Note: Sometimes I write about parenting and relationships. I have to say that most of my thoughts are from observation and study, as well as from the perspective of a son, since I don’t have any children of my own at the moment. I say this because I want to avoid a common response people have when reading a single or even a few posts on a topic: thinking its gospel truth.
It’s an opinion and a perspective that still needs individual contextualizing and application. I don’t believe that one has to be in a relationship to have wisdom about it, just as I don’t believe only married people understand marriage, or parents understand parenting. If that were the case, why are we taking the word of Jesus, and if you argue He is in a relationship with the church “His bride”, then what about Paul, who is responsible for much of what we believe about the topics.
The point is wisdom, if wisdom at all, is wisdom no matter what the source. The tricky part is discerning what is truly wise. That’s why don’t be a lazy thinker and do your part: Study. Besides, no matter how dumb a point can be, is there always some insight, if not even some entertainment, to be found. This is why it’s good to remain open minded.
I think two of the most important and fulfilling gifts (among many important gifts) parents can give their adult sons and daughters are freedom and unfailing love. And by “adult” I include teenagers as they should be acting like adults with responsibilities and accountabilities by this point. If they’re teenagers or older but not acting like adults, they’re not adults as adulthood is more about character than a number. (I don’t know why people think there “should be” this teenage period that we’re allowed to waste because it’s a normal stage. Why waste the time that life is made of?) If supposedly adult sons and daughters don’t understand the importance and reality of responsibility and accountability then that’s a big problem, and I would not advise treating a non-adult as an adult no matter how old he is. Keep in mind we do them no favors by not having allowed them to develop.
To give someone freedom means to allow someone to live as they see fit, to allow them to meet the opportunity and challenge of choices, and to make their own decisions. This means they are free to reap the rewards of their decisions – but also the consequence of their mistake – which can be very serious. Now of course this doesn’t mean letting them do “everything”. Even as you let them enjoy freedom, they still need to understand that “our freedom ends where the freedom of others begins” meaning we still live in community, and to preserve the harmony of that community, we must govern our personal freedom, if not internally (through love, kindness, self-control, etc.), than externally (through governments and laws). This means that we have the power to hurt others, but that also means they have the power to hurt us. This means we’re free to be selfish but they are free to be selfish towards us as well. Freedom doesn’t make things right or wrong, it only means it’s possible for you to choose the route and reap its consequences. This also means that we have the freedom not to choose God but that also means He has the freedom to accept our choice.
A great example of a wise father granting freedom is the story of The Prodigal Son. The Father accepted what the son wanted even if it hurt them both in the process. (I just want to note, again, this is an adult son who thought he knew what he wanted. Also, this son had the guts to move out. The worst is someone who wants the freedom, is too weak to move out, yet still feels entitled to living like a prince or princess.) God didn’t try to prevent a disaster. He knew, that if his son’s heart was like that, the disaster was just a matter of time. I think too much parenting these days are extremes of disaster prevention and disaster neglection. Too much disaster prevention can lead to stifling, which is a disaster in itself. Too much disaster neglecting can lead to… well… Disaster. Either extreme, you have a disaster.
The Bible says to train up a child in the way he should go. What does the word “train” mean? It means to lead forth. Parenting is leadership. It is influencing and serving our sons and daughters in a way that they, out of their own decision-making, choose to do what’s right. It is not merely disaster prevention and it definitely isn’t disaster neglecting.
Training them, and then giving them the freedom to strengthen their own decision-making is important. It’s like how mother Eagles are said to push their babies out of the best to learn how to fly. I’m convinced many people are weak today because their parents didn’t push them out to fly, and worse, encouraged them NOT to risk falling. One cannot fly without risking falling. The funny thing about this is, when one who soars falls to the ground, he lands where those who never flew have been all along. At the very least, the guy who flew, experienced the sky, even if briefly, which is better than someone who knows only dirt.
This leads me to my 2nd gift: unfailing love. Part of soaring is falling and unfailing love is the best fall back. Think about it, when a child learns to walk, he will inevitably stumble, his legs have yet to develop the strength and technique needed to walk effortlessly. What more when a young person who is trying to navigate the the outside real world (assuming they were given the freedom to go out in the first place)? They will most probably stumble more than a little bit. For someone who has the guts to reach for greater heights, his chances of falling and falling hard are even more likely. People ask, why do great men fall so greatly? My answer is: because they’re the only ones who can (only those who have reached great heights can fall from great heights) and it’s the only way they can (when you’re flying high that’s the starting point of your fall). Knowing how to deal with failure, especially great failure, is not just a survival technique but a success requirement for imperfect people wanting to achieve beyond themselves.
To have the confidence that someone will love you no matter what brings confidence to dare, to try, and not give up. Just like a parent will encourage their baby to walk, to try, to stand up again, encouraging him with words like “That’s ok. Dad is here. One more step.” Parents can provide that support even as they encourage their children to take more steps in ways they have not done in the past.
I like the analogy of a walking child for a few reasons. One lesson is this: A parent cannot learn to walk for a child. A child has to learn this skill on his own. Another lesson is: A parent cannot carry his child forever nor walk for his child. The child has to walk on his own if he is to go far. And a third lesson: Despite not being able to walk or learn to walk for his child, a parent can still provide encouragements, strength, and guidance for the child that’s both learning a skill and gaining the strength to execute that skill.
Many times, when I’m talking to young people, I am saddened by the weakness of the character someone reinforced in them, most of the time unknowingly, by emphasizing the fear of failing, pain, discomfort, and embarrassment, or by crushing them and tearing them down with words and actions thinking that’s the best way to “toughen” them up. You don’t build something by never laying the first stone (out of fear of things not working) neither by tearing it down (through lack of love). What fear and harshness produces is a discouraged person or a hardened person, both of which are bad for society.
No one learns without risking these things. No child walks without falling. We don’t learn how to ride a bike without a few scratches and scrapes. The complications of life can be even more daunting. We reinforce fears by framing every failure as “ultimate failures” and permanent consequences. While I agree there are some things that cannot be undone, one does not have to remain defined by past mistakes. Parents can take the lead in framing every failure as a learning opportunity, a bond strengthening activity, and a chance to reinforce the principles of forgiveness, mercy, faith, hope, redemption, humility, perseverance, and whole bunch of other important values that many times are best taught during low points. I myself have had to work hard to block out comments people have said regarding my failures and mentally reframe them as motivation to fight harder and do better next time. By keeping unfailing love available, partners create a safe place for broken wings to mend that they may heal to become stronger than before, and that their owners may soar once more.
The goal is for sons and daughters is to thrive and someday grow into the adults who help others thrive. The goal is not sanitation nor to survive with the least scratches. Nothing will thrive if it is suffocated – even if the suffocation is well-meaning. You cannot choke the life out of something with a burden of expectations and expect it to flourish. Also, nothing will thrive without the attention and care that love brings.
In short, parenting is a tough job, not so much because it means having a lot of responsibility (though that can be difficult too), but more because it’s probably the most selfless example humans have of what it takes to have a thriving community: People who daily choose to overcome their limitations and fears to provide a better future for another, even as they are prepared to embrace that same person when he or she fails, simply because they are loved.