See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. Col. 2:8
As Christians, we all know that Christ calls us to live in the world, but to live as resident aliens, citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s really hard sometimes not to let our immersion in the world seep into our ideas and thoughts, including how we raise our kids, our parenting philosophy. What are some of those “philosophies and empty deceits”, those things that, when we prayerfully think about them, we know are wrong, but we struggle with them anyway?
The first one that popped into my mind the other day is underscored by what I think are the eight most dangerous words in parenting: I. Just. Want. My. Child. To. Be. Happy. Most of the time, when I hear these words spoken, they’re said while justifying some act of parental overreach, a/k/a, Mom or Dad Team Six has just rappelled into the middle of a situation that could more easily and effectively be handled with them cheering and coaching from the sidelines, rather than in the middle of the action. This philosophy is usually based on the unexamined belief that my kid is needlessly and/or unjustly facing some degree of suffering or discomfort or failure; that if I intervene, I can spare them from this discomfort and ensure success; and, that doing so will be better for the child and better for me, thereby fulfilling my job as parent.
Almost everything about that line of thought is completely, horribly wrong. First, everything I ever learned that mattered came through hardship, struggle, and failure. I really don’t think we’re wired to learn without it. After all, isn’t the entire education process is about putting kids under pressure so that, as they push against that pressure by working and studying, they grow?
God alone created us and our kids. He knows how we’re made better than anybody. He alone knows eternity, and what we need to be equipped for it, to live in it. So, if my child faces suffering or discomfort or failure, can I ever truly say, with any degree of certainty whatsoever, that it is really needless? As a sinner, living in a fallen world, raising little sinners, can I ever truly say it’s unjust? Isn’t it way better to help them understand that God loves them, knows what they need, delivers them through hardship to help them become the man or woman He created them to be? Aren’t we way better off coming alongside our kids, being used by God to shepherd them, pray for them, and help them deal with the struggles and failure they face, rather than rescuing them from it? Do we really want to be the guy or gal that stands between our kids and their Eternal Father?
When I see kids who have been parented consistently by the “I just want my kids to be happy” philosophy, they are truly some of the most self-focused, discontent, materialistic, undisciplined people I know. They usually make everyone around them miserable. And, all we’ve done as their parents is delayed the inevitable and made it worse. God relentlessly pursues His children to save them, and He also relentlessly pursues them to bring them joy. And, joy is contentment in all things, even in hardship. He is so good that way. But, if we’ve buffered them from hardship when they’re kids, He’ll reach them when we’re out of the way. Since they’ll be adults, no longer as malleable as children, it will be much, much harder for them- less like wet clay and more like rock in need of a hammer and chisel. It will be more painful. Hopefully, they won’t resent us for making it tougher on them, but they probably will.
So, the “I just want my child to be happy” philosophy leads to resentment, discontent, lack of resilience, selfishness, lack of discipline- guess that’s what Paul means when he calls it “empty deceit”. We don’t need to pray for hardship and failure for our children: it’s already on its way. But, our most important role as parents is to bring the eternal perspective to mundane situations, and so we should pray that we’ll be ready.