This is part 3 of the 3-part series, “Becoming a Parent & Discipling Children” by Jonathan Dodson
Often, when we face the fears and frustrations of parenting, we end up asking another question: “Can I have my own way?” Can I get instant parenting skill? Can I just hang out with the guys? Can I leave my responsibilities behind and go shopping? Can my kids just shut up and obey? In these moments, our will grinds against God’s will. When we insist on our own way, we reach the friction point in which personal freedom must give way to parental duty, and we fight it with every fiber of our being.
There are places in our hearts over which we have hung the teenager’s sign, “My Room. Do Not Enter.” These are rooms where the dirty laundry of our hearts reeks of selfishness. We want to parent on our terms and when our terms aren’t met, we get bitter or despondent. We yell because we can’t fix things and sulk because we are losing our identity. What is really happening? God is fixing us by reshaping our identity, and our fears and our frustrations are flares warning us of parent-centered parenting.
When our freedoms are removed, our idols are revealed. For some it may be the idolatry of time—I want to do what I want to do. For others, the idolatry of identity—I’m not just a mother! In these heart-wrenching moments, when we sense a loss of freedom, God is bringing us to himself through our children. It is when we find ourselves acting like children, defiantly insisting on our own way, that God wants to meet us. His aim is to show us our sinful rebellion against his way and lead us to repentance and renewal.
With the outstretched arms of the Spirit and the Son, the Father calls us away from bitterness and despondency into the delightful refuge of communion with the Trinity. God wants to lead us from frustration into fellowship with him by showing us that we do not have what it takes and that we can not always get our own way. Through the frustrations of parenting, God seeks to magnify his sufficiency by releasing his redemptive power and love in and through us to bless us and our children. In those moments of weakness, he wants to give us his strength, knowing that we become true parents when we are truly dependent on him. How then do we become mature parents, parents who parent redemptively?
In order to avoid parent-centered parenting, parenting which idolizes our freedoms and fears, mothers and fathers must be displaced from parenting. Instead of taking charge, Christ must take center stage in our parenting. Perhaps the biggest lie we have believed is that our lives are a story about ourselves and that our families exist to serve our needs. The first step in Christ-centered parenting is to repent of parent-centered parenting, of placing ourselves first in our families and in our lives.
Second, rejoice that God has created you to parent. Genesis 1:28 informs us that we were made and blessed in order to parent: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.’” Why fill the earth with children? Genesis 1:26 informs us that Adam and Eve were made in the image of the triune God: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” At the very least, this tells us that our parenting is a part of a grander story, a story whose plotline includes filling the earth with images of God, of his glory. As parents, we have been given the glorious task of participating in the spreading and shaping of the divine image of God’s glory on earth, through raising our children.
Third, recognize and receive God’s provision for all your parental and personal failures past, present, and future. As the story of Scripture makes plain, our ability to live and parent for God’s glory has been damaged by sin, sins of fear and of frustration, which diminish God’s glory: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3.23). Consider pausing now to repent of making much of yourself in parenting and in life, and receive the restorative forgiveness of God in Christ: “To him (Christ) all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). If we choose to believe in ourselves, that we have what it takes, then we reject our role in this story told by the prophets, a story of rescue and redemption. By relying on fix-it masculinity or wallowing in feminine frailty, we throw off God’s redemptive plan to restore his image in us and insist that we remain on center stage, no matter how strong or pathetic we may look.
Fourth, claim and display the power of God’s new creation. As forgiven parents, we are not cleaned up and left powerless to parent. The damaged image of God in us and our children can be restored and renewed to display the glory of Christ as his new creation. Those who believe in Jesus have “put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created us” (Col 3:10). By experiencing this image renewal, we align ourselves with the redemptive story, participating in the grace of God for the glory of God. Thus, the Spirit of God empowers us to live and parent like God in Christ. The power of this image-renewing work, in turn, produces God-centered parents who patiently and redemptively raise their children to keep Jesus on center stage in their own lives.
To be sure, this side of the new earth fear and frustration will never entirely disappear from our hearts. Redemption is a project. In fact, fears and frustrations will undoubtedly cycle in and out, manifesting themselves differently depending on what stage of life our children are in. However, by confessing our fears and frustrations and repenting of our pride and despondency, we can live in the richness of God’s forgiveness and the power of his new creation, displaying the beauty of God’s redemptive love for us and our children.
In turn, we will honor our heavenly Father and help our children learn to struggle well with their own fears and frustrations. By diverting our eyes from fears and freedoms and turning them to all that God is for us in Jesus through the Spirit, we will gain more strength and freedom, joy and peace than ten thousand babysitters could ever offer! Becoming a mature parent is a process, one that only truly happens when recognize and receive God’s provision and power in Jesus.
 This is the second of two diagnostic questions proposed by Dan Allender. His first question is: “Am I loved?” This question gives a biblical twist to Eldredge’s man-centered question: “Do I have what it takes?” In How Children Raise Parents, Allender charts the four different ways we can answer this combinations of questions, pointing out that only answers that provide a biblical path to parenting—“Yes you are loved, and no, you may not have your own way.”
Jonathan Dodson (M.Div, Th.M) is happy husband to Robie, and proud father to Owen, Ellie & Rosamund. He is also the lead pastor of Austin City Life church and a leader in The GCM Collective, PlantR and Gospel Centered Discipleship.com. Jonathan is also the author of forthcoming Gospel-Centered Discipleship and writes regularly for The Resurgence, Boundless, and The High Calling. He blogs at jonathandodson.org, enjoys listening to M. Ward, watching sci-fi, and following Jesus.