Myth #3: Successful Parents Produce …
About the Guest
Is it a parent’s job to produce godly children or God’s? Mother of six Leslie Leyland Fields says that for most parents, the goal of parenting is to raise children to be godly adults, but that often leads to disappointment. Instead, she says, a parent’s goal should be to glorify God. The danger, she explains, is when parents make too much of themselves and not enough of God. Leslie highlights some well-known parents of the Bible and shows what they did or didn’t do right.
Is it a parent’s job to produce godly children or God’s?
Myth #3: Successful Parents Produce …
Bob: For years Dennis Rainey has said, “Your children are not robots. You can’t make them do everything you want them to do.” Leslie Fields agrees.
Leslie: We don’t control the outcome of our children. I think it’s just completely pervasive in our culture this idea that our children become who we make them. But, here’s what happens. When we place our trust in a formula we are removing our trust from God, rather than placing it in God, where God wants us. He wants us dependant on Him alone.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday March 19. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey and I'm Bob Lepine. If you are looking for the principles for raising perfect kids, you have come to the wrong place. If you’re looking for some help and some encouragement stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today thanks for joining us. I’ve been sitting here thinking about how parenting in this culture is a little like swimming upstream. I just thought maybe we ought to mix that metaphor into what we’re talking about this week, don’t you think?
Dennis: Because we have a lady who fishes?
Bob: We have a salmon fisherman with us on the show, right.
Dennis: That’s the wrong image of Leslie.
Bob: As a salmon fisherman?
Dennis: Well, it’s not that she thinks that’s a bad image.
Bob: I bet she could show you some pictures.
Leslie: Or, as someone who is going upstream all the time and is really tired? Does that work?
Bob: I would like to see some fish camp pictures. Would you send us a few just so we could see the family at fish camp?
Leslie: Sure, absolutely. You know what, they’re on my website. Go to my website and I’ve got fishing photos and you’ll see all kinds of great photos.
Dennis: So, is your rain suit orange, yellow, what color is it? You know the pants and the…
Leslie: Absolutely the rain gear that we wear it depends on your sense of fashion, but it’s mostly orange and yellow. Some of it is half orange and half yellow. So it’s bright.
Bob: You can coordinate. Mix and match.
Leslie: Yes, mix and match, but visibility is the key.
Dennis: If you’ve been listening this week, you know that’s the voice of Leslie Leyland Fields. She is the author of Surprise Child and has written another book called Parenting is Your Highest Calling and Eight Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt. Leslie is from Alaska where they do wear a little rain gear, and they do a little fishing and hunting.
Bob: And we’re not kidding about three months a year that you guys are at fish camp.
Leslie: That’s right. And pretty much the rain gear is the suit of choice.
Dennis: Here is the story that I want to open the broadcast with today because, you ran into some challenges one season in terms of the fish running well and you didn’t have enough help and you had to have one of your sons operate a boat out in the ocean at what age?
Leslie: Thirteen. And to run a skiff. It is important to know, this is not in a little sheltered bay, this is out on the open ocean in a very stormy area. He probably would have run his own skiff at age fourteen, but a year makes a big difference. We were shorthanded and Isaac wanted to do it, we were scared and apprehensive and the fact that Isaac wanted to step up to do this. It’s not just a man’s job. But it’s a job that requires great strength and judgment—it’s very demanding.
Dennis: So, tell the truth, your book says, “Myths that trap us in worry and guilt” Mom, how much did you worry seeing him head off into the Pacific Ocean?
Leslie: I did. Oh yes, the Gulf of Alaska. Oh yes. I worried how he would do in a storm, when the waves are crashing over the skiff, will he have good judgment? I had all those worries. All my kids had been in a skiff at an early age, and they have been out in storms. I’ve really had to release them in faith. That doesn’t mean you’re foolish and you make stupid decisions. You try to be wise, but at the same time, you don’t want to operate with fear.
Bob: Was he in eyesight of another skiff?
Bob: Somebody was able to be there if he needed bailing.
Leslie: That’s right.
Bob: It’s still a nervous adventure to send a thirteen year old off on though.
Dennis: But that’s what your book is about ultimately is helping parents understand what their purpose is.
Bob: “The Nervous Adventure of Parenting,” you could have named it that, couldn’t you?
Leslie: Yes. “The Anxious Adventure” get some alliteration in there.
Dennis: This week we’ve been talking about some of the myths that you write about in your book. I want to take myth number eight: “Successful parents produce godly children automatically.”
