Can a Loving Parent Send their Child into a Dangerous World?
Of the many concerns that I have - like if the Mets can win the World Series - the one that sits atop the list is my responsibility to love my child. That responsibility is one gladly undertaken, but what exactly does it entail? Keeping her from all harm? Religiously brainwashing her? Getting out the plastic bubble? I want my child to avoid harm, but how far should I go to ensure that she avoids harm? Can I send my child into a dangerous situation and still be a loving parent?
In the ever-changing, fear-mongered society I feel that I am not the only parent asking this question. The recent transgender bathroom wars have parents scared about the safety of their young daughters (Who cares about the little boys, I suppose...). Violent attacks in schools prompt frightened responses. Clashing family values make parents extremely cautious as to who they trust their children with. It is impossible to address every parenting topic so I paint this blog with broad strokes. I will gladly respond to any comments you leave at the bottom of this post.
What are we really afraid of?
I fear my child being hurt, but that can happen when I drive her to the swimming pool. Last time I checked there was no outrage concerning my driving habits. But there is outrage about school - the place where my child will spend most of her time during the next decade. It is also the place that I will have the least amount of contact with my child during the next decade. It is the fear of having to trust someone else with my daughter that I fear the most. And that extends beyond the school yard. Her friendships, extra-curricular activities, and time spent with content digitally delivered on screens of all sizes can cause harm. When I allow my daughter to be in contact with anything else that is not me I extend my boundaries of trust. That is scary.
But why do I fear? Because when I compare my educational experience to my daughter's I see differences and I do not always like what I see. As a Christian, I have a different world view than those who are not Christians and that causes me to pause with concern. This is not a religious vs. non-religious argument. A non-religious parent has every right to influence the thinking of their child in every form of a secular humanistic thought pattern without revoke, but society has only decided to demonize religious parents, but I digress. There is no disputing that early-child development will massively impact my child as an adult. I am allowed to be fearful of how my child is influenced in thought through their school and other activities.
Being afraid of the peers that surround her is not a new burden for parents. It is not secret that we are all influenced by the company we keep. My parents were watchful over the relationships that I was developing and I appreciate it more now than when I was growing up. Parents raise their children under their own guiding principles and often times they will not align with the ways I am raising my daughter. How can I know if my daughter won't be influenced negatively? I can't. That is what scares us as parents.
There are many lifelong consequences that stem from poor decisions made while young. I care and I want to spare my daughter from those consequences and help her avoid the pain. But I'm not sure that natural inclination is the best course of action.
Is it Even Possible to keep your child 100% safe?
If you let your child use your smartphone you have already endangered him. So the answer is No. You cannot keep your child 100% safe. Besides if society, interpersonal relationships, ill-used technology and corrupt thinking won't hurt your kids the primary source of their pain will default to being you because you, yourself, are not perfect. It is impossible to keep you children safe from all dangers and hurts, but I believe that is a good thing. Pain is a great teacher and, if managed correctly, can give your child a sensitivity to the changes that need to be made in society. Of course, mismanaging pain leads to a bitter callousness.
Does that mean that we do nothing to protect our children except help them after terrible experiences? Not at all! Buckle those seatbelts and monitor internet usage; be mindful of the relationships that your children are forming and don't let them lick the toilet. But, know that your child will make bad choices and they will get exposed to ideas that you may not be comfortable with. How you prepare your kids for those situations will make all the difference.
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Parenting in the Bible
I think it is easy to say that "times have changed." Time progresses so quickly we can almost envoke that maxim on a month-to-month basis. Looking at the example of the Bible may not give us a 1-to-1 comparison. In fact, there are many parenting techniques in the Bible that I highly reccommend you avoiding - like offering your virgin daughters to a debauched crowd of onlookers. But there are some patterns that should be pointed out.
1. Children are not to take the place of God in a parents life
We need not look much further than Abraham and the promised son Isaac to adequately make this point. This will always be the hardest biblical story for parents to study. Almost a century of waiting for a child to arrive and then God requires Abraham to put his son's life on the altar and offer him as a Sacrifice. Even from the very beginning, Abraham was sure that God would return his son to him, but going through the motions and emotions of that would tear a man apart.
