Does it seem like parenting has gotten more complicated? I mean, as far as I can tell, back in the day parents basically tried to feed their kids, clothe them, and keep them away from explosives. Now our kids have to sleep on their backs (no wait, their tummies; no never mind, their backs), while listening to Baby Mozart surrounded by scenes of Starry, Starry Night. They have to be in piano lessons before they are five and can’t leave the car seat until they’re about five foot six.

It’s all so involved. There are so many rules and expectations. Kids can’t even eat sugar anymore. My parents were solid as a rock but we still had a cupboard populated with cereal royalty like Captain Crunch and Count Chocula. In our house the pebbles were fruity and the charms were lucky. The breakfast bowl was a place for marshmallows, not dried camping fruit. Our milk was 2%. And sometimes, if we needed to take the edge off a rough morning, we’d tempt fate and chug a little Vitamin D.

Trial by Error

I don’t consider myself a particularly good parent. I was asked to speak a few years ago at some church’s conference. They wanted me to talk about parenting. I said I didn’t have much to say so they should ask someone else (which they did). My kids are probably not as crazy as they seem to me (at least that’s what I keep telling myself anyway), but if I ever write a book on parenting I’m going to call it The Inmates Are Running the Asylum.

There are already scores of books on parenting, many of them quite good. I’ve read several of them and have learned much. I really do believe in gospel-powered parenting and shepherding my child’s heart. I want conversations like this:

Me
: What’s the matter son?
Child: I want that toy and he won’t give it to me!
Me: Why do you want the toy?
Child: Because it will be fun to play with.
Me: Do you think he is having fun playing with the toy right now?
Child: Yes.
Me: Would it make him sad to take the toy away?
Child: I guess so.
Me: And do you like to make your brother sad?
Child: No.
Me: You know, Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. That means loving your brother the way he would want to be loved. Since Jesus loves us so much, we have every reason to love others–even your brother. Would you like to love him by letting him play with the toy for awhile?
Child: Yes I would daddy.

I try that. Really I do. But here’s what actually happens:

Me: What’s the matter son?
Child: I want that toy and he won’t give it to me!
Me: Why do you want the toy?
Child: I don’t know.
Me: What’s going on in your heart when you desire that toy?
Child: I don’t know.
Me: Think about it son. Use your brain. Don’t you know something?
Child: I guess I just want the toy.
Me: Obviously. But why?
Child: I don’t know.
Me: Fine. [Mental note: abandon "why" questions and skip straight to leading questions.] Do you think he is having fun playing with the toy right now?
Child: No.
Me: Really?! He’s not having fun? Then why does he want that toy in the first place?
Child: Because he’s mean.
Me: Have you ever considered that maybe you are being mean by trying to rip the toy from his quivering little hands?
Child: I don’t know.
Me: What do you know?
Child: I don’t know!
Me: Nevermind. [I wonder how my brilliant child can know absolutely nothing at this moment.] Well, I think taking the toy from him will make your brother sad. Do you like to make him sad?
Child: I don’t know.
Me: [Audible sigh.]
Child: He makes me sad all the time!
Me: Well, I’m getting sad right now with your attitude! [Pause, think, what would Paul Tripp do?  Thinking . . . .thinking . . . .man, I can't stop thinking of that mustache. This isn't working. Let's just go right to the Jesus part.] You know, Jesus wants us to love each other.
Child: I don’t know.
Me: I didn’t ask you a question!
Child: [Pause.] Can I have some fruit snacks?
Me
: No, you can’t have fruit snacks. We are talking about the gospel. Jesus loves us and died for us. He wants you to love your brother too.
Child: So?
Me: So give him the toy back!

Then I lunge for the toy and the child runs away. I tell him to come back here this instant and threaten to throw the toy in the trash. I recommit myself to turning down speaking engagements on parenting.

Growing What You Can

I want to grow as a parent-in patience and wisdom and consistency. But I also know that I can’t change my kids’ hearts. I am responsible for my heart and must be responsible to teach them the way of the Lord. But nothin’ guarantees nothin’. I’m just trying to be faithful, and then repent for all the times I’m not.

I have four kids and besides the Lord’s grace, I’m banking on the fact that there really are just a few non-negotiables in parenting. There are plenty of ways to screw up our kids, but whether they color during church, for example, is not one of them. There is not a straight line from doodling in the service as a toddler to doing meth as a teenager. Could it be that beyond the basics of godly parenting, that most of the other techniques and convictions are nibbling around the edges? Certainly, there are lots of ways that good parents make parenting a saner, more enjoyable experience, but even the kid addicted to Angry Birds who just downed a pack of Fun Dip and is now watching his third Pixar movie of the week (day?) still has a decent shot at not being a sociopath.

