The Good Parent 1. What Children Really Need

October 13, 2013

In the 50s, 60s and 70s, the mindset of most parents was "children are to be seen and not heard" In the 80s and 90s, the mindset of parents became "is it good for the children?" That's where we are today. A "Good Parent," our culture tells us, will never lose sight of that question. It's about the children.
So we have drawn a line in the sand - "Above all else, we will not commit the sins of our parents and grandparents. We will personally devote ourselves to making sure our children have everything they need; every opportunity to make it in this world." It sounds good and noble. After all, children are the future of this world. But, unfortunately, that commitment is often taken to an extreme, with results that are at best ... questionable. What kind of an agenda truly is "good for the children? Well ... it depends... on what kind of adult you are trying to produce.
So, parents, what kind of adult are you trying to produce? You have to decide, otherwise you will by default produce what our culture produces. Unless you are intentional about the kind of adult you are trying to produce, you and your children will simply fall into line toward the goal that everyone else is pursuing.
What is that goal? It's success. The default goal of parenting in our culture is to produce children who are successful as adults. We want our children to become adults who make a decent income, live in a nice house, have nice things, are socially-skilled enough to avoid rejection, and maybe even have a family of their own. That's pretty much what we're shooting for as a parent these days. That's why we choose the activities and experiences we choose for our children. We push them to do more, know more and be more so they can have more as adults.
There's nothing wrong with being a success in this world. All of us want our children to grow up and be successful. It's just that there's more to life than "having more." As Jesus put it: "Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot." 
Luke 12:15 (MSG) Beyond that, Jesus said, there's a hidden danger in living as if it is. What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Mark 8:36 (NLT)
Let me ask you: what do you want to hear your children say when they become adults? "Look at me, Mom and Dad. I've gained it all, I'm a success. But my heart is empty and broken." Or, do you want to hear them say, "I don't have very much but I am who I want to be and I am fulfilled because I am investing my life in something that matters."
We all know, life ends up somewhere in between – but at which pole are we aiming them? This gets to what I really want to say -
1. You can parent towards "success" or you can parent towards "significance."
You can encourage your children to do more, know more and be more so they can have more as adults – which is "success" – or you can point them towards a life of significance. Remember, there are no guarantees that your children will experience either one, regardless of what you do.
Now, if there are no guarantees, why not just settle for putting a roof over their heads and food on the table and let whatever happens happen? Does it really matter what we do as parents?
2. Environmental Engineering
Every farmer knows that there is no guarantee that all of their efforts will produce even the smallest crop. There are many uncontrollable factors at work. In addition, there is not one thing a farmer can do to actually make a seed grow. The best a farmer can do is to plant the seed and then work to create the most conducive environment possible for growth to happen. Farmers who create environments conducive to seed-growing dramatically increase their chances of a good harvest over those who do not. They understand that, from a purely human point of view, their greatest hope is in becoming a skilled "environmental engineer."
The same thing is true with parenting. Our greatest hope, humanly is to plant the seed and then become an environmental engineer.
As parents, we can't guarantee an outcome, but we can work to create an environment that increases the probabilities of that outcome. By the way, that's true whether you parent towards success or parent towards significance.
That's why the Bible says ... Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6 (NIV) What children learn and experience in their childhood really does shape the rest of their lives, for better or for worse. You and I, as parents have the greatest influence over that learning and experience. We engineer the environment and through that environment we either parent towards success or we parent towards significance.
There are 2 cultural trends that are on the verge of becoming a tidal wave that sweeps every child and parent into the march towards the goal of "success" – like it or not. I know that I'm probably going to offend some people in talking about these things, but I'm going to do it anyway – 2 trends -
A. Push children too fast too soon educationally.
"Many parents load their children's schedules with get-smart videos, enrichment activities and lots of classes in a drive to help them excel. The efforts often begin as early as infancy. Spontaneous, free play - whether it's chasing butterflies, playing with ‘true toys' such as blocks and dolls, or just romping on the floor with mom and dad - often is sacrificed in the shuffle. This can create stress for children and parents alike. It may even contribute to depression for many children." 
B. Over-involve children in high-octane extracurricular activities
Let's be honest - many of these activities don't give a rip about the family. There are games on Sundays and practices at insane times. You've got children these days who are training at the level of professional athletes 10 years too early. For what purpose? Many parents say, "Well, they like it." Oh, really? Could it be that they are playing and performing for you? If you really get down to where the rubber meets the road, oftentimes kids are playing for the parents. There's a whole generation of kids who are hitting burnout at age 18!
More importantly, will pushing children educationally and over-involving them in extra-curricular activities help your children when they are facing real challenges like "what to do about drugs? Sex?" Let's open our eyes. Stop buying into the myth that success in these environments will put your children ahead of everyone else. Not only will they not do that, they will also steal time and energy from the environment that has the best possibility of producing a life of significance.
3. Towards Significance
What do we mean by "a life of significance?" What kind of environment has the greatest chance of producing it? The default in our culture is for our kids to grow up and be a success.
