vocation: Parent

Raising children is an uncertain thing; success is reached only after a life of battle and worry. Democritus

For the last twenty years, my extended church “family” has included a number of families with whom we raised children together; we celebrated children’s birthdays, high school, and then,  college graduations,  weddings and welcomed them as new parents.  Not having fathered children, I have enjoyed parenting, by proxy,  the toddler-to-preteen ages,  particularly when serving in some of the volunteer roles in our church early in my christian years.  However, my own experience raising young men into adults (I married a mom of 8, 10, and 12 years old boys) has strengthened me indescribably for almost two decades.

Today was one of those opportunities, as a seasoned parenting veteran,  to share in an after-church pizza – picnic lunch between “Empty Nester’s” and “young marrieds”.  It builds relationships like those my family and the then-seasoned veteran parents developed twenty years ago.   Looking back, I do not know how I would have kept my marriage together without a lot of those relationships.

A few hours later, many of the same friends went to a gathering of young parents, to celebrate the first birthday of the daughter of one of the couples.   It was great to see an number of teens come to celebrate with the parents they know fairly well (the birthday girl’s parents are in the ministry). Several of these older teens, and young adults I knew and possibly taught, in Sunday “kids kingdom” classes when they were half their present ages.

One of families in attendance I’ve know all my christian life.  The dad counseled me on my early months of marriage eighteen years ago, and together,  we have more than a hundred years of combined parenting experience.  Yet most of that wisdom is a product of several hundred years of counsel from other parents.   While parent’s and child’s mistakes are all us, for my household,  any success is due our obedience to, and reverence for God and his Son.

Twenty-four hundred years ago, a non-christian, the Greek philosopher Democritus observed that raising a child to adulthood is strenuous and an emotional endeavor.  So the child we see today becomes an adult one day based as much on the parents’ love and example, as it is in God’s will and each person’s willingness to act in accord with all these things.   Each person has free will as well as the genetic and social predisposition to act in ways that may not be “best”, in the experience of the older adult.  Even with a lot of counsel and practice, parents “know” their offspring will still stumble in his or her own fashion.  But hope, patience and compassion has to be in every parents’ toolbox.

Nobody ever becomes an expert parent. But I think good parenting is about consistency. It’s about being there at big moments, but it’s also just the consistency of decision making. And it’s routine. Sebastian Coe

One of the best lessons in parenting is that your role of being a parent never ends.  Once your children are of the age that they have to determine their own course, and find their own counsel, you as a parent learn that many times they venture off the path you hope for them to follow.   The conflict I have as a parent is the limits of what you can do,  and what you cannot do, for your adult-age children.  Many times I have wanted to step in, with the disciplined approach of a military bootcamp,  advise which is the best course, and which is “messing up”.    Other times,  I want an adult to quit “finding themselves” and settle.  It is these times that I appreciate the counsel of my wife and my friends who hear my frustrations, ask me if that course was effective when I was that age.   This then  nudges me back to a compassionate and patient standby adviser.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.(I) Love(J) the Lord your God with all your heart(K) and with all your soul and with all your strength.(L) These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.(M) Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.(N) Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.(O) Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. –Deuteronomy 6: 4 – 9 (NIV)

My own experience,  and that of my friends and mentors,  has taught me that no child grows into an adult as a copy of any other sibling or either parent.  One child may have some difficulty in some subjects in school, but as an adult blossom with skills and discernment that enable them to excel in their profession.   Another may not be receptive to authority, structured learning, or  office professions but be well-suited to earning a creative and personality- centered living coordinating special events.   One may have a decade-long friendship that becomes a strong marriage, while another remains single.  Some parents have adult children who are still searching for an identity into their late twenties, others who are recuperating from sudden,  life-challenging injuries,  and still others who have ongoing health conditions that challenge a parent reduced to a spectator and occasional counselor.   Together,  my family and friends with adult children and now grandchildren,   we have witnessed that raising children with love, compassion, discipline, consistency, engagement, and endurance will see the life battles won.

Fathers, do not exasperate your children;(C) instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. – Ephesians 6: 4  (NIV)

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