I remember years ago hearing a line from Alistair Begg, quoting another man, that went like this: “When I was young I had six theories and no kids. Now I have six kids and no theories.” I must be smart. It only took me four kids to run out of theories.

Getting a Few Things Right

I look back at my childhood and think, “What did my parents do right?” I watched too many Growing Pains reruns and played a lot of Super Techmo Bowl (LT could block every extra point and Christian Okoye was a stud). I never learned to like granola or my vegetables (kids, stop reading this post immediately!). But yet, I always knew they loved me. They made me go to church every Wednesday and twice on every Sunday. They made us do our homework. They laid down obvious rules-the kinds that keep kids from killing each other. They wouldn’t accept any bad language, and I didn’t hear any from them. Mom took care of us when we were sick. Dad told us he loved us. I never found porn around the house or booze or dirty secrets. We read the Bible. We got in trouble when we broke the rules. I don’t remember a lot of powerful heart-to-heart conversations. But we knew who we were, where we stood, and what to expect. I’d be thrilled to give my kids the same.

I worry that many young parents are a) too adamant about the particulars of their parenting or b) too sure that every decision will set their kids on an unalterable trajectory to heaven or hell. It’s like my secretary at the church once told me: “Most moms and dads think they are either the best or the worst parents in the world, and both are wrong.” Could it be we’ve made parenting too complicated? Isn’t the most important thing not what we do but who we are as parents? They will see our character before they remember our exact rules regarding television and twinkies.

I could be wrong. My kids are still young. Maybe this no-theory is a theory of its own. I just know that the longer I parent the more I want to focus on doing a few things really well, and not get too passionate about all the rest. I want to spend time with my kids, teach them the Bible, take them to church, laugh with them, cry with them, discipline them when they disobey, say sorry when I mess up, and pray like crazy. I want them to look back and think, “I’m not sure what my parents were doing or if they even knew what they were doing. But I always knew my parents loved me and I knew they loved Jesus.” Maybe it’s not that complicated after all.

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Comments:


232 thoughts on “Parenting 001”

  1. Andrea says:

    Thank you, Thank you! You’ve hopefully made the lives of new (er) parents’ easier!

    (PS It’s Ted Tripp!)

  2. andrea says:

    thanks Kevin, this was the best article I have read all year!! I have 6 kids, home school and am married to a pastor. I am a good mom. But it is really hard to be JUST a good mom these days. I mean, once my son put his mouth on the water jug at church and let me tell you there was an outcry…he’s 5. Our kids are good kids, but they sometimes act like kids. Sometimes they eat sugar, which I know is tantamount to me willingly feeding them cancer. I get so many “helpful” comments and advice on raising my kids that it is overwhelming….seriously. “What, you let your children watch Disney? I mean Disney has totally undermined the role of parents in every one of their films….” “What, your kids eat loaded Popsicle brand popsicles full of dyes and sugar”….”What, your daughter is wearing jeans, don’t you know that undermines her role as a woman and is just shoving her into worldly feminism”….” your 13 yo daughter wears lipstick and powder…do you want her to be a prostitute”….ack…I just wanna parent my kids…I love the Lord, I pray with and for them, I read them the bible, I discipline them with the least amount of anger in my voice possible when they literally pour orange juice on my newly mopped floor, but I also am human….and I am doing my best :) Thanks for the encouragement!!

  3. David Murray says:

    Thanks, Kevin, for giving me a great laugh and a good hope. Glad there’s someone else with kids like me.

  4. April says:

    THIS…. is brilliant. :)

    I have a very … um… enthusiastic 3 year old who is currently right now upstairs screaming “MOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMYYYYYY” in the monitor refusing to take a nap because… well, who cares why, right?

    I couldn’t use any of this logic on him (yet) because he operates by the Toddler rules… “if I see it, it’s mine.”

    “If I want it and he has it, it’s mine”

    I know you’ve heard them….

    … so thankful to read this today…

    “moooooooooooooooooooooooooooooommmmmmmmyyyyyyyyyyyyyy”

  5. Thomas says:

    DeYoung to his kid: “Why do you want that toy?”
    Kid to DeYoung: “I don’t know.”

    Me to DeYoung: “What is your parenting advice?”
    DeYoung: “I don’t know.”

  6. Kim says:

    Okay, so Mom to 10 here (ages 22-3) and you never have enough wisdom, lack the need for encouragement, nor reach the place where you have it all figured out. Just as each pregnancy & birth are not the same, neither us the life that comes forth. Kevin, i am grateful for the gifts God has bestowed & the faithfulness with which you seek to apply them. This was timely encouragement as we are walking through troubled waters w/ our oldest son. We have an enemy and there are many families who have and are fighting a spiritual battle for the soul of a first born son. These reminders of truth were needed and confirmation of the Spirit’s prompting this week of being a visual example for their eyes to see. May His mercy, grace & peace be abundantly multiplied to you, your family.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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