What do you do when you are afraid? In that moment of discomfort, do you withdraw? Maybe when panic rises, you lash out in anger. Some turn to substance abuse to numb anxious feelings, while others go for a hard workout. Have you ever just sat with your fear and tried to evaluate it?
Many of us would say we had no idea what intense anxiety was until we became parents. It can be an overwhelming tsunami of emotion the first time someone sees their child facing danger. Fear is a present and normal reality and part of the human package. We have to learn to manage it, or it will most certainly manage us. In the process of child rearing, part of a parent’s focus should be to train a child to handle their emotions. God gave us feelings, but He also gave us brains and a will. We can use these to conquer the power of our emotions if we exercise them correctly, and that takes practice and understanding. The earlier a child begins to practice handling their feelings appropriately, the more understanding they will have about how to identify them and manage them well.
Unfortunately, it is becoming an uphill climb for parents to follow through with effective emotional training due to a culture that is devaluing self-control. The prevalent lie communicates that feelings are equivalent to a person’s truth. Rather than emotions being part of the human package, they have come to define the whole package. Many believe they must give in to their feelings because that is who they are. But our emotions lie to us all the time. Our “accuser” (Revelation 12:10), and the “father of lies” (John 8:44), has twisted the truth about feelings to undermine who God is, who we are, and the power of God’s Word so that we will not be victorious, self-controlled, or wise in the emotional storms of life.
Listening to, believing, and submitting ourselves to the lies of our emotions cripples our ability to maintain a healthy relationship with others, as well as a balanced relationship with the Lord. This is true of both positive and negative emotions. But let’s take a closer look at fear, particularly in parenting. Anxiety as a way of life damages the growth and vitality of our families, and parents may experience pervasive fear in four primary ways.
- The first is a fear of the culture, which is easy to understand. The lies that are being accepted as truth in this digital age are insane. You may look at the culture and think nothing like this has ever happened before, but God assures us in Ecclesiastes 1:9 that it certainly has. It may be new technology, but the behavior behind it is motivated by the same lies, generated by the same heresies, and sustained by the same lustful flesh as has existed since the beginning of time. Being afraid of the internet won’t help you, as it’s not going anywhere, and neither is the world system. But the author and sustainer of the lies it is generating—Satan himself—is defeated by the Light. And the truth of the gospel is a powerful, effective weapon against the accuser.
If the Lord was able to give peace and hope to first-century Christians facing the lions in the arena, then He is able to do so for us here and now. Renewing our mind to the truth that He is Sovereign (Isaiah 28:16), He loves our children (Matthew 19:14), He hears our prayers (Matthew 11:28-29), He is always good (Psalm 34:8), He saves those who call upon Him (Psalm 55:16), and He will not forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) reminds us that no matter what the world or our feelings are telling us, we can rejoice in redemption! If we keep our focus fixed on the Lord (Hebrews 12:1-2, Colossians 3:1-2), we are able to overcome fear as parents and offer our children love, joy, peace, and hope instead (Galatians 5:22-23).
However, if our attention remains on what the world is doing, we will falter—and constantly looking at a screen is pretty much the same thing. Clear, wise boundaries limiting the amount and type of media you and your family consume will lessen the chaotic background noise in your minds. God has given us clear instructions calling us to be His ambassadors. But if we are preoccupied with miscellaneous, irrelevant, overstimulating, or negative information, we will feel generally anxious all the time. Evaluate what you are looking at: Is it helping you to do what God has called you to do today? If it isn’t, then you don’t need it. Don’t waste your energy on frivolous, meaningless distractions. The emotional and mental health of your family is more important than your presence on social media or any other online platform. The peace of Christ can reign in your home and draw your children to the gospel when the truth is louder than all the other worldly voices.
When you are actually faced with scary, overwhelming circumstances, problems, stresses, and concerns, acknowledge your fear. Take it to Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7), and ask for His help to think correctly about your struggle. Don’t deny it or try to escape it—instead, cry out to the Prince of Peace and beg Him to show you how you should think during this challenging time. He promises to be with you (Isaiah 43:2) and to equip you with His Spirit so that you will not be overcome (Hebrew 13:20-21). He will tell you the Truth, and as you renew your mind to that Truth, your feelings of fear will lose their power over you. You will experience His supernatural peace that will then overflow to your children as you make wise decisions grounded in God’s Word to deal with your situation.
- The second way parents get overwhelmed is through the fear of self: “I am terrified I’m gonna mess up my kids.” This is an easy one—you will! If you are depending on yourself to be a perfect example at all times, you are doomed. The great answer to our dilemma is found in the gospel, where we acknowledge we are sinners (Romans 3:23), we need to be saved (John 3:16-17), and we go to Jesus for forgiveness (I John 1:9). We don’t demonstrate the gospel to our children by never “messing up,” but by confessing our sin to them and to God! Did you lose your temper? Apologize, ask their forgiveness, and explain you need Jesus’ forgiveness for your sins just like they need His forgiveness for theirs. Don’t try to cover up or deny your sin. Humble yourself, so that Jesus can forgive and save both you and your children in the midst of your messes.
- The third parental fear is of a damaged reputation. Beware! If you put your identity in being a great mom or dad, you have placed a great burden on your child’s shoulders. Our identity should be in Christ and Christ alone (Colossians 3:3-4). Just because your child is behaving and making you feel proud does not necessarily mean that you are an incredible parent. And just because your child is misbehaving and making you feel embarrassed does not mean you have failed. Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and do your best to parent according to God’s Word. But don’t make your child define who you are by their choices. Correct those choices and remember they are in process, and God will finish the work He started in them (Philippians 1:6).
- The fourth fear that undermines parenting is an actual fear of the child. Parents who are afraid of their child’s negative emotions will not be the guiding, firm authority they desperately need. This parent associates failure with an unhappy child, and so they put the child in complete charge. In some cases, there are no boundaries at all—even for things that are obviously dangerous, unhealthy, or inappropriate. The ultimate goal becomes keeping the child from having an outburst rather than actually training them how to be patient, respectful, kind, full of self-control, obedient, thoughtful, and responsible contributors to the family. This philosophy is seeping into the church. Failing to correct a child and give clear boundaries is the opposite of love. Don’t fall for it! God never ever intended children to run the home, nor did He say they should always be “happy”
Who will stand up for the children? To love a child according to the Scripture is the kind of love that teaches, protects, provides, guides, nurtures, corrects, trains, and never ever gives up or gives in to a child’s demands. It creates trust and respect and gives clear boundaries and directions that shelter them from the evils of a godless culture, as well as the tendencies of the flesh. Adulthood is a shock for those who think that they should always get their way, and it is tragic to see how they end up. Let us raise children with the character and the desire to live a Spirit-filled life, glorifying God with their choices, and rising above the desperation around them. This kind of parenting takes courage and sets fear aside to obey the Lord and do what is right in the home.
For a deeper understanding of how to think differently, Learning Trust, Finding Treasure: Helping you Solve the Puzzle of Parenting is a study that will provide clarity and encouragement as you raise your children to love the Lord Jesus.
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