Parents: Three Motivations to Avoid
As the father of five young children, I live with an ever-present awareness that my greatest stewardship is my children. Many men can preach a sermon and more than a few can be a seminary president, but only one can father these five children.
Thus, my wife and I approach our family with a profound sense of stewardship and intentionality. As parents, we are practitioners, but also observers, always seeking to learn and improve in order to be most faithful.
Over the past decade, I’ve witnessed in others—and, unfortunately, in myself—three parental motivations to avoid. Like weeds that force their way through the best-cultivated garden or thickest concrete, these motivations seem stubborn, always reappearing; resilient, always resurfacing.
In fact, if I could wish away three parental motives from my heart, and from others, it would be these: ambition, fear, and pride.
Parenting out of Ambition
Parenting out of ambition occurs when we channel our goals through our children. Mothers do this when they vicariously cheer through their daughters and fathers do so when they vicariously play sports through their sons. At a deeper level, this occurs when parents require of their children a level of commitment and accomplishment they never attained.
Parental ambition drove Hans Luther to deter his son, Martin, from entering the ministry. Luther’s father desired him to study law that he might enjoy financial gain and social respect. Had he been successful, Hans Luther would have deprived the church of one of one of its greatest gifts and delayed the much needed reformation and revival he brought.
There is a difference between aspiration and ambition. It is right to have aspirations for our children and to cultivate in them a healthy sense of ambition. But it is wrong to channel our ambitions—whether for their lives or our own—on them, especially when those ambitions are man-centered and not God-centered.
Parenting out of Fear
Another parental attitude to avoid is fear. Like ambition, fear appears in many forms. Sometimes it is hyper-safety, leading parents to avoid contact sports and seek to insulate children from harm. At other times, it shows up in “helicopter parenting,” remaining in proximity to our children, helping them make decisions and avoid life’s dangers.
In bourgeois Christianity it is often fear of our kids failing in life. The thinking goes, “If my son doesn’t make all As he might not score well on the SAT, not get into the best college, or find the best job. He’ll be a failure. He’ll live in my basement and play Xbox for life.”
My wife and I insist our children wear seatbelts, and we hold them to rigorous academic standards. But we aim not to parent out of fear of what they may or may not become. The point is not to be cavalier, recklessly hoping for God’s kind providence. Rather, we should parent out of stewardship and love, not fear and doubt.
Parenting out of Pride
Parenting out of pride is the most insidious—and injurious—attitude of all. If left unchecked, it will lead us to value morality over spirituality and cultivate children that are self-righteous, but know not Christ’s righteousness. Parenting out of pride is more concerned about man’s evaluation of your parenting than God’s, and more concerned about man’s opinion of your children than God’s.
Those serving in ministry are especially susceptible to parenting out of pride. An unhealthy commitment to I Timothy 3, and a well-ordered house, can cause one to incentivize moral structure to the oversight of repentance, regeneration, and true submission to Christ’s Lordship.
Even more disastrously, pride can lead parents to prod children down the aisle before the gospel has ripened in their heart. Jesus beckons children to come to him, but he doesn’t beckon parents to shove them. Lead them to Jesus, yes. Shove them down the aisle, no.
On the Contrary, Redemptive Parenting
Due to our sin natures, even our best efforts will remain indecipherably corrupt. But the more one is conscious of a propensity to err in these directions, the less likely one is to do so. Gospel-centered parenting focuses on cultivating the heart toward submission to the Word of God, repentance, godliness, and cherishing the gospel.
Parenting is the most enjoyable and exhilarating responsibility I know. I feel as though I am getting to create, invest, sculpt, build, and nurture all at once. It satisfies the pastor, entrepreneur, teacher, builder, evangelist, and leader within me.
As I do this, I know my supererogative responsibility is to tend the heart, nurturing my children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, and teaching them to know, love, and live the gospel. To make sure their heart is right, I must first nurture my own, and that includes forsaking ambition, fear, and pride.
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