Leslie: This is a big one. I think this is not just a myth, I think it’s a hope. Every parent’s greatest desire is to see every one of their children become godly adults. I think what we’ve done is, we’ve taken one verse in particular in the scriptures, that is Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
We look at that verse as a kind of promise from God. There are two parts to the promise; if we train up a child—that’s our part that’s contingent upon us doing what we need to do. If we do that rightly and correctly then God is promising us that when our child is old he will not depart from it.
But, there’s a real problem there, and I see a lot of parents clinging to that verse as a promise that my child will, must become a godly adult because I’ve trained him up right. Well, there’s some real heartache that comes from misunderstanding that verse. That is, if your child makes other choices, and many children do, if your child grows up and makes other choices, then the fault is yours, you did not train up the child in the way he should go.
Dennis: Most of the condemnation comes from self.
Dennis: Just recently I was talking with a couple of parents and they had an elementary age child. They’re cruising along through life thinking she’s doing great. The teacher sends a note home saying, “Your child is shooting mean faces at other kids, saying bad things.” And the parents felt like they’d been hit by a torpedo. You’re going along in life thinking everything is well, and everything is going OK, and then your child makes some really foolish choices and all of a sudden as a parent you feel like…
Leslie: You feel dismayed and despair. Your first thought is, “Ok, what have I done? I’ve done something wrong.”
Dennis: Here’s where I want to read the subtitle to this chapter in your book. “Successful parents produce godly children” and the subtitle says, “The danger of making too much of ourselves and too little of God.” I really like that because my problem, and I will speak for Barbara she would say this was true of her as well, we assume we can do this thing. There was arrogance on our part.
Dennis: That’s the making too much of ourselves.
Leslie: Right. That’s where we abuse the scripture, “Train up a child in the way he should go…” We think that it’s possible. If I do this, the right amounts of church, the right amount of youth group, the right amount of media, all of these things. We create this checklist in our mind, here are the things. If I do these things, then I can produce a child who’s going to love God, and honor God with their lives.
That’s what it comes down to. We have made too much of ourselves and too little of God. Raising children, God intended right from the start that raising children is meant to be a walk of faith. Not a walk of, “Hey I can do this. I’ve got it wired.”
Bob: Not a formula.
Leslie: Not a formula, that’s another one of the myths that we haven’t talk about.
Bob: We fell into this as parents. I’m thinking back to when our kids were little, we thought, we need some parenting training. So we started looking for conferences or we started looking for books to read. There are plenty out there that will say, if you follow this pattern—or maybe they don’t say it that overtly.
Leslie: Some of them do.
Bob: Yes, some do. But there are also others where they don’t say it that overtly, but they say “Here is a picture of our family, and our family looks pretty good doesn’t it? Our kids look pretty good, and here’s how we’ve raised our kids.”
And there’s this implied idea that if I do what he did, then I’ll get kids like that. Now, we don’t want to make too little of our influence as parenting, because we do have significant influence. But, by the same token, as Dennis has said over and over again, our kids are not robots.
Leslie: No, and we don’t control the outcome of our children. I think it’s completely pervasive in our culture this idea that our children become who we make them. That’s really a very deterministic behavioristic kind of idea.
Those books that you’re talking about out there, Bob these training manuals, some of them have God’s name on the front and say “This is how you raise children by God’s ways.” Some of those books sell in the millions because people are desperate, they want a plan. They want a formula.
But here’s what happens. When we place our trust in a formula, we’re placing it in the author of that formula. We’re even placing it in our own ability to carry out the formula, rather than placing it in God where God wants us. He wants us dependant on Him alone.
Dennis: The interesting twist in all of this is you can take the Bible, the book God gave us, which gives us parenting principles. There’s a whole book Proverbs that are the sayings of a father to a son to help him be wise. We can take those principles and turn them into a formula and in the process miss God.
Leslie: Absolutely right.
Dennis: We are fallen people, it’s like we can’t get it right. Our hope really becomes the process rather than the God of the child.
Bob: What you’re talking about here, I heard a guy recently expressing it this way. He said, a lot of us as Christians become functional deists. It’s true in our parenting. We look at it and say, “God has set up the universe and parenting to work a certain way. If we will just find the way that God set it up to work, then it will all function the way it’s supposed to.”
Dennis: Laws of gravity.
Bob: What we do is we take God out of the process and just say, it’s the process that is ordained, not God. It’s like God is no longer functioning in the midst of things. Well guess what?
