Read an Excerpt
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The Goal of Parenting
A Child with Character
My friend Tony had asked me (Dr. Townsend) to dinner to talk about a family problem. After we caught up on what was new in our lives since we had last seen each other, he began talking about his recent struggles with his fourteen-year-old daughter,
Halley. She was skipping school, drinking, and hanging around with a bad crowd. Tony and his wife, Denise, were working with the school, their church, and a counselor to deal with Halley's behavior.
'It must be awful. How are you handling it?' I asked Tony.
'It's been tough for all of us,' Tony said. 'But for me the worst part is what we've lost.'
'What do you mean?'
'Remember when Halley was three or four?'
I nodded, having been friends with the family for years.
'She was the sweetest, most responsive kid you'd ever see,'
he said. 'We were all so close. Halley wasn't perfect, but she was a good girl. Then out of the blue, this angry, lying, rebellious person seems to inhabit my daughter's body. I don't know this Halley.'
I sat quietly with my friend, empathizing with his sense of loss.
Sometime later, Tony and I met again, and I asked about
Halley. With a look of weary wisdom, he said, 'We've all worked hard, and things are a lot better. I've learned some things about how we raised Halley. We wanted her to be good. But we weren't doing a lot about helping her have good character. That's our focus nowadays.'
Tony's observation illustrates an important point about parenting.
Everybody wants good kids. Good children do what they're supposed to. This is a proper and right desire. We are all to do what is good and right in God's eyes (Deuteronomy 12:28). But many good children don't grow up handling life well. They may become either not-so-good people or good-but-immature adults.
As Tony learned, the issue is not about being good, but about having good character. That is the subject of this chapter.
The Importance of Being a Parent
If you are a parent, congratulations! You are engaged in one of the most meaningful jobs in the world. Although cleaning up spilled milk and arguing about dirty rooms may seem trivial,
you are doing eternally significant work: developing a little person into an adult.
God understands and supports you in this endeavor. People didn't invent parenting, God did. He is in a parent-child role with us, his people, forever. He loves us and wants to nurture and develop us. He wants us to call him by a parent name:
Being a parent is one of the most important tasks God gives anyone. Children are a blessing and a great heritage. Through parenting, humanity continues down through the centuries, our spiritual and cultural values are preserved, and the image of God is revealed in every new generation.
Parenting is a huge task. Parents shoulder the burden of being the source of life, love, and growth for their children. One of the elements of childhood is dependency. Dependency defines a child.
Children look to and need parents for all those things they can't provide for themselves. Especially in the early years, the parent takes responsibility for both knowing and giving needed elements of life to the child. A dependent person (child) and a source person
(parent) are at the core of the parent-child relationship.
If you are reading this book, most likely you willingly chose the responsibility of becoming a parent. If this isn't true, you have certainly still accepted this responsibility. Most parents have strong values and emotions that influence them to raise kids. For example, they want to:
Create love with a spouse, which can transfer down to another generation
Pass on their values to others
Create a warm and caring family context
Have fun with their kids
Contribute something to the world
These are all good reasons for parenting. However, once you have become a parent, it can be hard to get your head above water long enough to figure out exactly what you are trying to accomplish and how you will know when you get there. Parents need a way to keep in mind the ultimate goal of parenting.
Creating an Adult
Most parents want their children to grow up. In other words,
we define success not by how our children are doing today, but by what happens after they leave home. Imagine your children as adults in the following areas of life:
School. They are investing in training for life and career.
Job. They are growing in career life.
Dating. They are choosing people who are mature and have good values.
Marriage. They have chosen a life's partner, and they are working at their marriage.
Friendships. They have a close-knit group of friends who support them.
Personal values and conduct. They have thought through what is important to them and live consistently with good values.
Spiritual life. They are actively involved in a relationship with God.
All these help define what is a functioning adult. Adults take on the challenges of life and find their niche. They know what is important to them, and they focus on those things. They know their limits, and what they can't provide for themselves they are able to get from outside resources.
God designed your child to function independently of you.
This is what is so difficult about parenting: It's the only relationship designed by God that measures success by how well it ends. You are investing in helping your child leave you. In the biblical teaching that children should leave father and mother
(Genesis 2:24), the meaning of leave is 'to forsake.' Every mom and dad who have sacrificed for and loved a child suffer a real parent-wound when their child grows up and leaves. And yet mature parents gladly suffer this wound, because they know the benefits the child will receive from their investment.
Sadly, kids don't always grow up well. Sometimes they don't leave, and they depend on their parents far too long. At other times they leave, but they aren't prepared for adult life. They may not depend on their parents any longer, but they aren't functioning well in love or work. They are adults on the outside,
but they are broken or undeveloped on the inside.
Who Is Responsible for What?
Who is responsible for your child's maturity and readiness for the world---you or your child? This important question deeply affects a parent's attitude toward a child. Answers to it fall on opposite ends of the spectrum. Some see the child's successes or failures in life as primarily the parent's responsibility.
These parents diligently do whatever they can to help their child grow, and they feel that the child's adult years reflect on how they parented. Others see the child as taking the weight. 'I did my best, and he had a choice,' they say when problems arise.
We believe in the following three principles about responsibility.