I will never forget the first time I heard a flustered parent react to out of control children. Her response? “Makes you realise why some animals eat their own young.” I laughed but I understood her exasperation. I remember teaching SRE at Liverpool Girls’ High School and wishing that their parents had eaten their young. As I retreated from class room to staff room I must confess my theology was greatly challenged. I believed that God created all things but I wasn’t sure about year seven and eight girls. Of course, when my own daughter was that age, my theology was further challenged. I wondered if someone was spiking their sandwiches, and the only problem I could see with Michael Carr-Gregg and Elly Robinson’s book, “The Princess Bitchface Syndrome”, was the lack of a companion volume about boys. Fortunately, however, my theology does not allow us to eat our young and it speaks of redemption and the possibility of God making a person a new creation. Back in those days, my preconceived opinions on parenthood had been shattered, and I had no opinion other than a will to survive.
My wife used to say to me that if I thought our children were difficult to parent, perhaps I should consider how much more God the Father has to put up with in dealing with me. Harsh, but helpful for perspective. It took the death of Jesus Christ to redeem God’s children. It is really quite encouraging to think the God of heaven would go to those extremes to express his love for children like us.
The good news is that raising our children didn’t kill us and I did gather some really helpful advice about the seasons of parenting which I think is worth sharing. It spoke to one of the biggest errors a parent can make, an error that can mess up a potential and brilliant future relationship with our children.
It began with the person telling us that our little children are not to be seen as our friends and that friendship was something to work towards. We were encouraged to consider the journey towards friendship in the following way:
0-5’s the parent is the boss. The parent rules and governs the journey of childhood;
6-12’s the parent is the player coach. The child gets to play the game of life and make some decisions but always in the company of the parent playing alongside them;
13-19s the parent is a sideline coach who can offer advice and wisdom on how life should be played while the child has some freedoms to play the game as they see it. Of course the sideline coach has the authority to bench the player if they act inappropriately;
If the previous three stages have been done well, the 20’s should see a maturity that issues in a friendship between parents and child. This is the time when your child would normally be mature enough to live independently. This of course does not mean a parent becomes superfluous but rather, having banked love and trust in the relationship, it becomes a time of friendship where a mutual respect is enjoyed and wisdom shared.
I guess the age categories could be argued a little but as a guide this is helpful advice. The responsibility of parenting requires us from time to time to be tough, to exercise discipline and train our children in the way they should go so they will be a blessing to others and not a curse. If you try to be your child’s friend before you are their parent, you will inevitably spoil them, and I mean spoil.
Finally, I offer this warning to parents whose children have grown up. Don’t continue to treat them as children or they will resent you. Relate to them as a peer, respect their decisions and encourage them like you would a friend. Remember, these are the offspring who will be looking after you when you get old.