by Children’s and Youth Ministries Teams
The challenges facing the children and families in our society are many but we have the benefit of facing them within the context of our church family. In an effort to address some of the challenges and facilitate dialogue, we will have a short series about one of the more pervasive issues in parenting today-that of fear. This first part will set the stage for subsequent articles by describing the all-too-familiar struggle.
Nothing prepares us for the experience of loving our children. But we may add, nothing prepares us for the fear that the care of these children often arouses. When we love someone, we also have a need to protect and maintain that relationship. In parenting, however, these fears can have an adverse affect on our loved ones. You have heard the saying, “if you love something, let it go,” but it is easier said than done with children. Through the bonding process in infancy, parents experience their child’s dependence, making it difficult to unhook from feeling responsible for our children’s welfare.
As Christian parents, we are taught that parenting is part of our discipleship and therefore we are to take it very seriously. How can we juggle this sense of grave responsibility with the fact that children are healthiest when they are able to take responsibility for their own lives? How can we balance our children’s need to mature and grow independent from us while still meeting our responsibility to also guide them to a dependence on God? It seems important for us to stop and take stock of the anxiety such juxtaposition is putting in our parenting.
The truth is, anxious parents make anxious children. In an article from Psychology Today, Hara Estroff Marano writes,In his now-famous studies of how children’s temperaments play out, Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan has shown unequivocally that what creates anxious children is parents hovering and protecting them from stressful experiences. A small percentage of children seem almost invulnerable to anxiety from the start. But the overwhelming majority of kids are somewhere in between. For them, over-parenting can program the nervous system to create lifelong vulnerability to anxiety and depression. (from http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200411/nation-wimps#)
As believers, there is also the danger of our anxiety blocking our children’s encounter with the Living God. If we step into the role of great protector, we are overstepping our bounds and have the potential of harming our children by giving them a distorted view of His loving care for them and preventing them from feeling a need for Him.
There are many causes of fear that creeps into our loving relationships. A few of the more pervasive ones are:
•Information: lack of or too much. The media and social media turn up the volume on pointing out the potential for danger. We have the human tendency to filter what we hear to validate our ideas and opinions.
•Our own “raw nerves.” Those areas of pain in our lives or others close to us that we want to protect our child from.
•The need for control that rises from our insecurity.
•Physical and social factors.
•Our theology (or lack thereof) regarding suffering.
Knowing that the parenting endeavor is as much about you as your child—and seeing how the gospel can radically reshape both children and parents—can help you navigate these pitfalls of fear. We want to help our church address the causes of fear and suggest some ways to infuse confidence into our parenting. But first we must acknowledge that fear is not unwarranted. Terrible things do happen in life and the world is a broken place. The truth is Christ has entered this world and calls all of us to ask, just what does that mean in relationship to our parenting? Because we are as human as the next person and therefore vulnerable to the brokenness caused by sin, both within our homes and without, Christ is really all we have as a distinctive in the world. What really is the hope that can address these fear factors and allow us to parent in a way that points to Christ with confidence?
Some thoughts to consider to manage the “fear factors” as you answer this question for yourself and your parenting:
•In this age of information, choose wisdom, not answers. We all want to believe we are doing things 100% right but that leads us into fear. It’s not humanly possible always to be right, so it’s better to leave the door open to learning from others and owning what fits for your family rather than closing off the potential to learn.
•Pay attention when you feel anxious and seek help to understand what it can teach you about yourself as a parent before taking action to protect your child from something that comes from a place of anxiety. (ex. My pediatrician warned me not to let my daughter ride a bike. That was his fear and was not healthy advice to allow my daughter to enjoy life.)
•Beware the all too common parenting pitfall of comparison. Stay off of Facebook and Pinterest if all that results is feelings of inadequacy in your parenting!
•Expose yourself to other parents and information that allows you to challenge your fears and be healthily informed. If you are seeking advice, be sure to get a multiplicity of counsel.
•Purpose to parent your child, not your childhood (or their siblings’ childhoods!). Their needs will be different than yours because they don’t have your parents and they have unique wiring.
Ex. A friend whose mom’s brokenness required my friend to act like the parent instead of the child and she took on ownership of all her mom’s problems. It was incredibly important to her to not have her children experience that and she worked hard to keep her own problems from her children. When her children grew up they shared that they confessed that they struggled with feeling like their mom was fake because she never let them in on her struggles and they grew up not knowing how to cope when difficulties arose. She had created the opposite problem! She had tried to solve a problem they didn’t have and created a new problem in doing so.
•Seek to examine your need for control and consider how you might trust God more. God knows everything (past, present and future) and He loves your child more than you ever could because He is capable of loving perfectly.
•God may have a different path for your child than you would choose for them; a path that takes them along some rocky dangerous terrain. We have to trust where God is leading them and that even if the worst thing imaginable happened that He would still be God and in charge and would help us through it.
•We can’t control the world and eventually the bubble we’ve put around our child will burst, and then what? What image of God have I created for them? Have I helped them build coping skills or have they rarely needed to flex those emotional muscles required in difficult times?
•Pay attention to your own needs. Often social isolation, physical depletion, personal triggers or spiritual dullness can derail us from parenting with confidence.
•Seek out social support from others who are “safe” and supportive of your parenting role.
•Take care of yourself (get sleep, take breaks).
•Work on self-awareness. When your response to your child doesn’t match the situation at hand, ask yourself, what’s going on with ME that I need to learn from (not beat yourself up with false guilt…it masks the truth that needs to come out).
•Remind yourself of the identity, security, self-worth and meaning you receive from Christ, so you can parent out of His depth.
•Do some thinking about your theology of suffering, seeking the God Who made your child, so that you can lead them to Him with to a greater trust in Him. You cannot protect them forever from life in a broken world any more than you can provide salvation for their souls. You can impede them from an encounter with God by trying to protect them through your own efforts. Embrace the reality of their humanity and therefore their vulnerability before a Living God.
We all know from our own lives that it was often the difficult and painful events that most made us who we are. We often quote, Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, WHEN you face trials of many kinds (not IF), because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-3) However, it is a completely different case being on the sidelines of our loved ones when they are suffering. If God Himself promises that we will have trials and suffering, how does that factor into how I parent my child during their own opportunities to grow through suffering?
We need to ask ourselves as believers, what does the Bible promise in terms of God’s intervention for our suffering? What do verses like this mean? In this world you WILL have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
Parenting is a long journey. The road is uncertain and uneven; some parts easy, some extremely difficult. If we address the fear factor and ask where is Christ in the midst of this road, we have the potential to parent with more confidence, instilling that same quality in our children as they live in an anxiety-ridden world. What a great gift to consider.