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The quest to become the perfect parent

January 28, 2020 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

During January and February, I will be using this space to interact with the ideas put forward in David Zahl’s book Seculosity: How career, parenting, technology, food, politics, and romance became our new religion and what to do about it. Chapter 4 is entitled “The seculosity of parenting.”

I love being a pastor. And I love to read. But few things give me anxiety like the book table at a pastor’s conference. In every catchy title and accomplished author, I find yet another thing that I need to learn or don’t do well enough – fifty more reasons to feel worse about myself.

I think that for many of us, parenting is very similar. If God has given us children, we probably love being parents, but we are probably also overwhelmed by the books, blogs, videos, and other resources being marketed to us about how to actually be a good parent.

David Zahl, in his book Seculosity, argues that we tend to look to the things of this world to justify us, to help us feel like we are worth something, like we are “enough.” Surely for many of us, parenting is near the top of our lists. If we are not careful, our self-worth can become tied to an uncomfortable degree to how our children are doing. If they are kind and successful, we feel good about ourselves. But if they are failing at life, or if they reject us or our values, then we feel worse about ourselves. Clearly, many of us, consciously or unconsciously, have given our children the heavy burden of giving our lives value. Call it parenting as redemption, with the child cast in the role of savior.

This reality has given rise to all kinds of parents in recent years: helicopter parents who hover over their child’s every move in order to protect them from all harm, bulldozer parents who knock down any obstacle in their child’s path, tiger parents who will use any method to push their children to be a success, and so on. Finding their self-worth in their performance as a parent can cause mothers and fathers to do their child’s homework for them, curate their children’s lives on the parent’s social media page, and judge other parents whose children aren’t being raised like theirs.

Thankfully, the gospel teaches us that we are justified – enough – not by how we are doing as a parent, but because Jesus died on the cross for all of the ways we failed as parents and as people. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-24). If we believe this, not only can we rest in knowing we are loved by God, but we can also give our children the gift of being themselves, and relieve them of the burden of needing to declare us worthy.

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