Parenting has become more complicated than it needs to be. It used to be, as far as I can tell, that Christian parents basically tried to feed their kids, clothe them, teach them about Jesus, 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 and 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. Parenting may be the last bastion of legalism. Not just in the church, but in our culture. We live in a permissive society that won’t count any sin against you as an adult, but will count the calories in your kids’ hot lunch. I keep hearing that kids aren’t supposed to eat sugar anymore. What a world! What a world! 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.

As nanny parents living in a nanny state, we think of our children as amazingly fragile and entirely moldable. Both assumptions are mistaken. It’s harder to ruin our kids than we think and harder to stamp them for success than we’d like. Christian parents in particular often operate with an implicit determinism. We fear that a few wrong moves will ruin our children forever, and at the same time assume that the right combination of protection and instruction will invariably produce godly children. Leslie Leyland Fields is right: “One of the most resilient and cherished myths of parenting is that parenting creates the child.”

Excerpt from Crazy Busy, A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem

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18 thoughts on “Parenting Does Not Create the Child”

  1. scott walker says:

    In our house the pebbles were fruity and the charms were lucky. The breakfast bowl was a place for marshmallows, not dried camping fruit.

    Funny…cant wait to read the book

  2. Ben says:

    First time I’ve read an excerpt and immediately pre-ordered the book. As a 90’s child who wasn’t coddled and didn’t turn out as a complete nut-job, I applaud efforts to let our kids live and learn a little.

  3. Hal says:

    (Sarcasm alert) And pastoring does not create the congregation. Which is why you are equally flippant about how to preach and pastor. (End Sarcasm)

    I think you are mixing two things here. Truly our secular society is handwringing over the latest reports. And yes, Christian parents are influenced by all this. There is a worry that I can mess up my child that leads to fearful overbusyness, overprotectiveness, and lack of discipline.

    However, this fretting is not the same as intentional parenting. Too many parents are concerned about the cereal and NOT concerned about the spiritual heart of the their child.

    So, no, the cereal you eat is not going to kill you. No, the parent does not CREATE the child. I am not ultimately responsible for the choices my grown child makes.

    But thoughtful, skillful parenting is called for by God just as thoughtful, skill pastoring. The two are the same. We are called to be faithful and leave the results to God.

    In your desire to tell us not to fret(good!), please dont also tell us not to think and act. You would not say the same thing to your fellow pastors, would you?

  4. Pat says:

    Hal- I agree with you, though I don’t think you’re addressing what this post is about.

  5. Brian says:

    Pat, I agree w/ Hal as well. I don’t think the post is clear enough though to determine that Hal is or isn’t off topic.

    The post doesn’t do a well enough job defining parenting. To say that parenting does not create the child, what does that mean? Discipline creates discipline in the child. Teaching them not to be gluttons gives them healthy habits is good discipline which is a part of parenting. However, what is not parenting is thinking that restricting sugar is going to save them. If parenting doesn’t create the child, what does?

  6. Kraig says:

    Hal, I think the same thing could be said of pastoring… in the spirit of Kevin’s post:

    Pastoring has become more complicated that it needs to be. It used to be, as far as I can tell, that pastors basically tried to feed the flock, equip them for ministry, teach them about Jesus, and keep them away from bad stuff. Now Christians have to become radical Christ followers by experiencing authentic community in small groups that meet at the expansive church campus (no, wait, in their homes; no, never mind, at the church), while serving in children’s ministry and helping the less fortunate in the community and preparing for that international short term missions trip. They have to be disciple-making disciples before they are considered spiritually mature, and they must be monitored closely until completing years of educational and experiential training, to ensure that they teach the right thing in the right way.

    It’s all so involved. The pastor must lead the fundraising campaign and inspire the congregation to give above and beyond in order to erect fancy buildings for themselves instead of sending more missionaries or helping those in need. The pastor must manage the church staff and coach their performance and ensure they are on board with his vision of church development. The pastor must be present physically and digitally. He must blog and tweet and friend. He must call and counsel and visit. He must know all things for all people in the congregation, or at least all things regarding health, since that is most important. He must be up-to-date on who is where for what. He must pray for them—all of them—without ceasing. The pastor must deliver dynamic messages on relevant topics that speak to people where they’re at, while staying true to the text and preaching the whole counsel of God and making deep theological truths easily understood, in preferably no more than 25 minutes, with funny or emotional real-life illustrations throughout, so that the congregation can relate to the real-ness of the pastor.

    Of course, this is taxing on the pastor (being crazy busy), which is why he must spend adequate time with his family and enjoy time away with his spouse. He must also stay on top of the latest ministry trends. He must attend conferences so that he can learn how to cast the vision that worked for some celebrity pastors for his own church. If he does not already have a doctor of ministry degree, he should get one in his free time, so that people can have confidence that the doctor-pastor is not just a spiritual leader but a professional one too.

  7. anaquaduck says:

    I appreciate this post…we live in a world of extremes & contradictions. Generally posts are not necessarily sermons or teaching in the strictest sense with guiding texts.

    Unfortunately the times have changed or exchanged. Health & safety can be spun to suit a market like diets that come into & out of fashion faster than a turbo charged Mario cart & life takes on the seriousness of an endorsed NASCAR title when driving with Miss Daisy might be more appropriate.

  8. Paul Reed says:

    ” I am not ultimately responsible for the choices my grown child makes.”

    Perhaps, but you will have a substantial influence on your child. It’s surprising: When we judge an author, we judge him on the books he writes. If they’re good books, he’s a good author; if they’re bad books, he’s a bad author. Same for an artist. Or an athlete. Or your job. Or anything, really. But when it comes to parenting, I’ll see people who have 3 children, and all of them are rotten, and they’ll still insist they’re good parents.

  9. We see parental paralysis everywhere. It also appears in uncertainty about discipline. Child-centered parenting continues to be a problem in the Church.

    The first thing to do is to return to the basics. Remind yourself that YOU are the parent. Look in the mirror and say it to yourself if you must. “I am the parent here!” You’re the one who supposed to distinguish needs and wants when they demand what they want. It’s your job to set the terms for acceptable attitudes, speech and behavior.

    Don’t wimp out…. http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/does-your-child-control-you/

  10. Ron says:

    In case you’re wondering about the wisdom of this post, give a listen to this roundtable of pointed-headed people who in a very logical, informative, and even humorously entertaining way come to the same basic conclusions.
    http://freakonomics.com/2011/08/17/new-freakonomics-radio-podcast-the-economists-guide-to-parenting/

  11. Christy Noullet says:

    If parents don’t create the child then why am I JUST like them unintentionally? Why is my son almost exactly like me which is just like my Mother? He is just like my Husband in the things he has spent the most time with him on? I am just like my Dad in the things he spent the most time with me on.!?

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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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