The idols of a parent

flickr: mermay19

There’s nothing like parenting to reveal your true values.

My 12-year-old daughter started secondary school this year. It’s an anxious time for any parent. Your mind fills with questions: will she settle well into her new school? How will she cope with the extra homework? Will she make good friends? Will she make any friends?

During the first few months of the school year, I found myself passionately wanting the oddest things (and talking about them passionately to my husband, who will confirm that I became just a tad neurotic). It seems I want my daughter to:

  • be popular (I want people to like her) but not too popular (I don’t want her to be overly influenced by her peers)
  • get all her work done, on time, to a high standard (I don’t want her – or, more tellingly, me – to lose face)
  • dress trendily (I don’t want her to look daggy) but not too trendily (I don’t want her to be a fashion victim)
  • be friendly to the unpopular kids (I want her to be kind) but not too friendly (I don’t want her to be unpopular by association)
  • keep to a high(ish) standard in her piano practice (I want her to be accomplished, but I’m not one of those pushy mothers)
  • be upfront about her faith (I want her to stand up for Jesus) but not too upfront (I don’t want the other kids to think she’s weird)
  • be happy at school (I don’t want her to be unhappy) but no so happy that she hates being at home (I want her to love me as much as ever)
  • go to church even when it’s not fun (I want her to learn to serve) but also to have fun there (I don’t want her to hate church)1

Sorry about all the double negatives; but the truth is, there are a lot of bad(?) things I don’t want for her. Especially, it seems, unpopularity (probably because I was a bit of a dag myself, and hated it; like most parents, I visit my own disappointments on my children).

These desires lead to all kinds of strange behaviour. Like constant, nagging reminders about homework and music practice. Like asking my daughter if she needs more fashionable clothes (gulp!) and exploring the trendy teen stores a week before she goes to camp. Like frequent, irritating questions about her friendships. Like talking a lot, in front of her, about whether our church serves her needs.

After all this, there’s no doubt in either of our minds about what matters to me.

So what matters to me? What am I communicating to my daughter are the significant things in life? It seems these things are far more important to me than I realized:

  • popularity
  • trendiness (where did that come from?!)
  • academic success
  • impressing people
  • achievement
  • happiness
  • having your needs met

Some of these goals look innocent enough. Who wouldn’t want happiness and academic success for their children? But without me noticing, these goals grow bigger than God. I worry and nag. I spend more than I should (and teach my daughter to do the same). I get angry and impatient. I talk about things that don’t matter. I try to shape my daughter to my desires. Our relationship, predictably enough, suffers; and her godliness suffers too.

Acceptance. Achievement. A good education. What I want for my children, I want for me.

As so often in parenting, it’s time for repentance. It’s time to confess my idolatry to my daughter. It’s time for some honest conversations about what really matters: serving rather than being served, valuing inner more than outer beauty, caring for others even if you lose face, choosing friends wisely, pursuing godliness over success, and standing up for Jesus even when it makes you unpopular.

  1. When my daughter was younger the idols were a little different: the approval of parenting experts, a child whose behavior impresses others, an ‘educational’ toy collection – just to name a few.

13 thoughts on “The idols of a parent

    • Of course, Murray, I’d be glad if you did! Just don’t embarrass me too much, that’s all I ask. :) Only kidding. Go ahead.


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  3. Thanks for your honesty, Jean! I can see myself thinking the same thing when my daughter hits her teens! It’s good to acknowledge where that sort of thinking comes from–and where it leads.

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    • I’ve been reading that book with my husband, and finding it very helpful. Maybe it unconsciously influenced me? Certainly, the writings of people like Paul Tripp, Ed Welch and Tim Chester (all of whom are among my favourite authors) have massivley influenced me, so the similarities aren’t surprising.

      • I appreciated the detailed way you explored some of the deeper motivations that often underlie parenting. We are on the other end (19, 23, 25, 26). We are grateful to God for how each of them “turned out.” Ah, but what do I mean by that? I know I am still “turning out.” They are doing well. Yes, you are right that we too easily attach ourselves to our children (wether our past, present or future; our ego, emotions or reputation). Do we raise them to release them? We should have this goal before us at all times. How well do we transition from the control phase to the influence phase? I am concerned about the amount of formulaic thinking on parenting — especially among Christians. Formula in; product out! Or, so we hope. If only we had the right recipe! Many think they do (just look at all the books!) It’s no wonder that I see as much parental paralysis. We want so much to believe that we can “get it right.” We want the proverb about parenting to be in the genre of ironclad promise not a generalized observation. You know the proverb: “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it” (22:6). Or the proverb, “Discipline your children, and they will give you peace of mind
 and will make your heart glad” (29:17).

        So what do I say to parents who are broken hearted over a wayward son and tell me they thought they did everything “right” in raising him? Is it possible to do a good job parenting and end up with wayward children? We are God’s children. Do we go astray? Does God have any wayward sons and daughters?

        I have no doubt that I approach this subject very differently from when I had small children. Raising four children to adulthood has seasoned my thinking. More importantly, it has merged my theology with my reality. But wait! What does theology have to do with parenting? Much more than most realize. Lest I ramble on further, I wrote a little about this here: One thing a parent should not say:

  6. Whoa, it’s like I was writing this! My kids aren’t teenagers yet and yet I find myself fighting these same sinful desires for them already! What a sad state of affairs. It is an encouragement to see that I’m not the only one – and also an encouragement to keep fighting! Jesus needs to stay SO MUCH BIGGER that anything else!!
    Thank you :)

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