I recently read a very interesting book that provided an intriguing look at growing up, maturing (wait for it…wait for it… yes, here it is, an associate link: The Life Model: Living from the heart Jesus gave you). In the past few Mondays, as we looked at God’s way for our individual lives, I’ve been sharing some of what I learned from this book. I’ve already looked at the infant stage, the child stage and the adult stage of maturity. Today, let’s look at the parent stage (birth of 1st child until youngest child is an adult).
The Parent Stage
This is where I begin to really get a bit worried about me. The Life Model begins this section by saying, “Biologically being a parent does not automatically put you at the parent stage of maturity. In fact, many parents are not at this level. You know that you are at the parent stage, however, when you can sacrificially care for your children without resenting the sacrifice or expecting to receive anything for your efforts. You may feel exhausted or overwhelmed at times, but you still will be able to appreciate, not begrudge, your sacrifice” (p. 22).
This presents a problem for many in our society. We often have an entitlement mindset. We are entitled to our fun, our recreation, our plans, our goals. Having children shouldn’t get in the way of any of that. This becomes even more apparent since more and more people are becoming parents biologically because they thought they were entitled to the pleasures of sex without being impacted by its natural consequences. Too many of us parents think we are entitled to keep doing everything we were doing when we were simply independent adults (biologically) and should never be asked to sacrifice anything, neither time, money, effort, recreation, social activities, or goals.
Having said all of that, I love these two sentences in the book: “Parenting does involve sacrifice, but it is not about giving up who you are. It is about becoming who you are!” (p. 22).
4 Tasks for Parents
There are four tasks parents must learn to accomplish if they will grow to the elder stage of maturity.
- Parents must learn to protect, serve, and enjoy their families.
- Parents must learn to take care of their children without expecting to be taken care of by the children in return.
- Parents must learn to allow and provide spiritual parents and siblings for their children.
- Parents must learn how to bring their children through difficult times and return them to joy from other emotions (p. 32).
Maturing parents will quickly learn that accomplishing these tasks requires support from a community and guidance from other parents who have already matured and walked this path ahead of us. We alone cannot provide all that our children will need as they mature into adults. If we are wise we will bring other people into our children’s lives to help as spiritual parents and siblings. We’ll rely on shepherds in the church. We’ll rely on other mature safe parents. We’ll rely on extended family. We’ll rely on others who can, along with us, help our children mature and grow.
The essence of parenting is striving to represent God to our families. We need to learn to act as God acts. Love as God loves. Teach as God teaches. Discipline as God disciplines. Help as God helps. When we can accomplish this, we are ready to move into the final stage of maturity.
We accomplish these tasks as the community and extended family provide the following four supports:
- The community gives both parents the opportunity to sacrificially contribute to their family.
- The community promotes devoted parenting.
- The community encourages relationships between children and extended spiritual family members.
- The community supports parent by giving them encouragement, guidance, breaks, and opportunities to recharge (p. 32).
When Parents Don’t Mature
When parents don’t mature to protect, serve, enjoy their families, the family members are at risk, deprived, and feel worthless or unimportant. Further, this lack of care for the children often calls on the children to care for the parents. Some call this parentifying the children. Sadly, we commonly see these parentified children as mature beyond their years. However, in the long run it usually stunts their emotional maturity. It is a form of emotional abuse. Of course, it make maturity really difficult to accomplish because this troubled person is pretty sure they are mature and will hardly listen to any ideas to the contrary.
When parents won’t bring in trusted members of the community to help mature and develop their children, the children can become vulnerable to peer pressure, cults, and misfortune. Further, the parents themselves can get completely overwhelmed. It is not more mature to try to parent our children completely on our own. Both parents and children need to the support of the community around us. Further, if we don’t learn to bring our children back to joy, they can get lost in their sadness, depressed and despairing. The family units begin to disintegrate because there is no joy and peace to connect them with each other.
The Spiritual Application
Think about our church community. Are we providing what our parents need to mature themselves and help their children mature. I can’t help but think that the community that makes up the church is rarely trying to accomplish this. Instead, the community is relying on the organization of the church to do this. It is not really Christians helping Christians but a church organized plan. There may be mother’s day out programs, there may be extensive youth groups, there may be sermons preached, but are the members of the community really reaching out to have these interactive relationships with each other and provide the community that is really needed to help us all mature. It seems to me that the quick and easy solution so many churches are looking to is only carrying on the problem. Like the parentified child, we can hardly see how we are not really accomplishing the maturity that we want.
We don’t need church organized programs to accomplish this. What we need is Christians getting involved with each other. We need mature parents taking maturing parents under their wings. We need elders setting the example. We need shepherds guiding the sheep in the flock, not merely administering the business of the fold. We need personal sacrifice of time, money, effort, etc. Look at the community of the very first church in Acts 2-6. These people sacrificed for each other. They cared for each other. They didn’t establish church programs, youth groups, mothers-day-outs, nursery schools. The members took care of each other.
We need parents to be humble and lean on God by leaning on the brethren God has given them. We need children to not simply be age-segregated off into groups of age-based peers. We need the older to teach the younger. We need to introduce our children to questioning, learning, and mentoring by other mature Christians. Perhaps we need the same thing.
Of course, if we’re still not even at the adult level of maturity, we need to back up and grow or we’ll never be able to parent. Let’s be honest with ourselves about this growth and become responsible for our maturity.
Make sure you come back next week for the final installment of this look at maturity as presented in The Life Model: Living from the heart Jesus gave you