Fear for our kids. Every day, it chokes parents either by causing us a little anxiety or full on panic attacks. What if our son sees pornography? Or our daughter becomes a victim of creepy sexual predators online? (By the way the “nice girls” are more vulnerable because they don’t want to say no to someone lest they hurt their feelings.) What if our sweet 8-year-old grows up and rejects God? And will our 25-year-old who claims he is now an agnostic come to love Christ? The truth is, fear reminds us that we are out of control. Living with kids is like living with our hearts outside of our chests. When they hurt, we hurt. When something bad happens to them we want to grab hold of that thing and squash it- anything to make our kids feel better.
One of the most painful realizations as a parent is that there really isn’t that much we can control in our kids’ lives. When they are toddlers, we make sure they don’t choke and keep them in the safest car seat we can find. During their middle school years, we get them on the best soccer team, encourage them to have the friends we think are good for them and when they are teens, we watch them like hawks. No bad boyfriends. No drinking at parties. If they are showing signs of depression, we get them help. If their grades plummet, we are quick to find out why.
But even with our most diligent efforts, we realize that we are in fact, in control of very little in their lives as they get older. We can’t sit in the car every time they drive, and we can’t look at their screens every time they open their laptops. This is where parenting becomes very painful.
As if normal childhood dangers weren’t enough to keep us up at night, there are more risks to our kids’ health than ever before. Young kids are bullied, teen girls believe that their value lies in their thinness or being sexy. Boys are taught when they are young that they are not supposed to feel deeply and when they grow older, they are confronted with messages about how they are not needed by women- for anything. Grade-schoolers ask why Susie now wants to be called Sam, why their best friend has two mommies or why a classmate’s 15-year-old sister is having a baby. We don’t want to respond in a way that will offend the people he is describing because we don’t want our son to be criticized not just by friends but by his teacher.
So, what is a Christian parent to do? As tempting as it is, we can’t keep our kids away from all the confusion and dangers: screens, kids who bully, coaches who are cruel, boys who insist they are girls and third grade girls who talk about the need to lose weight. What we can do is rely on biblical truth and trust it.
In 1 John 4:18, we read, “Perfect love drives out all fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” I like this NIV version because the word “drive” is more forceful than other versions using “casts out.” I don’t know about you, but I need my fear forcefully pushed out of me. It becomes my motherly companion because it moves with me everywhere. I envision God coming up from behind us with a hammer, leaning against our backs in order to push that fear out on its head. Sometimes fear is just too difficult for us to get rid of on our own- particularly when it involves our kids.
Parents, our job is not to fear the dangers our kids face but to confront them head on. This means making tough decisions about what to do with the dangers. We must learn how to speak wisely and compassionately to our kids about those with different values. We may need to postpone handing our kids an iPhone (please do) until they are older (late teens) or cause them embarrassment in front of friends because they can’t watch the movie at a sleepover (my kids often came home from sleepovers and as adults today, they thank me.) We must be willing to hear our kids’ hearts, empathize with their desire to fit in with their friends and lovingly tell them why they can’t do many things their friends can. Then, we must be willing to sit quietly and listen to them cry, yell and slam doors because we are so mean. This is tough for conscientious parents, but it is our biblical duty. Since God isn’t here to take a phone or video away from our kids or put parental controls on screens to keep bad things coming across the internet, we must. He expects us to.
I encourage each and every one of you parents to build a spine of steel. The emotional, physical and spiritual health of your kids requires it. This is no time for wishy-washy parenting stemming from fear. It is a time to parent from the strength that God gives us.
Image courtesy: ©GettyImages / simon lehmann
Meg Meeker, MD is a best-selling author and pediatrician. To find her online parenting courses or listen to her podcast Parenting Great Kids, go to meekerparenting.com.