faith and family
The Challenge of Parenting
by Marcus J. Carlson
Being a parent is a great joy; in fact, it is one of the greatest joys life has to o er. It also is one of the most challenging tasks we are ever asked to do as human beings. I often tell expecting or new parents that parenting is one of the greatest and most meaningful things you will ever get to do, but it is also one of the hardest.
Like many things in our world, there is a lot about parenting that has not changed over the years, yet there are also many aspects of parenting that have changed dramatically and over a very short period of time. Over the past decade in particular, as I have worked with parents and made my best attempt at this thing called parenting, I have made some observations I believe can be helpful to us all, even those of us who are not currently parents.
The truth is the world is busier, messier, more dangerous, more divisive and uncertain than it has been at almost any other time in history. This adds to the challenge for parents as their children have greater access to resources and information, both good and bad. Many children face higher levels of pressure and anxiety than previous generations, while experiencing greater levels of resource and entitlement. This makes for a challenging and toxic combination.
Most parents today feel particularly alone. Though we have more tools and opportunities to connect in the world today, we have become more isolated as a society. In our busy world today, many parents feel very alone. Few parents I know or have ever spoken to feel as though they have friends who are also parents they can journey with in an honest and authentic way. For those who do have connections, they are far too few and far too often insufficient.
Many parents also feel judged by other parents, grandparents and adults in their lives. I could not begin to count the number of parents who see other families around them as so much better and as perfect, while I know full well that those very families face some of the same and perhaps even greater challenges. The grass is always greener on the other side, and many of our families have felt a need to pretend or put on an image of being more put together than they are — especially in churches and around other church members.
At one church I served, I often had the opportunity to see this dynamic in action every Sunday. From certain windows in the office area I could see a vast majority of the parking lot. Each Sunday I could look out the windows, and based on where a family would park in the lot I could tell which families were having a harder morning than others. I could easily discern which families were still nishing their argument before they walked into church to put their perfect image on display.
Parents today are simply overwhelmed. While this may have been true throughout all of history, it is more widespread than ever before. I have been blessed to have been surrounded by many wise people. My kids are gifted with many adults in their lives who care about them. We have been privileged to work with many kids and families, even before we had our own. We have had careers in education that have given us access to great tools and information.
Even with all of this at our own disposal, we have been overwhelmed many times as parents. Added to these three challenges is the reality that today more grandparents than ever are raising their grandchildren. No one plans to spend their golden years, the end of their career and their retirement season, raising children. Parenting today is a great challenge.
So often in talking with and working with other parents, I nd myself frequently doing two things: letting them know that what they are experiencing is normal and giving them permission to struggle.
Any good parent wants to be the best parent possible, and also wants to be better parents than the ones before and around them. We love our children and want to give them our best, but there are plenty of times where, for whatever reason, that does not happen. Most parents need to know that what they are feeling, experiencing and going through is normal. Many parents feel as though they are the only ones facing a particular challenge when in reality it is a common problem.
I also nd I often need to give parents permission to struggle. Parenting can be a scary adventure, and so often we doubt ourselves. Not only do we doubt ourselves, but many parents worry about how others view them. More times than not, we simply need permission to trust our instincts.
All this said, we are all in this together, and we need each other. No two parents can raise a child alone. It takes a village, Christ’s village, to raise a healthy, Christ-following child. Above all else — and perhaps more than ever, parents need each other. We need to learn from one another, support one another, encourage one another and pray, cry and laugh with one another.
I have found that gathering parents together is a gift to all. The beauty of the body of Christ, the church, is that God knew that while we each have a relationship of our own with Jesus, we need each other and faith is best expressed and lived in community. Every parent needs a community of parents alongside of them as they journey together through this gift, this adventure and calling we know as parenting.
In working with educators, social workers, pastors and other leaders who work with parents, I often remind them their job is to support and encourage parents, even if they do not agree with their parenting approach and even when their parenting falls short. We are meant to be a complement to parents, not a supplement. Those of us who have in uence in the lives of children and youth must build up, support, complement and partner with parents. We are all in this together, and our children and our youth need us all.
It is not just our children and youth that need us, however, it is all of the parents in our midst. In order to give our kids our best, we must start with building up and partnering with parents. Parenting is a calling and a gift, but is also a challenge. It is a challenge in which God walks with us, but it is also a challenge that should never be experienced alone. After all, we are all in this together.
Marcus J. Carlson is an ordained pastor (LCMC & NALC), with a Doctor of Ministry focused in family ministry. He cur- rently serves as Senior Pas- tor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Auburn, IN. He and his wife, Jessica, have two children.
For more on this topic, contact Marcus at:
or visit his website at:www.revdrorange.com