From the moment the doctor places that sweet, newborn baby in our arms, we parents start to worry. The dangers we never considered before starting a family now become monumental. So we spend a weekend baby-proofing the house with complex locks and latches. When our kid gets the sniffles, we assume it is some rare Zebra Flu, and rush them to the doctor. When they go skateboarding, we fit them with pads and helmets, and cover them in bubble-wrap, just in case. And when our kids rush into the door waving that driver’s license, all moms and dads can think about are the many ways their precious kid can be injured inside that two-ton metal death trap we call “cars.” Let’s not sugarcoat it—parents worry about their kids!
Yet, God has a word for the fear we face as parents. Philippians 4:6,7 tell us, “Do not be anxious about anything (and that includes our kids!), but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
As moms and dads, we want to protect our kids. But what starts off as parental concern has the potential to become crippling worry! Maybe you’ve parented in a state of fear for so long, you don’t even realize it’s your default way of raising kids. Let me contrast a worried parent and a wise parent in order to see the areas we need to change.
A Worried Parent: “I will do whatever it takes to prevent pain in my child’s life. And that goes beyond putting Band-Aids on scrapes and making chicken soup when kids are sick. As a worried parent I will diligently guard my child, even into the teenage and young adult years. I spend a lot of energy protecting my son or daughter from anything that might cause them some hurt or discomfort. My role is to be an emotional safety net so they never have to hit the ground. Because I don’t like to see her in pain, I rescue my daughter from the consequences of her own decisions. I make sure my son is not placed in any type of situation where he could fail or get hurt. Sure, I’m constantly imagining new ways my teens could injure themselves, but that is the price you have to pay to be a worried parent.”
A Wise Parent: “I see pain as a catalyst for growth in my children. A toddler only has to put his hand on a hot stove once to learn not to do that again! Of course, I’m the first one to run to my kid and offer compassion and encouragement for the aches and pains, but I know that pain can be constructive. In fact, those times where my teenage son or daughter feels the brunt of a bad decision, I trust that they have learned a valuable life lesson. So I don’t swoop in to shield my teen from painful consequences or hard choices. But in wisdom, I do offer compassion and love to see them through the tough times.”
A Worried Parent: “Mistakes are to be avoided at all costs. I don’t even want to think about the damage, hurt, or loss of reputation that would come if our teen messed up. To alleviate the problem, I’ll limit my son or daughter’s freedom, so they have no room to make any errors. I’ll decide what my teen will wear, who she’ll be friends with, who she’ll date, where she’ll go, and what she’ll do in her free time. To make sure my son doesn’t fall behind in school, I’ll diligently schedule his homework for him. I may even do it for him, if need be. I know more about what he needs than he does, so I’ll make all his decisions for him regarding work, friends, sports, entertainment, and church. That way, I’ll mitigate any chance he has to make any mistakes. And then maybe, I’ll be less anxious about my teen.”
A Wise Parent: “Mistakes will happen. I’m not perfect, and my kid isn’t perfect. In the process of training him to be independent and mature, I realize that there will be some slipups along the way. While it might cause some initial discomfort, maybe even a little embarrassment on my part, I know that missteps come with the territory. But I committed to move from teaching my kid, to training my teen, and that will come with a few bumps along the way. I’ve decided to give my son or daughter a little more freedom every year. At a certain age, I will put her in charge of getting her homework done and preparing for tests. I’ll encourage my son to get a job when he is old enough to drive, and put him in charge of paying for gas and insurance. You see, as a wise parent, I’m not focused on my child doing something wrong; I’m more concerned about getting my teen to do something right! So I’ll respond to mistakes, handle consequences when necessary, but I always try to follow up with a sincere question, So what did you learn through this experience?”
A Worried Parent: “I’m always afraid my teenager is not listening to anything I say. As a worried mom I’m going to tell him what I’m going to tell him, then tell it to him, then tell him what I already told him. Being a worried dad, I will always keep telling my son or daughter the same thing over and over again, in endless repetition. So what if they say, ‘I heard you!’ or ‘I get it, Dad.’ Constant lectures, plus nagging, will eventually push my teen into doing the right thing. That way, I’ll sleep well at night.”
A Wise Parent: “I understand that constant criticism and demands will only push my teen farther away from me. Being a wise parent, I’m learning to distinguish between the times I need to talk, and the times I need to listen. I take my cues from James 1:19; Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. My communication with my teen will be equal parts training and equal parts listening. There was a friend of mine whose eighteen-year-old son was weighing an important decision that would decide his future. As he explained his options with his mom, this mother had to consciously bite her tongue, and hold off on giving her opinion and saying, ‘This is what you need to do! Why can’t you see that!’ But she continued to listen patiently to her son. The next day, this young man came back to his parents with the question every parent wants to hear, ‘Mom and Dad, can you give me some advice?’ Unforced, this young man sought out the wisdom of his parents, all because they practiced listening instead of lecturing. And as a wise parent, that’s a model I want to follow.”
Okay, there’s a sense of hyperbole in these examples for sure. But if we take an honest look at the way we parent, we may find we’re raising our kids with a sense of worry instead of air of wisdom. If we let our imaginations run wild, and ruminate on all the tragic events that can happen, we’ll only spiral out of control and end up hurting our teens in the process. Instead, let’s remember that God is in control. He loves our teens infinitely more than we do, and has their best interests at heart. That’s why we’re told, “Do not be anxious about anything.” A worried parent lives in fear. A wise parent lives in confidence. And that trust trickles down into the entire family.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential facility for teens located in Hallsville, Texas. Check out our website, www.parentingtodaysteens.org. It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent, such as other helpful articles by Mark, and practical resources for moms and dads. On our website you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens podcast, or find a radio station near you to listen to our broadcast. You can also call us directly at 1-866-700-3264.