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A friend emailed this article to me from Christianity Today that I had somehow missed, about the pitfalls of being the perfect Christian parent. The themes of guilt, shame, anxiety (i.e., Law) about producing Christian children are not unfamiliar to MBird readers. Unfortunately, as the author notes, they are also recurrent themes in Christian parenting. She discusses the control that Christians parents often believe that they have over the spiritual formation of their children, and how this control is really an illusion. Here are just a few gems from the article:

I find most Christian parents at the front of the line—the anxiety and success line, not the slacker line. With my own offspring ranging from first grade through college, I take turns stepping into both, perfecting my own blend of angst and aplomb, depending on the issue. This one question, however, sends me elbowing to the front of the anxiety queue, where I find most of my friends and fellow believers. Our most consuming concern is that our children “turn out”—that is, that our Christian faith and values are successfully transmitted, and that our children grow up to be churchgoing, God-honoring adults.”

One of the most resilient and cherished myths of parenting is that parenting creates the child: “As the twig is bent, so grows the branch.” While the nature-nurture debate has ground on for centuries, nurture has been the clear popular favorite among most child-rearing experts and parents. […]Many Christian writers and parents have absorbed these values and drifted into what could be called spiritual determinism. We have absorbed the cultural belief in psychological determinism but spiritualized it with Bible verses, and one verse in particular. The result is a Christianized version of the cultural myth. It reads something like this: “Christian parenting techniques produce godly children.”

It is likely that we are asking the wrong questions as parents. We are so focused on ourselves—on our own need for success and the success of our children—that we have come to view parenting as a performance or a test. It appears we are failing the test, as large numbers of our youth leave the church when they leave our nests. And now genetic research tells us the test may even be rigged.

We cannot pass this test, I’m afraid, nor could we ever. If we are graded on a curve, we will always find parents and children who are more obedient, more joyful, and more peaceful than we are. We will find parents whose children turned out better than ours, parents with a higher percentage of “spiritual champions” than we can claim for our efforts.

If we are graded instead on an absolute scale—as I believe we are—we fail even more miserably. But this is why a Savior was provided, and gifted to us through grace, through faith—”and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). If even our ability to believe in God is given to us by God, then how much of parenting can we perform on our own? We must proceed, then, on our knees first, beggars before the throne, if we are to parent well.