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The Essential Need to Make Parenting a Priority
Parenting has never been an easy endeavor, but today's parents face unique pressures in our high-tech, fast-paced world. Our society has traded traditional sex role stereotypes for expanded role opportunities for both men and women. For many parents, the result is increased performance expectations at the workplace and at home. In these hectic times, when the majority of new mothers in America return to work before their babies turn a year old, parenting often gets sandwiched between a multitude of competing priorities. Yet parenting isn't a subordinate role to be penciled into the available openings in our day planner. Rather, the responsibility of being the caretakers of our children's physical needs, as well as their most influential nurturers, teachers, role models, and mentors, is a high and noble calling.
I don't consider it an overstatement to say that parenting is the most important job a person will ever do. If you don't believe me, just consider the consequences of "blowing it." Nothing else you ever achieve can compensate for failing in this critical role. On the other hand, nothing else you ever accomplish will compare to the joy of raising a responsible, well-adjusted, competent, moral, happy individual, with whom you enjoy a lifelong positive relationship and share a living faith in a loving God. The privilege and responsibility of being a parent are among God's greatest blessings bestowed on humankind and are among the most fulfilling ways we are invited to become cocreators with God.
God--the Perfect Parent
As we contemplate the awesome responsibilities of parenthood, we can take comfort in having a perfect heavenly Father who serves as our model for the ideal parent. When God created Adam and Eve, he placed them in the Garden of Eden, which contained abundant provisions for all their physical needs, serving as a reminder of our commitment to our children's physical care and protection. Just as God created humans for a relationship with him and walked with Adam and Eve in the garden in the cool of the day, we, too, delight in our children and endeavor to build a strong emotional bond. Our relationship with God is so deeply personal that he suffers, weeps, and rejoices with us, modeling the depth of emotional intimacy we seek with our children.
God realized that human beings needed a human example of ideal behavior, so he came as the incarnate Jesus to show us how to live. The gracious gift of Jesus' example reminds me of the story about the little boy who was awakened one night by a loud thunderstorm. Terrified, he called out to his daddy in the next room, who came to his son's bedside to comfort him. Embracing his vulnerable little boy within his strong arms, the father spoke tenderly. "Don't be afraid of the storm, Son. Remember, God is here with us," he said reassuringly. "I know," the frightened youngster responded. "It's just that right now, I need someone with skin on!" Just as this child needed the tangible presence of a protective father, our children need parents who are daily and deeply involved in their lives, not distant or emotionally remote. Just as Jesus provides the model for the perfect way to live our lives, parents are the principal role models for our children, who readily imitate our words, attitudes, and actions.
In the same way that God is moral and just and provides consequences for sin, parents are to establish and enforce rules and boundaries for our children's own good. God also provides the perfect model of sacrificial love in the atoning death of Jesus Christ on our behalf. No sacrifice we ever make for our own children can compare to the willingness of Jesus to bear the sins of the world. God's model of unmerited grace and a personal relationship through Jesus Christ serves as our ideal standard of unconditional love and a unique relationship with each of our children. Finally, no greater example exists of parental love and acceptance than God's perfect example of forgiving and forgetting, seeking the lost, welcoming the prodigal, purifying the unclean, accepting the outcast, uplifting the downcast, redeeming the condemned, and healing the hurting.
The Tyranny of the Urgent
Despite the sacred metaphor of God as our heavenly Father, many people act as if being a mom or dad were an incidental role. We have all heard glamorized accounts of "superwomen" who keep working until their labor begins. Then, seemingly undaunted, they return to high-profile professions a few weeks after delivery, armed with a portable electric breast pump with which they express their milk at scheduled intervals for an alternate caretaker to feed to their baby. The implication is that quality parenting can be fit into an already crammed schedule as easily as a new hobby. The truth is that effective parenting involves continually reranking our priorities and being willing to say no to good opportunities in order to say yes to our children's needs. When we commit to being a parent, we must commit to parenting well.
To parent well, we must rank this responsibility above other priorities and learn to distinguish important activities, like spending quality time with our youngsters, from urgent demands, like ever-present work deadlines and household tasks. I've discovered that most of us structure our days around urgent priorities, while we ultimately define our lives by important commitments. This tyranny of the urgent often obscures the very things that are truly important. The key is to do something important every day. Yet we tend to live our lives as if there will be endless opportunities to get our priorities straight tomorrow. The seemingly noble psychology of postponement that allows us to achieve lofty career goals by delaying gratification steals our present moments with the convincing lie, "This isn't really it. Life will begin when ..." We say, "Someday when things slow down, I'll spend more time with my kids." "Someday, when I catch up at work, I'll cut back and focus on my family." Well, someday isn't a day we can designate on our calendars, and it isn't guaranteed to arrive. All we have for certain is now, today, this moment, and we must cherish it. All too often, tomorrow--if it comes at all--tends to arrive after we have missed irretrievable "might have been" opportunities with our loved ones.