FIVE parenting battles I will not pick, and ONE I will.
Since becoming a parent the verse I have read the most frequently has been Ephesians 6:4, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." I know this is an important warning, because it's repeated in Colossians 3:21. Different translations vary slightly. NIV says "do not embitter your children", NLT says "do not aggravate your children", NASB says "do not exasperate your children", but all end with the same result: lest they become discouraged.
Discouraged. One might write that off as a simple thing. I mean, we all face discouragement. We all get beat down and wore out, and face moments when we want to quit. So why is it so critical that we spare our children from this? Truly, we can't spare them. But we can realize that discouragement is never a father's (or mother's) job. They'll get enough of that from the world, they don't need it from us.
A couple of weeks ago we had our Vacation Bible School at church. I have one of those almost three year old little boys that has a will that is stronger than oak. On morning two, as I hurried to get all children out of bed, fed, and out the door, said three year old brought me his shoes to put on. In a rush I almost didn't notice that they were two different shoes. I told him to get the right ones, and immediately he sulled up. I knew it would be a battle. Now, I'm not opposed to battling with my children, but I took a step back and decided to count the cost. Does it matter if he goes to church with mis-matched shoes? No. Then and there I made a decision to not pick this battle.
I've thought on it for about a week, and I've come up with a list. Five parenting battles I will not pick, and one I will. Please know that there is a difference between guiding, advising, encouraging, and battling. I encourage you to read to the end, and grasp the point. Because yours may differ than mine, but hopefully our target is the same. Here goes.
I have two sons and a daughter, so I will inevitably have two different battles to face with my children. First, modesty. Even at two years old I am very conscious of what my daughter wears. There will be no cute bikinis on my cute daughter, nor midriff nor shorts with stuff written across the butt. Period. That is a battle that should absolutely be fought between every mother and her daughter, without exception, because there is more at stake there than just what she looks like. However, there is a second that will arise with all of my children. The battle against personal preference. There will come a day when each of my children (and as I said earlier my 3 year old is already there) will object to what I pick out for them to wear. They'll choose their own clothes, and more than likely leave the house looking like clowns. Honestly for me the hardest thing will be if my sons decide that Wranglers and plaid is their thing, every fiber in my being will want to fight that. But I will not. Of course, appearance isn't exclusive to clothes. There will be the issue of piercings, hair styles, ridiculous fads, and in this day and age if none of my kids want tattoos it will be some kind of miracle. So what then? Well I'll advise them against it. I'll give them my personal account of why it's not a great idea at 18 years old to permanently ink yourself. But beyond that, I'll step back and let them make a decision. Without threat of disappointment or "I told you so". In the end, their appearance is not a point worthy of discouragement, and I will not battle my children over it.
Ahhh, the great Christian debate. I have developed a love for Christian music. It's come a long way, and for the most part that's what I listen to when I turn on the radio. However, it is not my first love. I was blessed with a mother who knows good music. If I made you a mixed tape of my childhood it would have greats like Pink Floyd, Elton John, Eric Clapton, The Eagles, Michael Jackson, and so many more. The woman knows her music, and from there came my passion for it. So while my radio is generally tuned to a Christian station, that's never what I sing to my kids. They each have a song that I sung to them as babies: for Staley it was Elton John's "Your Song", for Asher it was Elvis Presley's "Hound dog", and for Lucy it was the Beatles' "Lucy in the sky with diamonds". I know you might think that's awful considering the meaning behind some of those songs, but the point is that it's something I shared with my mother, and something I would like to share with my children. Knowing, of course, that they may not want to share it with me. They may prefer their father's 80s hairband music (gag), and if so I'll try to learn to love it. Aside from violent or lewd artists or songs, I will not battle my children over their musical preference.
Please put down your stones. I think church camp is swell. I've been several times as an adult, and I've seen some powerful things. The thing is, church camp is almost always more beneficial for the adults than it is for the kids. Where it falls flat is in the aftermath. For one week students are able to completely detox from their normal existence. No Facebook, no phones, no parents. They make these huge decisions and gain a lot of ground and leave pumped up for Jesus. The thing is, they go back to what they've just come out of. A week isn't nearly long enough for them to develop a foundation, especially considering that the majority of camp decisions are made on the last night. That gives them 24 hours! So, if my kids want to go then by all means they can go. But I will not battle my children over church camp.
Every parent tells their kid they can be whatever they want when they grow up, but what they really mean is you can climb as high as you want to go. The thing is, if we all aim our children at the highest heights, who's left to share Christ on the ground? Don't get me wrong, I'm not encouraging my kids to work at Taco Bell when they grow up, but I also won't be telling them that their success in life will be determined by dollar signs, or promotions, or how many letters come after their name. I will tell them that their sole purpose is to share Christ with this world, and I will support whatever path they choose to follow. Now, that's assuming I raise them to love Jesus and they end up with that goal in mind, but what if they don't. For me it would be much easier to support my 18 year old who wants to skip college and go straight to the mission field in Africa, than my 18 year old who wants to go to a four college and begin a promising career. Either way, I will not battle my children on their career choice. Guide, advise, encourage, not battle.
Curricular Non Essentials.
We all want our kids to be good at a lot of things. We want them to be socially involved and try lots of different things and all that good stuff. We call them extra curricular activities, but I prefer "curricular non essentials". Now I don't mean that they're bad things, but too much of a good thing is never a good thing. I don't care if my kid doesn't want to play any sports or be in any clubs. And honestly I'm not all that concerned with whether they get A's, B's, or C's. Some of the most intelligent people I know were straight C students, without regret. As someone who went to college to be an educator I can say with a clear conscience that (at least in Texas) intelligence is not measured by school grades. I will not ask my child every day of his academic life if he did his homework, is prepared for upcoming tests, or is involved in every possible extra curricular activity he could be partaking in. I will not call teachers and argue grades. I will not battle with my children over curricular non essentials.
Now that you think I'm a terrible parent, let me tell you what I will battle them on.
I will battle, I will war, I will rage after my children's hearts. I will be the mom that everyone thinks is nuts. I will accept that at times my children will hate me and think I'm awful. I will push them and challenge them and mold them until it hurts, all in an effort to gain their heart. This will take different shapes for different kids. I will battle over my sons eyes differently than I will my daughter's. Likewise, I will battle over my daughter's emotions differently than I will my sons'. Within this are smaller battles.
I will battle my children over their relationships.
I will battle my children over their attitudes.
I will battle my children over their safety.
I will battle my children over their apathy.
I will battle my children over their heart.
Which means every time I face a situation where I will potentially provoke my child to anger, I will step back and ask, "Is this a matter of their heart?" In the case of my strong willed 3 year old, making him wear matching shoes might save me a few sideways glances, but it won't do a darn thing for his heart. The same goes for your kid. If the worst thing you can say about your kid is that he has a blue mohawk and a bad tattoo, then let me just say you have nothing to complain about. Fight for his heart. It's his heart I want, and his heart I will pursue.
"But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter." -Romans 2:29
**Know that following up this post in the next few days I will be talking about picking battles with other people's kids. The youth in your church. The children in your neighborhood. How we as adults can win the hearts of children that we have minimal time to influence. Stay tuned. **