The end goal of any endeavor will determine the process that one uses to achieve the goal. For example, if a person wants to lose weight and tone up his muscles he is going to establish a process of healthy eating and regular exercise. If an athlete wants to improve her overall game performance then she is going to establish a practice schedule that will help her to improve in the areas she wants to focus on improving. If a student wants to improve his grades then he is going to need to establish a process for studying, tutoring, etc that will help him achieve his desired end goal. Start with the end in view.
The same is true when it comes to parenting. Our process for parenting will be determined by our goal for parenting. I would venture to say that our goal in parenting is slightly more important than the process, because the goal determines the process. So, if we are going to be effective in the process of parenting then we must set the right goal. Very often I hear parents describe their goal in parenting to be that they are working to raise their kids up to graduate high school and get out on their own. Sometimes it is nuanced by parents saying something like, “My goal as a parent is to help my children learn to be able to take care of themselves so they can get a job and make it on their own.” If this is the goal then it will be too easy to be hands-off, unengaged and lazy as a parent. If this is the goal then it doesn’t matter about the process as long as we do just enough to get by.
I believe it is important for us as parents to help our children learn responsibility, do well in school and grow up into maturity. However, I believe that these are parts of the process NOT the goal. It is too small of a goal for me limit my parenting vision to the first 18-20 years of my children’s lives. While the first 18-20 years of their lives are the impressionable years for me to influence them, the vision for my influence in their lives must be for the entirety of their lives. If the goal is to simply help them grow up, graduate school and get a job then what have I taught them is the most important thing in life? That’s right … the worldly pursuit of the American dream. While I do want to see my children do well and enjoy life, I desire more for them.
As a Christian, my desire for my children is that they love the Lord their God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength and that they love their neighbor as themselves. I am not rearing my kids to go to college. This is not to say that education is not important at our house. We take education very seriously. My wife and I are both college graduates and I earned both a masters and doctorate degrees. But “what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25). My goal and desire in parenting is to shepherd my children and their hearts to God and His wisdom so that they will come to know Him personally (salvation) and live for Him passionately (sanctification). In his book Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Ted Tripp wrote, “The central focus of parenting is the gospel. You need to direct not simply the behavior of your children, but the attitudes of their hearts” (p. xx).
With this as my stated goal for parenting I am better able to navigate the challenges that come along in the process. Knowing what I am trying to accomplish helps me to better understand where to put my focus and energy at the different stages of my children’s development. Ted Tripp offers a helpful hint about what we need to understand about our children and their lives if we are going to shepherd them in the right direction. He wrote, “You need to understand your child in relations to the two broad sets of issues that affect him: 1. The child and his relationship to the shaping influences of life. 2. The child and his relationship to God” (p. 7).
Here are two questions that have helped shape my thoughts on the issue of the goal of my parenting:
- What are my dreams for my kids?
- What am I doing today to ensure this will result later?
As their parents, my wife and I are the first and greatest influence in their lives. This is the way God created and established the family (Genesis 2:24; 1:26-27; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1-4). I wish that I could tell you that I am always consistent in my interaction, encouragement and discipline of my children. Truth is … I struggle in the parenting process. I struggle not because I don’t know what I am supposed to be doing or because I don’t have a clear goal. I struggle because I do have a goal and I refuse to give up on that goal. Bottom line is we all struggle in the parenting process. But when you have a clear (and adequate goal) then you are better able to stay focused because you know what it is that you are working toward and you remain determined because the goal is worth the sacrifice.