For me, it’s parenting.
When Katrina and I decided to start a family, the proposition was exciting. And as the children came, I felt manly. Validated. During our parenting honeymoon, I strutted like a rooster around the barnyard, glowing with pride over my toe-headed progeny. My wife and I had made another one of us. It was pretty cool.
I still strut with pride over my kids. But the cooing and cuddling of chapter one gave way to the potty training, tantrums and crayon-colored walls of chapter two. Succeeding chapters have brought deeper joys and more intense challenges. Through all of it, I’m sure of this: my visions of a “Leave it to Beaver” life have floated away like dandelion seeds on a summer day.
I never imagined fatherhood would demand so much of me. The parenting life is all consuming. At times, it feels like I’m a person who exists solely for the amusement of my kids. I’m significant only when someone is hungry, bored, needs money or a ride somewhere. I’ve been emasculated by the minivan. ‘Rest’ has evolved into a four-letter word that my children won’t allow me to say, or have. I spend my ‘free’ time acting as judge and jury for dozens of civil lawsuits between siblings. And my cherished sports equipment has been transformed into makeshift light sabers, battle clubs and weapons of mass destruction.
Peter Ustinov said, “Parents are the bones on which children cut their teeth.” There are days I feel like a Zebra on the plains of Africa surrounded by a pack of hyenas.
For sure, our kids use and abuse us in their growing to adulthood. Every parent has a collection of war stories and battle scars. We’ve all left (and are leaving) skin behind as we raise and train our kids. We sacrifice many things – including our dignity – for the sake of the children.
And we should.
We give and serve and love our “mini-me’s” because they are blessings – bad attitudes and all. I can’t deny that I, too, can have an attitude that is sub-par. I’ve been known to grumble and complain in my fatherhood frustrations. In my least compelling parental moments, I’ll harp on an issue that doesn’t deserve attention. I’m infamous for my presentation on the finer points of tooth brushing. And when it comes to rules of order and cleanliness – watch out!
So in the daily squeeze of life, I’m challenged by this reality: whatever I do my children will think is normal. That’s worth pondering. Consider the foods you eat. The make and model of car you drive. The sports teams you root for. How you comb your hair. Your political affiliation. Your mannerisms. Your reactions. Your attitude. Your talk. Your faith.
Like it or not, it’s true. Consider how you were influenced by your parents. You may not do everything like your folks. In fact, you may do some things completely different – and for no other reason than to be different. Yet, even with those differences the effect of a parent on a child is undeniable. Children mimic their parents. At least in part, our kids are mini versions of us.
So dads, moms and grandparents – we’ve got work to do. Our call is to give our children and grandchildren examples worth imitating. More succinctly, we need to be who we want our children to become. That’s not easy. But then not much in life is.
In his book, Sacred Parenting, Gary Thomas said, “If God gives us situations we already have the strength to handle, we don’t have to grow in order to deal with them.” (p.146) Parenting is not as much about raising children as it is about growing in our understanding of who God is. As we parent, God invites us to trust him for the patience, love and perseverance to be gnawed on. To react appropriately when our golf clubs are transformed into light sabers. To willingly accept that 4×4 pickup dreams are often trumped by the practicality of a grossly underpowered family hauler.
The next few posts here on “Dwelling…” will take a closer look at Deuteronomy 6. That small but profound section of God’s Word gives us guidance to be parents worth imitating, as well as non-negotiable components for parenting God’s way.
Watch for it, and join the conversation.