When my oldest was in preschool, the school involved parents by asking two parents each day to stay and help out with the class, supervising and participating along with the kids. On one of my "helper" days, the other mom in class came over and complimented me on my daughter's sweet disposition and cooperative spirit and asked, "How did you do that?"
I could only respond, "I didn't do anything, she was just born that way. I guess I'm lucky."
Smiling ironically, she commented, "Ohhh, I see now. God didn't have anything to teach you."
As it turned out, she and her husband, both accomplished professionals, had delayed having children until they were firmly established in their careers and financially stable.
She told me, "Before we were parents we would spend time with my brother and his family, and when their kids acted out, we'd look at each other knowingly and simultaneously think 'our children will never behave like that.'" Apparently, prior to embarking on the parenting journey, they had studied up on all the best methods of child-rearing. Therefore, they were confident that because they were so knowledgable in the art of parenting, their offspring would be a constant delight.
She chuckled then and added, "...and so God gave us Tess."
Tess was a beautiful little red-headed spitfire with an iron will and relentless spirit. Daily she rammed head-on into her parents' boundaries, causing them to slam the parenting books shut and hit their knees. It paid off, because I was often impressed with how they handled the tumultuous girl with grace, firmness and abundant love.
Still, at four she was rarely a delight to be with.
Tess's momma realized that God was using her little fireball to humble her proud heart. "If I had had a sweet-natured child like Katie, I would have been sure it was due to my excellent parenting. With Tess, I have to cling daily to Jesus and know that only by His grace will we survive her childhood."
I've often wished I could see Tess now that she's nineteen. I'm sure she's still strong-willed, but I bet her parents' consistency and love in those early years helped her to learn at the very least that she is not the center of the universe and that her actions have consequences. I suspect that were I to meet her now, I would find her to be a delight.
I share this exchange because I think we all need a little humility like Tess's mom. It's so easy to look at a young person of excellent character and attribute every success to their parents. It is also far too easy to witness the wrong choices of another child and shake our heads and speculate about what the parents did wrong to produce such results. I've certainly been guilty of both.
Just today I heard a mom applauding her daughter's lifestyle choices. She ended with the observation: "I guess I did something right."
I'm sure that mom probably did do something right (and if she's like me, she probably did some things wrong, too). Unfortunately, the unintended implication of a comment like that is that the parent of a child making different choices must have done something wrong, which may not be the case at all.
Children are not products: If you put in the right ingredients you get a predictable result. No, they are fallen humans made in the image of God--just like their parents are.
I'm not saying that parents have no influence on their kids, they do. We each have a sacred and important stewardship in raising them.
However, this parenting adventure in a community of believers has shown me that even if a parent does everything right, kids still have free will. One of them--or all of them--might make choices that go against everything they have been taught.
Conversely, I know that parents can do a multitude of things WRONG and still have kids that own their choices, rise above the mistakes and lead productive and wholesome lives.
So this is my rally cry to parents to give grace to the wounded, grieve with those who grieve, support one another, pray for one another, celebrate victories and acknowledge that every parenting victory belongs to God alone.