God is in the midst of every day and if God wants to suspend the law of gravity, he can do that. In the midst of raising our kids, yes there are principles in the scriptures that relate to how your kids are going to grow up. But they are principles, they are not formulas, and we have to remember that.
Leslie: Right. You know, I look around me and I see so many parents with adult children whose hearts are broken and they’re filled with guilt because they look at their children’s lives and their children have not grown up to be the kind of God-fearing person that they wanted them to be. And they are just filled with guilt.
What we need to do as parents as we look at our children as they’re developing and growing and even as they leave our home. The question that we need to ask ourselves is not “Am I parenting successfully?” as the world defines success. The question we need to ask ourselves is, “Am I parenting faithfully?”
That’s what we are responsible for before God. We are not responsible for who our children become because, our children are going to make their choices. They are on a journey with God. We influence them we shape them, we create this home environment, but in the end, this child is on his journey with God, particularly as he grows up and leaves the home. The question is not, “Am I successful as a parent?” but “Have I been faithful as a parent?”
Bob: God may have a different plan or agenda even if I am trusting in him.
Leslie: Yes, that’s right.
Dennis: You know, the interesting thing about what you’re saying Bob is, ultimately you are going to be forced to trust, because your job as a parent will be over. I mean, you can lengthen the apron strings and be one of the most highly manipulative…
Dennis: Controlling parent imaginable, but you know what? You will die. You will die and your children are going to live without you. The question is who are they going to serve? At that point, you have to trust God to be God in their lives. How have you learned this in your own raising of six children? You’ve faced, undoubtedly a number of choices where you’ve had to decide, who am I going to trust with my child, or my children?
Leslie: Yes, and this is something we were talking about earlier, but sending my child off in a skiff out into the ocean into a storm. Who am I going to trust? I do have some trust in their ability; I have some trust in the boat. I have trust in those, sort of human things. But ultimately I have to trust God who is their maker and their creator.
Dennis: So, you’ve actually set your kids in a boat knowing that a storm was coming.
Leslie: Sure. It happens all the time. Storms happen all the time.
Dennis: The reason I’m stopping you there, is this is a picture of life. Storms are coming all the time. You’re sending your kids to school. You don’t know what they’re going to face at school. What they’re going to hear, what they’re going to see. They have to have some wisdom to know how to make the choices. Are you equipping them to sail into the teeth of the storm that we’re facing in this culture? That’s really what you’re talking about here isn’t it?
Leslie: It is what I’m talking about. I think that’s a key thing to say “Are we equipping them?” Because we can be so controlling as parents and to think, “I’m going to solve these problems for you. For one thing, I’m not going to let you go out in the storm.” We could say that right at the get-go. Say, you’re not going out in the storm. I’m going to protect you and shelter you and not let you be exposed to anything, to any kind of danger. We see some parents who do that, but that is not necessarily of faith. That’s not recognizing that God is the sovereign over their lives and we’re not to be ruled by fear. Our kids do live in this world and we have to allow them.
Dennis: What I heard you saying in that is, you wouldn’t let an eight year old get in the skiff and sail off into the storm, because he hasn’t been equipped. He wasn’t old enough, mature enough, to be able to drive the boat. But the thirteen-year-old had enough training, he’d been tested, he’d been under your supervision and your husband’s, and older workers who work with you. So you knew that yes you were taking a risk, but it was not, you were not sending him to his death, you were sending him to see if he’d really learned all those lessons on his own. Then you watched him carefully.
Leslie: Yes. Then you watch him, and then you pray. You pray, because prayer is a huge part of that as well.
Bob: You know, if we really just pulled back and stopped to think about it, how determinative is parenting on the kind of adults people wind up being? We know a lot of examples of people who grew up in pretty messed up families, who by the grace of God turned out to be pretty outstanding young men and women.
Leslie: Well, that’s kind of my story. Although, forgive me for putting myself in the category of outstanding men and women, but that’s my story. I came from a very difficult childhood in lots of ways. Yet, it was that very pain and difficulty that God used to turn me toward Himself at age 13.
The amazing thing is that out of my family, a family of six children and a mother and father, I believe now that every one of us has come to know the Lord through the very hardships that we endured. That was the hammer and the megaphone—to use C.S. Lewis’s term—that God used to wake us up to what was real and vital and to what we needed.
Bob: Your messed up family environment that you were growing up in was not ultimately determinative of the young woman you turned out to be.
Leslie: Absolutely not, because of God’s grace.
