“Jeremiah, slow down… watch where you are going!” This is a phrase that I use quite often when I am out with our grandchildren. Like most kids, our grandson tends to focus on the things around him and not what is in front of him. As a parent and now grandparent, I know that children have a natural tendency to be inquisitive and consequently they unintentionally bump into things or more precisely people all the time. Raising children today now seems to be a constant stream of commands and lectures. I wonder if when people hear it, they think that the parent or grandparent is paranoid? The truth is, it is just so easy for them to get hurt, and children rarely look where they are going.
I do not think any parent or caregiver is alone in their “paranoia.” Some degree of fear is natural in parents. We love our kids so much that the thought of anything bad happening to them sends us into a panic. Yet if we are not careful, this caution can become oppressive. When we let fear dominate our parenting, we can actually shield our kids from the very things they need to be dealing with.
In today’s culture, there is a lot of debate about “helicopter” parents. In Chinese culture, they might be called “Tiger” moms. Now in defense of said parents, there are dangers that surround our children. The world is not getting any better or safer as some suggest. However, it is important to let go of parenting fears if we want our kids to be confident and responsible.
By acting as a “watchdog”, we run the risk of raising kids who are unable to look after themselves. Fear has a way of silencing the God-given instincts we all have for figuring out what is right and wrong, safe and unsafe. While being conscious of safety issues is important, we have to know when to draw the line and let our kids experience life, even the painful parts.
That might mean letting your toddler climb on the jungle gym in the park, even when you are afraid they might stumble. You might need to let your 10-year-old ride their bike to a friend’s house a few blocks away rather than drive them there. Ultimately, only God can completely care for our children. He trusts us to protect them and love them, but as Jeremiah 29:11 says, “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.'” This is our hope as Christian parents: God is in control and we can trust Him. He really does have only the best planned for our children.
The world is a scary place. Just take a quick glance through the newspaper or a peek at a news website reminds us just how many dangers our children face. When you find yourself struggling to let go of your fears, I would encourage you to take some practical steps to help you place your children in God’s hands with faith and confidence. As Mother’s Day approaches, here are a couple things we can do to alleviate that fear.
The first is we need to surrender our children to God. It is easy to think that we have control over our children’s futures. The fact is, most of the time, our kids’ lives turn out completely different than we plan. Author, Evelyn Christenson, encourages parents to pray “releasing prayers” for their kids. What she asks parents to do is release them in your prayers to God. By doing so, you are acknowledging God’s sufficiency and ability to care for them. Isn’t that a scary prospect?
But it is in those times where fear can creep in. What if we surrender our kids only to have God respond by allowing something awful to happen? I had to pray and let go of our first son, Josiah after he was born. He had a terminal birth defect. I gave my son to God, and he died twenty-four hours later. Now I know now that my prayer did not cause Josiah’s death. Instead, it prepared me for the loss because I had already acknowledged that he belonged to God.
Although it was still a process of grieving, instead of anger, there was peace. Thankfully, most of us will not have children who die young. However, God may ask you to release your kids in other ways. I have known parents who pray desperately for God to use their children and not just as missionaries. We must be prepared to trust God, whether He chooses to send our kids to the jungles of Africa, the inner city of Edmonton or a quiet house around the corner.
Secondly, we need to mold our concept of hope to match God’s definition. True hope is not wishing for something, crossing our fingers and holding our breath until it comes true. To have true hope means believing that God will use your children and guide them through their lives, even if He never reveals how or why.
With this perspective, it is easier to view our children’s difficulties as character-builders rather than obstacles. Paul says in Romans 5:3-4, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” I’m sure Joni Eareckson Tada’s parents never dreamed their daughter would be paralyzed in a diving accident. They probably also never dreamed she would impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Tada’s life proves that God can use even the most devastating situation for good. She demonstrates daily the paradox that God’s power Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 12:9 where it “is made perfect in weakness.”
To parent with hope is to understand that the circumstances our kids face are not the final goal, but rather the tools used to shape their character.
Thirdly, we need to help our children to be responsible. To foster responsibility is challenging because it requires us to take risks. In order to parent with hope, we have to change our attitude from overprotection to one that teaches responsibility. Once we allow our children to suffer the age-appropriate consequences of their actions, even if it means watching them get hurt a bit, we give them the chance to learn a little more about how life works. A tumble off the swing set teaches them not to be so reckless. Failure to study results in a poor grade. It is through experience that our children learn which choices work and which ones don’t.
Seeing our two grandchildren play together is a tangible demonstration of this truth. Because they are so close in age, they often “share” the same toys. As with any age group, selfishness and stubbornness often rear its ugly head. At their age now, there is often a need for intervention, but as they get older, probably less intervention will be given. As they mature, children are often encouraged to work out their problems and to think of ways to get along, whether or not either one gets their way.
In the end, a child who learns to be responsible and independent is ultimately a child who knows how to succeed in life. But as a parent, it’s tough to know when your kids are ready for more freedom. It is important to allow your child as much independence as possible without jeopardizing their safety. As you watch your child grow in confidence and ability, you’ll be better able to trust their judgment even when your advice is not asked for. And the more you allow your children to build life skills, the more you’ll find your fears subsiding.
The final step in overcoming fear is actually the most important: pray often and pray with purpose. Rather than simply asking God to keep our kids from harm, we need to focus our prayers on the character God’s molding in our children.
When Paul prayed for his spiritual children, the Philippians, he didn’t ask that they are spared from persecution. Instead, he told them in Philippians 1:9-10, “My prayer [is] that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.”
By praying this way, you are reinforcing a fundamental truth: being a Christian is no guarantee that life will be easy or free from pain. As you show your children that you trust God to walk beside your family, no matter what life brings, you will be showing them that they can trust God with their futures as well.