Stephen and Lisa Oharek
Parenting young children can be one of the more challenging and exhausting parts of life! Sure, when they’re young, you don’t have the more complex questions and emotions of teenage years. Certainly parents of young children are yet to deal with the complicated dynamics of relating to their children who have grown up and have families of their own.
Yet if you talk to many parents of young children, a frequent refrain that you hear is one of being tired—and sometimes discouraged. This is understandable. But it is not inevitable. There are ways that Christians can ameliorate some of the difficulties of parenting young children.
Much of our feeling of being overwhelmed is due to our worries and fears. We worry about our children: Are they getting an education that is good enough? Will they survive in this violent world? Will they grow up to love the Lord and his church? We also fear for ourselves: Are we doing the right things as parents? Are we doing enough? What damage might we be doing to these little ones entrusted to our care?
But in all these fears, we must remember that the only one we must fear is God! “It is the Lord your God you shall fear” (Deut. 6:13). God is God, and we are not. Ultimately, our fears boil down to an issue of trust: are we trusting in ourselves, or are we trusting in God? To appropriate Matthew 6:27 to parenting, which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to your child’s life? It is certainly true that the calling for parents is a tremendous one, worthy of us taking it very seriously. But we must not fail to take seriously the God who entrusted our children’s care to our hands! Let us trust God for all the things we cannot do in parenting, and trust him for all the things we can do.
Another common source of stress in parenting is that, frankly, we might be overdoing it and wearing ourselves out in the process. Now in writing this, we should hasten to note that some parents don’t need to hear what we’re about to say. There are neglectful parents who need to be reminded that as stewards of God they need to be more diligent. But if we could paint with a broad brush, our culture is in a moment that appears to favor overparenting rather than underparenting.
Parents are overwhelmed with how many books there are on parenting (information overload!). There are too many children’s activities to choose from. Many parents overextend their time, money, and other resources because they feel the need to be a part of every activity or event for their children. This can lead to burn out—for the parent and the child!
So ask yourself: Whom are you serving? Whom are you trying to impress? Do not let the world around you tell you what you must be involved in. Allow yourself to be unburdened from the pressures put on parents.
It’s true that depriving them of this or that extra activity might leave a flag-football sized hole in their heart. But are we slowing down enough to be selective, choosing activities wisely, and not allowing our already overscheduled lives to get even worse?
In the end, doing too much might negate some of the good we think we are doing. It could be that doing a little less might be good for both the child and the parent.
Whether you do less or more, make sure that you don’t forget your role as the parent. God has instituted a particular kind of relationship between parent and child (Eph. 6:1–4). That relationship should include parental authority. Paul warned fathers not to exasperate their children (verse 4), and that exhortation must be carefully heeded today.
But let us not run the opposite risk of failing to provide the guidance and discipline that is needed—and by discipline, we do not mean only correction and punishment for bad behavior. We also mean the fuller process of providing a disciplined environment with structure, guidance, and the expectation for the child to become self-controlled and respectful to others. This hard work of discipline, when children are young, will really save a tremendous amount of work and stress when they are older.
Too many parents are asking permission of their children and catering to their demands. The parent-child relationship is a power struggle where the child will (understandably) search for boundaries and test those boundaries. Parents do their children a disservice if the boundaries are too pliable, leaving children to feel less confident and more open to fears. Giving young children too many choices can lead to feelings of insecurity.
On the other hand, parents who provide loving but firm rules give their children the comfort of knowing there is structure, and structure can be very good for a relationship! The Lord has given us structure in his commands, and we rest secure in him that he knows what is best for his children.
One practical way to implement structure in discipline is to be prepared for problems (disobedience, fights between siblings, etc.) and have a plan of action. Decide consequences ahead of time. Don’t be surprised by disobedience; be ready for it. This will help you remain calm and more confident to enforce the boundaries. Think of rules ahead of time and prioritize. A child who can clearly see boundaries established and maintained by the parent is a child who will feel more secure.
Christian parents are not alone in this great endeavor. They should be rooted and active in a solid church. And their fellow church members should be supportive of them in prayer and with words and deeds of encouragement.
You can help parents by simply offering to babysit one night for free, so that a tired couple can have a night out alone. Nonparents in particular might consider volunteering to serve in the church nursery or to teach a Sunday school class for young people. In our church one year, we sent out regular emails to parents with tips, encouragement, and humor (and there is much to laugh about with parenting!). Really, there are limitless opportunities to help out one another if we will but take a moment to consider it.
There are many older congregations that pray, sometimes for years, that the Lord would bring more young families into their midst. Well, if God is pleased to lead such young families to your church, make sure you don’t miss the opportunity to serve them well, once they arrive.
Whenever a covenant child is baptized in our church, there are two key truths that we are reminded of. First, when the parents take their vows, they are not only vowing to work hard to bring their child up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, but also acknowledging their need to trust in the Lord, not just in their own human efforts.
Second, at the baptism of a covenant child, our members are reminded of their obligation to love this child, to receive this child as a member of the body of Christ, and that they should commit themselves to assist the child’s parents in providing Christian nurture.
These two things remind parents that they are not alone: we have a great Lord and his bride, the church. Take heart, parents! Great is your opportunity to serve the Lord and these little ones. And great is the Lord who has called you to such service!
Stephen Oharek is the pastor of Reformation OPC in Oviedo, Fla.; Lisa Oharek is his wife. They write from personal experience. New Horizons, January 2017.