Taking the Guessing Out of Parenting

Throughout my time as youth pastor, one of the group’s favorite games was spoons. Each player starts with four cards, and there are always one less spoon than players on the table. One person begins passing out cards one by one from the deck. Each player has a split second to decide if they want to discard from their hand and keep the new card or decline the new card and keep receiving from the deck. The first player to get four of a kind grabs a spoon and then it becomes a frenzied free- for- all to avoid being caught without a spoon.

Spoons is essentially a guessing game. Players make split-second choices with little information. Every decision seems like a blind 50-50 proposition.

Being honest, I feel like much of parenting is this way (only with spoons, the only thing at stake is bragging rights). Yes, there are principles and yes, the Bible gives us advice, but on the ground level, many decisions feel like blind 50-50 propositions. Should we put our kids in a public school or a Christian school, or homeschool? At what point should we make a change? How much should we stack their schedule with extracurriculars? Do I take the wheel on their schoolwork or let them fail on their own? Do I come down hard in disobedience or let it go in mercy? And my all-time favorite: when I hear kids fight, how do I find out who is at fault? Should I intervene or let them figure it out on their own?  

Unlike cars, computers or appliances, there is no troubleshooting manual for kids. They aren’t mass-produced machines made by a common manufacturer, they are individual, independently-thinking creations of a holy God. Therein lies the problem, and fortunately, the solution. 

The more we begin to think of our children as unique instruments in the Creator’s hands, the more we can take the guessing game out of parenting. Here are four things that can help us make decisions for our kids:

Craft a Mission Statement

When I taught a Sunday School class to parents of teens, I had them write a mission statement for each of their children. Most of them used similar language: raise them to be Christ-like and follow Jesus. Having a specific mission statement helps in many 50-50 decisions where confusion may abound. When you have a 1-2 sentence summary of your ultimate goal for each child that you can revert to, it helps to ground you and keep you from drifting in your decision-making.

Relinquish Control

It’s tempting to think we can parent out of controlling and programming: Input A turns into output A, input B turns into output B. When dealing with a refrigerator or dishwasher, that makes sense. Read the owner’s manual, call customer service, and apply the necessary steps. Much of parenting is built on this assumption. Put your children in a good school and they will become good students. Punish disobedience wisely enough and they will be well-behaved. Take them to church weekly and they will become heroes of the faith.  

But children are unique creations of God. Each child has their own journey of faith that God has laid out for them. What works for one kid may not work for another. One may need a heavy hand with discipline, where another needs a lighter touch. One may need a strict schedule, where the other may need more freedom. 

That’s why our kids are in two separate schools. Yes, attending two schools creates complications, but trying to force one kid into another’s path for our personal convenience misses the point of helping them be formed into the image of Christ. James 1:5 says that, “if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” As parents we need to trust the Lord’s wisdom for each child’s path rather than relying on a single catch-all formula. 

Trust in the Lord for the Known and the Unknown

The more I venture into this parenting journey, the less I feel that I know, the less I am able to control, and the more I feel as if I am guessing. Wise parents know our powerlessness increases our dependence on God. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” Good parents will trust in what they know and turn to God when they are in a jam; godly parents not only trust him in a jam but take a step back from what they “know” and ask for God to give us deeper wisdom.

A grandfather once told me about his experience raising his kids in the church. When his kids were toddlers, he and his wife would meet with other young parents in their small group and say to each other, “With us as parents, this vibrant church as the backbone, and what we know of the Scriptures, imagine what our kids will become! Twenty years from now our households will be full of missionaries, ministry workers, and other people who will set the world on fire for God!”  

Twenty years later, those parents had many difficult stories of grown kids who left the faith, who believed in God but hated the church, or who chose to live ungodly lifestyles. Some of what these parents thought would happen did come true, but the painful stories were plentiful enough to make them realize that they had not depended on God as much as on their own wisdom. 

When we seek God’s wisdom as opposed to relying on our own, we begin to realize that we are but mere instruments in the Father’s hands who are given these children for a season. Our children are ultimately his children on loan to us. As parents, all we can do is to be faithful to the calling of raising them and place our trust in his sovereignty in spite of our weaknesses.  

Prioritize the Who Over the What

The gospel is a “who” story before it is a “what” story. That’s why Paul says, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things” (Phil. 3:8). The “guessing game” of parenting becomes burdensome because we turn everything into a “what” instead of focusing on the “who.” Jesus died for us to get to know him, not to help us raise a certain kind of child.

Paul could make that statement because he was emphasizing trusting in God’s righteousness for his salvation instead of his own. He knew he only received righteousness through faith, not by works. The more we as parents pursue knowing Jesus and having a personal relationship him with ourselves, the more we will understand that he wants us in all of our weaknesses and failures, not because we meet some performance standard. The more we get to know Jesus, the more we accept that only his strength and wisdom given to us through the Holy Spirit can make us like himself.  

In turn, we can model this dependence to our children. When we forget what Christ died to give us, we naturally lean on our own strength and works to impress him in the hopes that he will notice and have favor on us. That will cause our children to view God, and us as parents, in the same way. 

But when we model a life of dependence on him marked by daily repentance, faith, and seeking his will, our children will begin to see God in a whole different way.  As we focus our lives on knowing and pursuing the person of Christ, many of the formulas we use to attain “success” in parenting fade into the background.  

Parenting will never be guess-free, but even in those moments of confusion, we have a God who uses all things to form us and our children into the image of his Son. Our job is to lean into him and trust his wisdom with the process as well as the result.

Did you know that Rooted now offers a one-day ticket for parents to attend our annual conference? We’d love to see you there!

Steve Eatmon has over 12 years of experience in youth ministry and a Masters of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary.  Currently, he serves as the pastor to high school and middle school students at the Chinese Bible Church of Maryland. He is married to Heather and they have two children, Ryan and Rachael.  

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