Modern parents like me live in a swirling sea of advice and information. We’re desperately trying to keep up with the 10 Things Every Parent Must Know, the 12 Mistakes New Parents Make, and the 17 Habits of Highly Happy Families. But we end up feeling confused by conflicting advice, guilty about our imperfections, and afraid of damaging our children.
Modern parents are desperate for good news. Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood, writes:
Most parents are frantically doing their best in a world where the goal posts are not just moving—they’ve actually disappeared. . . . In a world of tumultuous change, confidence is thin on the ground. The moral and social certainties [of previous generations] have disintegrated, and there seems to be nothing to put in their place.
About five years ago, those disappearing goal posts were really getting to me. I was craving some unchanging, timeless truths for parenting. So I reached out to the ancient wisdom of my spiritual ancestors. I opened my Bible.
I went looking for little pieces of advice, but the Bible lifted my gaze to see the bigger picture that puts life and parenthood into perspective.
Scripture has good news for modern parents! Here are the three truths that helped me the most:
1. We Were Made for More Than Momentary Happiness
Our world clamors to convince us that the goal of life is happiness. We’re constantly told, “Do whatever makes you happy; follow your heart.” When you ask modern parents what we want for our children, we respond in unison: “We just want them to be happy!”
But the more we chase happiness, the less we seem to find it. Rates of depression and mental illness among both adults and children have never been higher. If life is about feeling happy, then most of us are failing badly.
The more we chase happiness, the less we seem to find it. . . . If life is about feeling happy, then most of us are failing badly.
But the good news of the Bible is that we—and our children—were made for more. Its opening chapters show that humans were made in our Maker’s image for a bigger purpose—to honor him by living well in his creation and doing good to his image-bearers.
It follows, then, that parenting isn’t about making our children feel happy all the time, but about helping them to know and live out their God-given purpose. And according to the experts, this approach is actually more likely to give them a sense of genuine satisfaction in the long run. In his book The Happiness Trap, Russ Harris writes:
When we clarify what we stand for in life and act accordingly, then our lives become rich and full and meaningful, and we experience a powerful sense of vitality. This is not some fleeting feeling—it is a profound sense of a life well lived. (15)
2. We Don’t Have to Be Perfect
If modern pop psychology has taught us anything, it’s this: “It’s all your parents’ fault!” Naturally, when we become parents, we start to worry about what our children will be telling their therapist in two decades.
Parents and children were created to honor God, live well in his creation, and do good to others. But, as we read in Genesis 3, our first parents disobeyed God and were banished from the Garden of Eden. Sin and death now work against us.
It was there—outside the Garden—that the first children were born. In this fallen world, parents can never be perfect—we will have both a positive and negative effect on our children. And in this fallen world, we can’t stop bad things from happening to our children. These dangers can leave us feeling guilty and afraid.
But the good news of the Bible is that there is one perfect parent: God. He invites us to stop being “grown-ups” for a moment and to run to him like little kids. When we humbly confess our failings, God forgives us through the death of his perfect child, Jesus, and fills us with his Spirit to try again tomorrow. We aren’t in control of our children’s world, but our Father is. And he is working all things—good and bad—for the good of his children.
Interestingly, experts are urging modern parents to give up their perfectionism and aim to be simply “good enough.” Our mistakes can become opportunities to show our children how to navigate life in this fractured world.
3. We Don’t Have to Do This Alone
Another reason modern parenthood is so hard is that for the first time in history, we’re trying to do it alone. Many of us have moved away from our extended families and the places we grew up. Even if our parents live nearby, many of them are busy working during the week. Our relationships with our neighbors are also more transient and superficial than in previous generations.
On a day-to-day basis, then, it can feel like it’s just us—Mom, Dad, and the kids—battling against the world.
When I started reading the Bible as a desperate modern parent, the frantic story of our little family began to sink into the strong embrace of a much bigger story.
But the good news of the Bible is that we weren’t meant to do this alone. Jesus invites all people—young or old, married or single—to become children of God through faith and to join his spiritual family. When we bring our nuclear family into God’s big family of faith, we find spiritual brothers and sisters of all ages who can encourage and support us in the task of raising our children to know and live out their God-given purpose.
When I started reading the Bible as a desperate modern parent, the frantic story of our little family began to sink into the strong embrace of a much bigger story. I gradually found my confusion giving way to clarity, my guilt and fear to freedom, and my uncertainty to the confidence that comes from knowing your place in God’s big picture. And that is good news indeed.