Three things I’ve begun to believe in these early years of parenting:
One: Most of what you do falls under the category of style, and no two sets of parents are alike. Many gripes we have with each other would be put to rest if we would remember this is STYLE we’re talking about, not objective morals, and stop trying to evangelize each other for everything from whole wheat flour and cloth diapers to early bedtimes and sleeping through the night.
Two: Every child will be damaged in some way or another – or a whole bundle of ways – by his parents. This is unavoidable because we live in a fallen world and we all sin against each other and even the most competent parents are finite. While we should be quick to confess sin even (especially!) to our children, there’s no use in a child blaming his parents for all the little dents and dings he’s acquired at the hands of the people to whom God entrusted him. Everyone has them and they make us who we are and they teach us compassion, forgiveness, and to look to Jesus in our need. So your parents damaged you, you say? Live your life.
Three: In our parenting the most important thing we can give our children, the most important thing we can model for our children, is integrity. (Obviously this is hyperbole; I believe the ultimate thing we pass on to our children is the gospel and eyes to see as God sees. But bear with me.) Even a newborn suffers from nothing more than a mother’s second-guessing herself, and everyone’s heard that the only thing that matters is picking something, anything, and being consistent. This is security for your child when he is young, example for him as he grows. We’ve all met people who have no identity, no integrity. They are whoever it is convenient to be from one moment to the next. This is no way to live. When you believe something to be good and right, integrity demands that you commit yourself to it wholely.
No two sets of parents are going to come to the exact same set of conclusions about how to parent. If many issues are merely stylistic, not moral, what we should be looking for in each other is not conformity but integrity. If you see a family characterized by integrity, living as opposite from you as you can imagine, stop before you pass judgment. Maybe you believe in a pristine and decorated house. Maybe they prioritize imparting a love of reading to their kids at all cost and that leaves no room for Martha Stewart. Integrity is what we should be admiring in each other: Do we live what we believe?
Yesterday I spoke with my mom, who worried that perhaps one thing or the other that she’d done in parenting might have damaged me. I all but laughed at her because that’s the wrong question to ask. Of course I am damaged by my parents! It is my responsibility not to spend time navel-gazing to identify specifics. It’s also my responsibility not to let any of those specifics define me or clutter up my relationship with them. Instead I need to press on to love Christ and live well as who I am – who God made me at the hands of my parents. It was no accident he assigned me to them, after all. Like a piece of fine furniture, what I’ve become is not flawless, but at least I’m not factory made. I bear the marks of my parents’ style, and that is as it should be.
Now I’m a parent and there are ways in which I differ from my own mom and dad. As I reflected on my mom’s question after we got off the phone yesterday one thing stood out in my mind. What I learned from my parents was integrity. Now a generation later we’ve got different styles, and once in awhile even different convictions, but when I think back to how they shaped me and my brothers and sisters I am overcome by respect because they had integrity in spades: I know exactly what they thought and believed. I couldn’t have missed it, because they lived it, and I did to. I was secure as a child. I am strong as an adult. That is an invaluable heritage and I wouldn’t trade it even if in exchange I could be (the very idea is absurd) completely “undamaged.”
I’m praying for the grace and wisdom to live with integrity each day in the little things and the big things, just like my parents did, so when my kids grow up they will know how to be themselves. I’m discovering I can’t pray for an outcome in my children devoid of damage, baggage, quirks, or regrets. Not only is it too late for that, it’s irrelevant. We are Christians. Gospel people. Christ is our healer and makes all things new and his strength is perfect in our weakness. I would hate for my kids to miss out on that.