Creating Safe Spaces in Our Parenting

As a dietitian and nutrition professor, I have the opportunity to learn and teach about food safety. Food safety is especially important in the summertime as the weather gets warmer. Foodsafety.gov gives four simple steps for keeping food safe. Food recalls and outbreaks generally occur when one of these four steps have not been followed.

  1. Clean – Wash hands, utensils, and surfaces often, as germs can spread and survive in many places.
  2. Separate – Raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can easily spread germs to ready-to-eat foods, so keep them separate.
  3. Cook – Cook to the right temperature. Use a food thermometer to ensure that foods are cooked safely.
  4. Chill – Refrigerate promptly. Bacteria that can cause food poisoning multiply quickly between 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit.

While not the most obvious connection, these food safety steps help me in parenting. They provide guidance as to how I can be safe space for my kids, a place where they can be honest about their behaviors, thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

  1. Clean – Like our food, I also need cleaning. When we confess our sin to God, be that in response to a frustrating situation at work or a disobedient child, we show our children that sin is a normal experience of living in a fallen world. Similarly, confessing our sin serves as a model for our children’s confession. Like bacteria, sin spreads from one generation to the next when our relationships and homes are left unclean. Confession is like a salad spinner that Jesus uses to wash and rinse us of our sin, so that we are able to move from shame or resentment towards peace and reconciliation with God and one another.
  2. Separate –Just as raw and cooked food need to remain separate, we are called to separate our parenting idols and need for control from God’s sanctifying work in our children’s lives. In a recent Rooted Parent podcast, “Fear Factor in Parenting: Fear of the Teenage Years,” Paul David Tripp encourages parents to start with their own heart, rather than their teen’s heart, when dealing with the sin in their household. Even now, in these first few weeks of summer, I am having to daily separate my idols of comfort and control as our predictable school schedules have ended and my home is filled with wet bathing suits, bored children, and sibling rivalry. Just as two cutting boards can help us keep raw meat and produce separate, prayer and gratitude are two tools the Lord uses to help me separate patient parenting from idols that lead to angry outbursts.
  3. Cook – In the same way a food thermometer is used to ensure food is cooked to the right temperature, Bible study and corporate worship ensure that we are listening to our children in the same way that God listens and deals with us, full of mercy and grace, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6-7). Bible study reminds me of God’s full redemptive story: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Corporate worship gives me a community of other Christians that are behind, with, and ahead of me in their Christian journey. Together, Bible study and our church family give me a more balanced and accurate perspective of my role as a parent and the sinfulness in my heart and household. A food thermometer ensures food is not under or over cooked, and God’s Word and God’s people ensure that I am not under or over estimating myself or my sin. I can trust God more fully when I am relying on him to tell me the temperature of my heart through the graces of Bible study and church.
  4. Chill – Chill out, or “chillax,” as one of my favorite pastor’s kids used to say. Whatever sinful behavior or cultural issue your child, church, or family is facing, it is no match for the God of the universe! When I become anxious upon hearing about my child’s sin, sadness, failures, frustrations, or anger, I risk sending the message that the issue is bigger than God or outside of his sovereign and good plans. When I am able to remain calm and let my reasonableness be known to my children, I communicate the peace of God in Christ (Philippians 4:5-7).

While the Lord still has work to do in all areas of my parenting, the two that are the most difficult for me are remaining calm and separating my idols from my parenting. With a rising 7th grader and kindergartener, we’ve just embarked on the tween/teen journey, so I am certain I will have lots of opportunities to confess and practice these steps in the coming years. Just as God is writing my children’s stories, he is still writing mine. There is grace and mercy, love and faithfulness for me, just as much as there is for my children.

God, through the Son and Spirit, is sanctifying and redeeming every recall and outbreak in our household when we fail to follow him, when we fail to clean, separate, cook, and chill as we know we should.

I hope that one day our children will say to my husband and I what the apostle Paul says to the believers in Philippi: “Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble” (Phil. 4:14). In this passage, Paul speaks to the unique role that the Philippians had in serving him in a way that met his needs and brought glory to God.

As parents, we also have a unique role to play as safe spaces in our children’s lives. The good news is that God will supply every need. In Christ Jesus, the safety steps are always followed, there is never a recall or outbreak. Parents and children alike are safe with him, whatever the season.

About The Author

Dr. Melissa Powell is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Assistant Professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance (HHP) at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga (UTC). She is married to Chris Powell, Executive Pastor at North Shore Fellowship, and the mother of two children. An old dog, a good book, a big salad, and a long walk are a few of her favorite things.

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