Joyful Parenting PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter J. Leithart   
Friday, 14 May 2010 09:16

Joy is prominently placed in Paul’s list of the fruits of the Spirit, second only to love (Galatians 5:22-23).  If Christian homes are little outposts of the new Eden, green with the fruits of the Spirit, we should expect joy to be one of the main crops.  Joy should be the dominant tone of a Christian home.

Often it isn’t, and that’s hardly surprising.  After all, children are time-consuming, frustrating, demanding.  Children can be a nuisance.

Infants scream but can’t tell you what’s wrong.  They can’t do a thing for themselves.  They have to be fed, changed, clothed, carried.  As soon as they learn to talk, they learn to talk back.  Even before they learn to talk, they’ve already begun their psychological testing – seeing what how far they can go before Mom cracks.

Then another child comes along, and things get complicated.  A single toddler can become expert at throwing fit, but put him with a brother or sister and he’ll develop a range of new skills: Arguing, hitting, stealing, tattling, lying, scapegoating.  In a large family, the lines of possible conflict multiply, and the kids join up in ever-shifting alliances to torture one another.

Then they get older.  They can fix their own meals and dress themselves, and that seems a plus.  Before parents can take the first breath of relief, though, they realize with a shock that when their children stop being dependent they become independent. Kids get driver’s licenses, make friends their parents may never meet, buy their own clothes and gadgets, end up in places they oughtn’t be.  For many parents, the 24/7 demands of infants are replaced by 24/7 anxiety for teenagers.  Is that an improvement?

Worst of all, it often seems it will never end.  When will they start being kind to their siblings instead of provoking them? When will they learn to get food to their mouths without spilling half?  When will they do their chores or their schoolwork without having to be reminded and reprimanded?  When will they be able to take correction without melting into a burbling mass of child-flesh?

And yet parents are to be joyful.

Joy in parenting is a gift of God.  It doesn’t come naturally.  It’s not the product of the flesh.  Wherever you find a joyful Mom, you can be sure you’re seeing the Spirit at work.

What can we do to ensure that our families bear this fruit?  First, cultivate thankfulness.  Instead of laughter, some homes, including Christian ones, are dominated by shouting.  Instead of the fullness of joy, some experience the fullness of bitterness and resentment.  Ingratitude is at the root of many an angry, joyless home.

So, what to do?  Confess your ingratitude to God, and then begin giving thanks, every day, for one of your children.  When you get through the list, start over, and keep praying for a different child every day until your resentment resolves into thanks.  And then you’ll want to keep giving thanks because you will have developed the habit of thankfulness.

Second, remember baptism, yours and your children’s.  For many Christians, the problem is not long-term resentment but periods of frustration.  Some days, some weeks, the kids are just more annoying, more pesky, less obedient, less responsive.

So, what to do?  Remember who your children are.  God has claimed your children in baptism.  The Father has declared before witnesses, “This is My beloved son, this is My beloved daughter, in whom I am pleased.”  When you feel inadequate, remember your baptism and view yourself the way the Father views you, in Christ the Son (Romans 6:1-14).  When your kids seem to be tiny demons from the pit of hell, remind yourself of what the Father said about them in baptism.  And believe the Father.

Finally, look ahead.  Joy is eschatological.  Joy is anticipation.  Joy comes at the end of woe, as light follows darkness.  Jesus went to the cross for the joy that was set before Him.  Joy in children is also anticipatory.  Scripture often describes how the anguish of a laboring or barren woman opens into joy when a child is born (Psalm 113:9; Isaiah 54:1; John 16:21; Galatians 4:27).  In raising our children, we rejoice in looking forward to the fruit that the Lord promises to bring through our efforts.

This doesn’t mean that we have to slog through twenty or more painful years of labor before we can relax enough to smile.  As we look in hope to the peaceable fruit of righteousness that God says He will bring, the whole of our parenting is suffused with coming joy.  Joy is eschatological, but in Christ we have entered into the new creation.  Joy comes at the end, but since we are post-Pentecostal parents, we have received the Spirit of the age to come; we see the fullness of joy at a distance, but also know it now.  The age to come has dawned, and as we parent in hope and faith its light already beams through our windows and fills our homes.

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Last Updated on Friday, 14 May 2010 09:25