I have observed a strange parenting phenomenon. Many parents are reluctant and even resistant to asking advice about their parenting. While others can see blind spots, the parents themselves remain… blind to them.
Often, older parents or pastors are resistant to mention anything for fear of being accused of being a busybody. J.C. Ryle once admitted, “I would rather correct a man about anything than his parenting.”
Recently I received this email from an older leader in another part of the country:
“Over dinner tonight, my wife and I were discussing some of the interactions we have had with parents of young children in our church. Our goal has always been to encourage and try to give biblical counsel. Based on our discussion with each other, I suspect you and your wife have done the same (as well as some other older parents).
It’s a bit interesting. We have kind of come to the same conclusion, that it SEEMS some are reluctant (or resistant) to take our advice in the realm of discipline (formative and corrective).
I have pondered why this may be and have come up with a few theories:
- some feel their circumstances are unique and different from our generation
- some may be wrapped up in the teaching of secular psychology
- some may fear being labeled as abusive by the world
- some may be trying to gain friendship with their children
- some may just not be willing to admit their inexperience
- some think it should be easier than it really is (lack stamina)”
I think his speculations are spot on.
I would add three more.
1. A church culture that does not teach people to ask questions. This is an ongoing observation that is larger than parenting. Modern discipleship strategy places all the burden on the more mature Christian. “Go disciple someone,” we are told.
However, younger Christians are not taught that they are disciples – that is learners. And learners need to actively learn and ask questions. We find Jesus sitting in the temple and asking questions of the teachers. This lack of questions is also reflected in our country’s emphasis on youth. The younger don’t need the knowledge of the older.
This lack of active learning is a large church culture issue. I don’t expect it to change anytime soon, but it can change little by little. If you are a younger Christian, actively seek out older Christians and ask questions. If you are a church leader, train your younger people to do this.
2. Pride and lack of wisdom. Over and over again, Proverbs tells us that a wise person asks advice. And a fool is wise in his own eyes. Can we rephrase that? A wise parent asks advice. A foolish parent is wise in his own eyes.
We can put insecurity here also. Our security should be in the gospel and our identity in Christ. Unfortunately, it is common for parents to find their identity in their children. As a result, admitting any mistake strikes to the core of their identity.
This blindness doesn’t just apply to parents but lots of new roles. I have seen new lay elders enthusiastically jump into their roles without asking how they grow in wisdom and skill.
Often, we don’t know what we don’t know. God brings situations into our lives so that we will grow in wisdom and understanding.
3. Post-consumption reinforcement. Social psychologists have made an interesting study of how people choose between products and how they think afterwards. For example, if asked to rate how much they like product A over product B pre-purchase, they might say product A is 60 to 40 better than product B. However, after they purchase product A, they might say it was 90 to 10. Why? We all want to believe we made the right choice.
Similarly, once parents have had to make choices about anything (sleep training, discipline, educational choices, etc.) it is harder and harder to admit that it may have been a mistaken idea. After all, what is more important to us than our children? It is one thing to admit we made a bad choice about an automobile or a phone. It is another to admit we have not made some good choices with our children.
I see several applications that fall from this:
1. Seek parenting training before you need it. Get ahead of the curve. Have a game plan before the game starts. Of course, it will be adjusted and you will modify it. But don’t start on this important journey with no roadmap.
If you are a church leader, make every effort to train your parents before they need it.
2. Be humble and teachable when you are in the middle of parenting. Invite correction from those who know you best. Be willing to admit that you have been going down the wrong road and need to make some corrections. Value obeying the Lord more than what people think.
Ultimately we trust in God’s good sovereignty. Barring some sort of abuse, we are not going to mess our children up. If we stay humble and teachable, the Lord will direct us on this journey through his Word and through his people.