Being obedient to God is a Christian's primary concern. This means that we live a life of sacrifice. Now, because God willingly did the same thing he spared Abraham from doing in the sacrificing of Jesus, we no longer need to raise a knife to our children. But, we cannot foolishly ignore the point of the story. Absolutely nothing must take the place of God in our lives - even our children, who are gifts from him.
What does this have to do with sending children into a dangerous situation? Overly protecting your children like Scrooge McDuck protecting his gold makes your child an idol. I hate to admit this, but often times my daughter reaches idol status in my eyes. I can excuse her sin if she bats her eyes at me. This is no good! I know this and I am weak. I confess it and ask God to help me reform! I have to constantly have to be reminded that my will must be bent to the will the Father, not the daughter.
2. Safety is not the pre-eminent concern. Obeying God is.
I have a feeling I am about to slaughter a sacred cow, but here goes. While the safety of your child is of utmost concern it should not be the primary concern. Teaching them to hear from and to obey God is the primary concern. How do you do this? By modeling it yourself. The Gospel ceases to be proclaimed when it becomes the servant of safety. As the urban centers of the United States became increasingly violent, the church fled to the safety of the suburbs. No courageous men and women are purposefully returning to the city to proclaim the message of the cross.
Will I be brave enough to put the life of my daughter in danger for the sake of the Gospel? When the Spirit moves upon her soul to stare the princes of darkness in the face with the gospel of Jesus Christ will I encourage her despite the physical risks or discourage because I desire my child to be safe. Weakly I admit to being more drawn to the latter than the former, but there is something in my soul that knows the first option is the one chosen by a Godly father. Jesse sent his favorite son, David, to the battlefield to simply deliver rations to his elder brothers. He could have chosen to have restrain David and keep him home, keep him safe. By sending him into a dangerous situation the entire course of the Israelite people was changed. Can we still pretend that our child's safety is more important than obeying God? Isn't that a prideful sin?
3. God spared not his own Son.
Can you name a better example of not keeping your child "safe" than the example of the Trinity's gift to humanity through the incarnation of Jesus? Jesus was a born to die. That is the very definition of not safe. The death was not quick nor painless. The life leading up to death was not always pleasant nor easy. But it was the purpose of God to restore humanity and provide salvation from the death-trap of sin that made rejected the safety (and splendor) of heaven not only necessary, but a willing choice. God sent Jesus on a redemptive suicide mission and Jesus accepted for the joy that was set before him.
I tremble at thinking of my daughter as a sent-one. As one that would take the gospel into the essence of hostility. Honestly, I tremble at the myself being sent into the essence of spiritual hostility. My choices, though, must be directly placed within the eternal perspective. Is my life worth more than the one who does not know the salvation of Jesus? Is my daughter's life worth more? If so then I may be falling into the the safety-as-idol trap previously mentioned. God forgive!
A Loving Parent Sends.
There is no possible way to be a perfect parent, but there is a way to be a good parent. A good parent, like a financial planner, assesses risk and reward and makes judgement calls on their kid's freedoms and restrictions. There are evils you must help your child assess and avoid, but not if the Spirit is directing otherwise. My focus for the next decade, when it comes to my child is this:
- Love God, Obey God, Worship God so that my daughter may see it
- Ask for wisdom to discern the destinations my daughter is traveling towards
- Trust that God's ways, though they don't meet the human definition of safe, are for the eternal benefit of the kingdom.
Yes, you can send your child into dangerous situations and still be a loving parent. In fact the very definition of a loving parent, God the Father, modeled that for us. I can't pretend that this task is easy, but I also can't pretend that cowering away is any less sinful than allowing your child to become the idol that stands in God's place. Transgendered bathrooms, humanistic classrooms, drug-riveted neighborhoods can be extremely scary for parents of faith. I can not give you a blanket answer to how you should raise your children in light of the society that surrounds. I can, however, encourage with the words of Jesus: "Fear not, I have overcome the world."
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