Over-Parenting Vs. Missional Parenting

Over-Parenting Okay, I’ll be the first to admit it. I’m an overprotective parent. I have a tendency to overdo it and obsess over the little things that don’t really matter. I guess that’s why I was intrigued by TIME magazine’s cover story a couple of years ago, "The Case Against Over-Parenting: Why Mom and Dad Need to Cut the Strings."

Nancy Gibbs begins her article with these provocative words: "The insanity crept up on us slowly: we just wanted the best for our kids."

Ironically, a good desire has led many parents to become obsessed with their kids’ safety and success. Gibbs calls them “helicopter parents” as they hover over their children’s lives from the classroom to the ball field protecting them and pushing them to succeed.

The result? By worrying about the wrong things, Gibbs says, “we do actual damage to our children, raising them to be anxious and unadventurous.” (Pediatricians have also found that this hurried lifestyle of constant pressure and stress can contribute to health problems like childhood obesity and depression).

So what’s the solution? Well, if the problem was simply hovering over our children’s lives, the solution would be to simply back off and lighten up. And there’s some truth to that! But the problem goes much deeper.

The problem is that we are afraid. If our greatest aim as parents is to protect our children and prepare them to receive some kind of academic or athletic recognition, than most likely we are parenting out of fear. Why? Because deep down we’re scared if they don’t succeed. We feel like we’ve failed as parents. So we work hard to prepare our children to make the grade or make the team so we would look good. It’s like our children are little trophies that we, as Paul Tripp says, “secretly want to display on the mantels of our lives as visible testimonies to a job well done” (Age of Opportunity, p.35).

If we were honest, we would admit that much of our parenting is motivated by fear. That’s what keeps us from lightening up and letting go of the reins. And what’s more, as Christians we spend so much time protecting our children from the world that we fail to prepare them to make a difference in this world. Biblical parenting, however, pictures parents as courageous warriors getting ready to release their children into battle. Psalm 127:4 says:

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior so are the children of one’s youth.

Arrows were made to fly. They can’t sit safely in the quiver or rest on the bow forever. They must be released! That’s what our preparation is ultimately for–to release our children into this world equipped with the gospel of Jesus Christ to serve people for the glory of Christ.

So lighten up all you helicopter parents! (me included). Let go of the reins. Parent your children as God parents you. Protect them, yes. But all the while prepare them … so you can release them … to fly into the battle with the glory of the gospel.

Missional Parenting

Much of our parenting is motivated by fear. Consequently, we’re more concerned with protecting our children from the world than preparing them to make a difference in this world. Gospel-centered, missional parenting is much different. It pictures parents as courageous warriors getting ready to release their children into battle. Psalm 127:4 says,

I see missional parenting happening in 3 stages. Of course these stages are fairly fluid with some overlap to be expected.

Gregg Harris says that in the time Psalm 127 was written, there were no arrow factories. Consequently, it took time for each arrow to be crafted with care and precision. The arrow had to have a good sharp tip on one end–that might deal with academic training and biblical instruction; and it had to have a good set of the fletching on the other end–which might apply to discipline. This would provide the arrow with a guidance system. So as parents, we must see ourselves as warriors shaping our young children during their formative years with doctrine and discipline driven by the gospel.

As children grow and mature we must give them opportunities to see the sinful reality of the world around them. Under our guidance and supervision we must expose our children to fallen creation and the crying need for restoration. Instead of an “us vs. them” mentality, we must teach our children to see and serve our culture through the lens of the gospel. We could picture this stage as the arrow being pulled out of the quiver and onto the bow.

Arrows were made to fly. They can’t sit in the quiver or rest on the bow forever. They must be released! Yet the point of release is often the most difficult time in parenting. As Gregg Harris says:

When you aim the arrow and release the arrow, beware–the greatest tension in your relationship with your children will often be just before you release them. Because it feels to the arrow like it’s going backwards when it wants to go forward. The tension is building in the bow, the warrior is aiming, and then there’s the release. From that point on, the guidance system that is in the arrow itself is what keeps it on track.

There comes a time when we must release our children into the battle. This is the purpose of the arrow as well as the purpose of parenting. We cannot be scared of this sinful world. Indeed, this is the world Jesus entered into and told us, “As the Father sent me, so I send you” (John 17:18). So let us follow our Savior with the attitude of a warrior as we prepare our children for the battle.


Doug Wolter served for eight years as family pastor at LaGrange Baptist Church in Kentucky. He is now senior pastor at Oak Hill Baptist Church in Humboldt, Iowa. He has an amazing wife and three incredible kids who continue to humble him and fill him with joy.  He enjoys drinking coffee, reading, exercising, and blogging at life2getherblog.com.