Does Perfect Parenting Lead to Perfect Children?
Just last month I ran into a young 20-something cashier at the local Subway. After a brief discussion, he reminded me that I was actually his P.E. teacher at a local summer school about 15 years ago. He and I reminisced about some of the activities we did in the class (me thinking fondly of a 15-year-younger Todd). As I was leaving he said, “I remember what you used to say to us: ‘Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect!’” Yep! It’s true. That was a motto that had been passed on to me, and one that I often passed along to my students.
Well, 15 years, quite a few pounds, and many gray hairs later, I would still offer that advice to students who I teach or coach – that is in basketball, soccer, or any other pursuit that requires precise execution. However, I find myself in a new stage of life right now that lends itself to a very different perspective on performance. I am now the father of a 12 and 14-year-old, and have realized that I might be trying to also force my coaching motto into this complex new role as parent.
You see, I have finally discovered what every other parent who has gone before me has also discovered: this parenting gig is not for the faint of heart! Rarely a day goes by when the biggest challenge I face isn’t navigating all of the interaction between my children and myself. I have learned first-hand the gap that my sister spoke of when she said, “Our children were designed to have perfect parents, and we were designed to have perfect children – and frankly, we find ourselves continuously disappointed!”
God has graciously begun showing me my heart during these challenging times. One of those things is my desperate attempts to force my old coaching motto onto my role as a parent. I find my heart saying, “Parenting doesn’t produce perfect children. Perfect parenting produces perfect children!” Though I no longer wear a whistle around my neck, my quest for perfection in performance remains. Unfortunately (or fortunately), this noble quest falls drastically short of the Gospel!
My desire for my two children to turn out to be a Godly young man and woman has actually become an idol. Is this desire appropriate? Of course! However, when I find myself striving and stressing over implementing a rigid parenting regime so I can ensure that my children will turn out spiritually perfect, something in my own heart is not right.
Last month my son watched a YouTube video on the couch one afternoon. He seemed a little uncomfortable, so I asked him about the video. After a fairly awkward exchange, it came out that he was watching a video for an English assignment. The video showed a young man addressing Congress, explaining that he had been raised by two lesbian women, and that he was proof that gay couples are entirely adequate to raise children. After watching the video myself, my son asked me what I thought –acknowledging that he thought the young man made some valid points.
I would like to say that our conversation that followed was a loving exchange between a father and a son, wrestling with an extremely complex matter. I would like to say that I empathized with his position while asking questions and listening to my son as he trusted me with his fragile opinions on this matter. This is how I would have level-headedly advised any parent of the students in my ministry to respond in such a situation.
What actually happened is that, as my son began to express his approval of this young man’s message, I spent the remainder of the “conversation” lambasting him for buying into this liberal agenda. I corrected. I challenged. I stood high on my soapbox to make sure he could see where I was coming from. Sigh.
So what made me break every single piece of advice that I give to the parents in my youth ministry? The fact that my heart idol requires that my children land squarely in the place of perfection when it comes to their theology and their view on social issues. In that moment, my son was displaying (what I deemed to be) imperfect behavior, so I switched into “perfect parenting mode.” Correct. Correct. Correct.
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul uses the word perfect. Verse 9 says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul says that these words are actually the secret to Christ’s perfect power. I sure would love Christ’s perfecting power in my parenting. I would also love for my children to have Christ’s perfecting power! What did God offer Christ’s perfect power in exchange for? It was in exchange for my weakness, and my many imperfections.
You see, the danger of my heart idol of perfect parenting (in order to produce perfect children) is not just a problem for me. In my idol, I communicate a message to my children as well. They hear that their behavior, their theology, their belief system must be perfect; the message I communicate is, “You have to be strong! You have to be capable. Your righteousness is in your hands.”
But the Gospel message is that I am weak, and that my children are also weak. Otherwise why did a Savior need to come and die for us?
When my son doesn’t dare talk to me about things that confuse him, it is because I have communicated that he needs to be perfect in his beliefs already, that there’s no room for questions. What if he trusted that I had bought into the idea that we are all weak and frail? And when he struggles with different ideas, what if he knew he would receive grace from me instead of judgment? Maybe grace would give him the freedom to ask questions, and then look to Jesus for strength and perfection, instead of expecting to find it within himself.
I am a very slow learner in the lesson that God’s power is made perfect in my weakness – ironically, it is the message I seem to experience most in my role as a parent! I am grateful He keeps showing me that the only perfection in my relationship with my children comes from a perfect Heavenly Father and His perfect Son, who continue to redeem this imperfect father and his imperfect family.