Have you ever asked, “Why is parent so hard?” I’ve often surmised that we in modern America are doing something wrong when it comes to raising kids. A glimpse throughout history seems to reveal that parenting has always had its challenges, but it didn’t gain life-draining status until recently.
Of course, there are lots of reasons parenting is hard. Kids are complicated creatures, just like adults. And as parents we have high aspirations for our child-rearing. We desire not only to feed and clothe our kids, but to nourish their minds and characters. Molding minds and hearts is ambiguous and slow work. Nurturing young human beings into loving, flourishing adults is a challenge and it should be.
Blame It On the Industrial Revoution
But on another level, raising kids is made harder by forces far beyond our own homes. Historian Justo L. Gonzalez may give us inadvertent insight into why parenting seems like a highway to hypertension. In his book, The Story of Christianity, Volume 2, he says this:
“[The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century caused] mass movements of people seeking employment in industrial centers, or simply leaving lands now taken over by crops to be used for industrial purposes. The traditional extended family—parents, uncles, aunts, cousins–was weakened by those movements, and the nuclear family had to bear a greater burden of responsibility in the transmission of values and traditions. More people came to see their lives as their private responsibility, and therefore individualism and preoccupation with the self became a common theme in both philosophy and literature.”
Gonzalez helps us understand one reason why it’s so hard to be a parent. Our modern society has thrust immense, historic pressure on parents to have sole care for their kids.
Raising Kids Away from Relatives
My wife and I live hundreds of miles from our closest relatives. Our occupations determine our geography, so even though we aren’t industrial workers, we are still part of the mass movement of people who relocate to seek employment. This has separated us from the traditional extended family, and puts more weight on us to raise our child without much help.
Of course, raising a child is ultimately the responsibility of parents. No grandparent, aunt, uncle or other person should bear the primary obligation and joy of bringing up a child, if possible. But even the best parents need help. The most natural people we should turn to are other members of our family. So what happens to parenting when, for whatever reason, our extended family isn’t available?
While there are babysitters, aftercare at school, and friends it’s not the same as having a biological family to help raise your own family. We have to pay for services or feel like we are inconveniencing or imposing on friends to help us with the daily drama of raising a family. Thank goodness these services and people are available, but it may be that these, somewhat artificial, arrangements cause much of the stress that accompanies modern-day parenting.
We live in an atomized atmosphere. Jobs and schools take us far away from our network of extended family members. Busyness, whether our own or others’, makes it hard to look to friends to help watch, let alone raise, our kids. So we trudge on, day-by-day, in isolation desperately hoping for a rest and equilibrium that never comes.
Hope for Parents
But there is hope for parents. I humbly propose deep, sustained involvement in a healthy church as a solution the difficulties of parenting. The hardest part of this suggestion is finding a healthy church. I contend that the most important factor in a healthy church is the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s word. Read a church’s statement of faith to see if it agrees with historic Christianity. Make sure a church affirms the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed without reservation, for a start. I also highly recommend many churches that adhere to different confessions like the Westminster Confession of Faith or the London Baptist Confession.
Assuming you can find a healthy church, which will take much time and prayer in many cases, you must approach it not as a consumer but a contributor. Instead of asking how the church can serve your needs, ask how you can serve the church. Remember that the “church” is made up of people. So how can you serve people?
Serve people at your church in a deep, sustained way. It takes time to develop authentic, honest, life-giving relationships, even among church folk. Give yourself to the risk and the work of forming intimate relationships. And I’m talking to men, too. Oftentimes, families are only as healthy as the husbands and fathers who lead them.
We have reason for hope in our strivings. The Bible already says that we are a spiritual household (Ephesians 2:19). By faith in Jesus Christ, believers are united in a bond stronger than biology. They are united by the Son of God and His perfect sacrifice on the cross. But it remains a lifetime endeavor to work those implications out in the life of the church. Christians are a family, but they still need to learn to act like one.
A New Extended Family
The work is worth it. The glorious result of deep, sustained involvement in a healthy church is a new family. While many of us are separated from our extended family and feel the burden of parenting more acutely, the church is an even bigger family. Not only do we have a pool of gracious babysitters and other parents who “get it”, we have a family that nourishes us, too. The most important thing our children need after faith in God, is spiritually mature and emotionally healthy parents. Our new extended family, the church, helps us to raise our kids and get the care we need as parents as well. Parenting is hard, but we have access to a family that can help.