I have spent no small amount of time over the last few years dissecting my parenting decisions when my children were younger, and personally flogging myself for the mistakes that I now see very clearly. I’m sure that many of you do this from time to time. In my case, it seems to have become one of my favorite hobbies. It causes a lot of wear and tear on the self-image, but it’s a lot cheaper than golf.
When you realize a mistake in your parenting philosophy or practice, after you confess it and repent to God and your children, you try to make adjustments. You try to aright the course of the ship going forward. However, this is not as easy as it might seem. It is a common mistake to correct one error by committing another. You pull out of the ditch, just to go headlong into the ditch on the other side of the road.
I’ve said elsewhere that addressing generational sins or mistakes typically doesn’t immediately move us to a place of proper balance. More often than not, it resembles the swing of a pendulum. You swing from being too far on the left to being too equally unbalanced on the right. It takes great restraint and wisdom to bring the pendulum closer to the center—that place of balance between law and liberty—and it often takes multiple generations to get there.
As far as it relates to my parenting decisions, of the many mistakes I have made, one that often showed itself to me was my tendency to err on the side of saying “No.” When an activity, change, or potential complication to life presented itself, our general response was to say “No.” It was usually out of protective impulses, time or money demands, or an earnest desire to be more deliberate in living out our priorities—all well-meaning or legitimate concerns.
However, in looking back, I believe we were often led by fear of failure, or a hesitation to risk losing control of our kids’ formative environment and influences. We took the responsibilities mandated in Deuteronomy 6 seriously, but I believe we carried it too far and released them too slowly. While we did have many great experiences as a family, we didn’t give them enough opportunities to try and fail as individuals. We said “No” far too often.
Over the last few years, I have attempted to correct that error by moving from being the No Dad to the Yes Dad. For better or worse, I have tried to transform my instinctive responses from those of continual restraint to continual release. I have said yes far more often than I have said no. In the process, I have gotten more than a few odd looks from long-time friends who had witnessed our previous parenting patterns. Additionally, I have gotten burned a few times when my change to being the Yes Dad blew back in my face. I have still periodically made poor decisions, only from the other side of the road. So, I do my self-flagellation with my other arm.
What are the lessons that I’ve learned from this? First of all, I have gleaned that my experience is not markedly different from any other parent. We all err and we must all repent and give those mistakes to God and receive His grace and forgiveness. Secondly, my children belong to God more than they belong to me. I must release them to God as well so that they can freely look to Him and receive His grace and forgiveness as well.
I am now fully embracing that parenting is a grace-infused enterprise, because both parent and child are sinners. We must both receive the grace and mercy of God as we journey (and often fail) together and we must extend that same grace and mercy to each other as we stumble along the path.
Lastly, we must pursue and apply wisdom, instead of mere checklists. While there may be a false sense of security in following our clearly-defined plans, life in a fallen world periodically falls outside the standard boundary lines that we erect. So, we need wisdom from God to walk that fine line between Yes and No.