"Success" is defined as "having more" in terms of money, property, happiness and whatever else they desire.
Significance is the opposite of success. What's the opposite of "having more?" It's "contributing more."
A person seeking success is primarily concerned with themselves.
A person seeking significance is primarily concerned with others.
A person seeking success is primarily concerned with getting.
A person seeking significance is primarily concerned with giving.
A person seeking success is primarily concerned with comfort.
A person seeking significance is primarily concerned with calling.
So we have a choice. We can create an environment that has a high probability of creating adults who are self-focused and ultimately concerned with getting and having more ... or we can create an environment that has a high probability of creating adults who are other-focused and ultimately concerned with giving, adding value, and being a contributor.
The first environment - tells children to "do more, know more and be more so you can be a success when you grow up."
The second environment – opposite - "Do less, know less, and be less so you can be significant when you grow up." "Be lazy, ignorant and unmotivated – that'll make your life really count!" That doesn't sound right, does it?
Look at God’s way of defining the opposite - "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." Psalms 46: 10 (NIV)
God is prescribing an environment that is quite different from "do more, know more and be more." It points towards significance.
Instead of doing more, God suggests that we rev things down occasionally and be still. Stillness allows us the space to wrestle with what really matters.
Instead of "know more," God says "know ME." Knowing God connects us to a reality that is beyond whatever seems most popular in the moment – a move in the direction of significance.
Instead of trying to "be more", God suggests that we humble ourselves and exalt Him to the highest place of authority.
Giving that place to God trusts that He has our best interests at heart and wants us to experience a life that truly matters.
Let's get practical. Assuming we would want to try to build these characteristics into our children, how might we go about doing so?
1. If we want our children to learn to be still, we put limits on their activities.
This is very easy when they are little. "Turn off the TV and read a book. Have a sleep in the afternoon. Go to bed at 8:00 so that mom and dad have some time together."
It is much more challenging when they become teenagers. You can insist that they be present for several meals per week together as a family. Don’t allow them to be in more than one ECA at a time. If you want to be on a sports team, that's it. If you want to take piano lessons, great. "Be still" - leading our children to rev it down is important. One way to do it is to "be the parent" and put limits on their activities.
2. If we want our children to grow in their knowledge of God, we make church a family priority.
Obviously there are other ways that we can learn about God but it starts here. I'm not trying to be legalistic or put a guilt trip on anybody. But think about it. If you miss every other Sunday because of this or that, not only have you cut out half of the opportunities your children have to grow in their knowledge of God, you've also doubled the influence of the world in their life. You are aware that your children are bombarded daily, hourly with the message that "it's all about you ... it's all about getting ... you are the only person who can say what is right for you"?
3. If we want our children to see God as the highest authority, we try to model that in our own lives.
When God gave Israel the 10 Commandments, this is exactly how He said parents should teach their children about His authority.
He said to the adults: Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads."You learn what I want. You get clarity on my commandments." Then, he said: Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Deuteronomy 11:18-19 (NIV) "You become the model for your children." This doesn't mean you have to be perfect or pretend to be perfect. In fact, it means just the opposite. If you're going to be a good model of relationship to God as the highest authority in life, that includes letting your children know that you mess up and fall short of His intentions and that you need His grace and mercy as much as anybody.
Now, having said all of that ... let me say again, that strategies like these only serve to create an environment. They don't make the seed – or the children – grow. Putting limits on activities or any other similar strategy won't guarantee that your children will learn to be still. Prioritising church as a family won't guarantee that your children will grow in the knowledge of God. Modeling your personal faith and obedience to God's authority won't guarantee that your children will do likewise. In fact, I can take you to families who have done all three of these only to have their children turn their back and walk away.
However, experience shows that the parents who do these things dramatically increase their chances of producing significance-oriented adults over those who do not. That's why a wise parent, even though there are no guarantees, will do them.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:7 (NIV)
Let me say a few things in conclusion - Some of you younger people here today are old enough to understand what I'm talking about. You don't need mom and dad to hold your hand on this. You can take the initiative to be still. You can take the initiative to know God. You can make God the highest authority in your life, higher than even you. You can start creating your own environment that will give you the greatest possibility of living a life of significance. You really can.
What's cool is that some of you who are teenagers are already doing this. In fact, you're setting the standard for your parents. Way to go. Keep it up! At the other extreme, some of you teenagers are hiding behind your parents. You could be creating this environment in your life, but it's easier to say, "My parents aren't doing this and they aren't doing that. I'm from a blended family, etc, etc." Listen, there comes a point when you can't hide behind your parents and you need to take responsibility for your life.
Parents, regardless of what they do, the bottom line is still the same: you're going to parent towards success or you're going to parent towards significance. The choice is yours. You have to focus on that and leave the rest in God's hands. We've got to trust Him to give us what we need in order to be able to do what we should. That's what we'll be talking about next week when we look at "what parents really need." I hope you'll be here. Until then, let's pray.

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