Bob: By the same token, you turn it back around, a mom and a dad can be doing what a mom and a dad ought to be doing, reading the scriptures to their kids, praying with their kids, instilling character in their kids. They can be doing all of that, and that’s not necessarily determinative of the kind of young man or woman. We know it on the other side. We know that good kids can come out of bad situations, but somehow we think that if it’s the right situation, then the kids ought to turn out right. Often they do, but sometimes they don’t.
Leslie: Sometimes they don’t. God’s word really is complete. He addresses that in a number of places. The parable of the sower and the seed, and lots of things that help us to see that…
Bob: And the parable of the prodigal son,
Leslie: The prodigal son…
Bob: Here’s one dad, two sons and they grow up very differently in the way that they respond to their father. In the parable who is the father? It’s God the Father right? So again I think we have to look back and say, look we do as parents play an important, a vital role in the health and development of our kids. But the determinative role is played by their own willfulness and by the Spirit of God.
Leslie: It’s important for us as parents to recognize that we cannot work or earn our children’s salvation; we cannot work or earn our children’s sanctification. Sometimes we get just a much too exalted view of ourselves as a parent. That’s God’s work and God’s amazing and powerful grace that is not limited by anything. Not limited by our imperfections, not limited by the imperfections of our home. God can break through at any moment and bring that salvation and sanctification that we so desire for our kids.
Dennis: Leslie, I want to thank you first of all for your book, and then, also for coming down from Alaska and joining us on FamilyLife Today. I really think you have done an excellent work here. But you’ve also reminded us we tend to make too much of ourselves, and too little of God. That’s really what we’ve been talking about here.
If somehow a parent could have that on the refrigerator, keep a right perspective of yourself, and keep your hope and your trust in the person of God to do a mighty work in the lives of your children. If you could just somehow maintain the rest, a sense of rest where your hope is placed in God, I think it would make the journey of parenting a whole lot easier.
Leslie: You know, it has it has made my journey a lot easier. I look back at the moment that I started this book, and the three years where God has brought me through the writing in this book the three year process. There is a huge load that has been taken off my shoulders, these burdens and myths and misconceptions that I was carrying. The yoke that I put upon myself was so much heavier than the yoke that Jesus gives us.
Bob: I look up at the top of your book and it says, “A liberating look at what God most wants you to know.” I do think this is a liberating book, and I hope a lot of parents will get it and read it. Read it to one another. Read it back and forth to one another before you go to bed. Just remind yourselves of what’s true about your role as parents. It’s critical it’s important, it’s vital. But ultimately, God is in control. You are acting a His agent on his assignment. You’ve got to remember that.
Again, I’d encourage parents go to FamilyLifeToday.com, get a copy of Leslie’s book, it’s called Parenting is Your Highest Calling and Eight Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt. 1-800-FLTODAY, the number to call if you’d like to order a copy of the book. Or again you can order online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
We’re about three weeks away from celebrating the resurrection of Christ at Easter. There is a film that has come out recently that tells the story of the life of Jesus through the eyes of Mary Magdalene. It’s called Magdalena: Through Her Eyes. It’s a powerful film. It’s on DVD, and this month we decided we wanted to make this DVD available for FamilyLife Today listeners who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount.
Here is part of the reason why. First of all, we think you and your family will really enjoy watching this film. But, we’re also hoping after you’ve watched it, you’ll give it away. You’ll think of somebody you know in your family, your workplace, your neighborhood, at the kids’ school, somebody you can just pass this movie along to.
And, if you know somebody who is not a native English speaker, but speaks Spanish or French, or Mandarin or Korean or Arabic or Russian or Portuguese, the DVD comes with audio tracks where those languages are dubbed in. So it makes it a particularly meaningful gift for those who speak those languages.
Again, the DVD is our gift to you when you make a donation of any amount this month for the ministry of FamilyLife Today. You can make your donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com. If you do that and you want the DVD, be sure to type “MAGDVD,” into the key code box on the online donation form. Or just call 1-800-FLTODAY. You can make a donation by phone and just ask for the DVD you heard them talking about on the radio. Then after you’ve watched it, pass it along to somebody who would enjoy watching it, and for whom it might be a life-changing viewing experience.
With that we’ve got to wrap things up today. Thanks for joining us. I hope you have a great weekend, hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend. I hope you can join us on Monday when Dr. Karyn Purvis is going to be with us. She’s going to help us understand why it is sometimes hard for adopted kids to adjust to their new family. We’ll talk about adopting kids who have come from “hard places.” That comes up Monday. Hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of Familylife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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