On Sunday, I baptized our oldest son Timothy. He also turned 13. I mention the baptism before the birthday because it matters more.
But I don’t want to give the impression that the 13th birthday is insignificant. It’s the year that English-speakers move into what we call the “teen years.” We officially have a teenager at home, a soon-to-be eighth grader who is about to overtake me in height (admittedly, not a hard marker to meet!).
Last week, a friend asked me about my biggest fears in parenting during this next phase of life. Here are the three that came to mind.
1. I fear I may push my kids away from God instead of toward him.
As fathers and mothers, we model the love of God to our kids in different ways. I know that whenever my children think of their heavenly Father, they will in some way associate him with their earthly father. The responsibility of modeling the character of God to my children makes me feel so honored and so inadequate.
My fear for the teenage years is that, in the midst of the drama, the mood swings, the debates and disagreements, and the inevitable growth of independence, I will respond in ways that push my kids away from God instead of toward him. That I will consistently model something untrue about God.
For this reason, I pray that God would give me a soft and repentant heart, a willingness to own up to my sins, so that our kids would see that leadership in the home is not opposed to admitting I’m wrong, or that I need forgiveness. I also pray that God will not allow my fear of making mistakes to make me passive and thus forfeit my leadership role through apathy.
A good father needs to have a combination of grace and boldness, with strands of love and authority tied so tightly you can’t untangle one without the other.
2. I fear communication channels will break down.
For years, I’ve enjoyed tucking my kids in at night and praying with each one of them. Sometimes, we get into conversations. The older the kids get, the more frequent (and long) the conversations are.
The teen years frighten me because I worry my kids won’t talk as openly to me, that I won’t be invited into their lives as much. Now, a measure of distance may be a normal part of adolescence, a way of figuring out how to deal with life without Mom and Dad’s input all the time. But I worry that the normal strains on relationship will weaken my kids’ desire to confide in me, that when they find themselves mired in sin and its consequences, they might suffer silently by letting shame keep them from healing and wholeness.
For this reason, I pray that no matter what happens, I won’t hurt my kids’ hearts, and the lines of communication will stay open. I also pray that I will be open and available, quick to listen and to express interest, not “too busy” for conversation and counsel.
3. I fear my portrayal of the Christian life will be dutiful, not beautiful.
As Christian parents, we want our kids to know what they believe and why, to be fortified in faith and ready to stand out in a world that is hostile to the gospel. I want the pressure of their peers to pale in comparison to the urge they sense from the Spirit to share their faith. “I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are walking in truth.” (3 John 4) This verse is what I hope to be able to say for the rest of my life.
Along these lines, I want my kids to want to be faithful to Christianity. I do not want them to follow Jesus out of obligation or duty or habit, but to be captivated by the beauty of Jesus Christ. My fear is that, in the daily routine of life and busyness, I will lapse into a dutiful, begrudging Christianity that is guilt-ridden instead of grace-driven. I worry that in my desire to impress upon my children the truth of Christianity, I may overlook the vital responsibility of showing my children the beauty of Christianity.
For this reason, I pray that my wife and I will model the beauty of orthodoxy to our kids, and that the Spirit of God will take all of our efforts and root these desires and practices deep into their hearts.
From the moment we became parents, my wife and I have felt inadequate and unequipped to be parents. Now, at the threshold of a new stage of life, I am reminded that, just as we’ve had to do at every point until now, we must entrust our children to the Lord’s care. King Jesus promises to finish what he has begun. And so, I take these fears to the loving and wise Father who entrusted these children to us, and I pray for his strength to be made perfect in our weakness.