by far, the most widely read post on my site was my response to amy chua’s tiger mom book/parenting style. i attribute this not so much to the fact that i have such great insights into parenting as parents are so hungry for advice and guidance in dealing with their children. and although there are a lot of blogs and site out there for moms, i have noticed a considerable dearth of parenting advice for dads. and so i’m going to try to devote more posts here to encouraging (read:commiserating with) young dads out there. so here’s my first piece of parenting insight, garnered over the past 6 years of parenting 3 young children:
kids aren’t for everyone.
yes, my first piece of parenting advice is to question whether you really want or should parent. i think most of the time, when you hear this opinion being opined, it is usually in response to accounts of absolutely atrocious parenting, like this mom who glued her toddler’s hands to the wall, or this dad who threw his son off of a tour boat. and when we hear these stories, we vindictively rail that these people aren’t fit to be parents, and feel immense sorrow for the young children who have to endure such treatment. and i couldn’t agree more, that these miscreants never should have had children.
but when i say that kids aren’t for everyone, i don’t think this advice applies solely to those who are perfect candidates for involuntary sterilization (see above). i think it also applies to those who of us who, for the most part, are well-adjusted and normal people who potentially could make passable if not capable parents given the chance, i.e. most of us out there. even if you are like this, you should consider the possibility that kids aren’t for you. and i say this not in judgment of those people and their capabilities as a parent, but primarily in judgment of myself.
i am, and have always been, extremely good with children. i relate to them easily, play with them naturally, and usually understand them quickly. i chalk this up to the fact that i am at heart an extremely immature person… well, let’s call it child-like, that’s so much better and more Christian. and yet despite this, despite my innate facility with children, there are often times when i myself question if i should ever have had children. there are countless times where i speak harshly, even cruelly to my kids, in a way that i know hurts them, in a way i distinctly remember being hurt as a child myself. there are innumerable moments where i don’t take the time to understand them, and assume their behavior is due to a blatant lack of discipline and manners towards me, not a lack of effort on my behalf to lovingly teach and model discipline and manners to them. even though i seem like the perfect candidate for fatherhood from the outside, i would be embarrassed to disclose the number of times i pity my children for having a dad like me. and this is coming from someone who loves kids…particularly his own!
but i give this advice not just in light of the fact that we may unknowingly make bad parents, which is rather pessimistic and overly broad, but also in light of the fact that not all of us are called to be parents, whether we would be good ones or not. simply put, although many of us are biologically able to have kids, that doesn’t mean that is something we all are called by God to do so. that concept seems simple enough, but it seems novel and slightly discomfiting because Christian culture has (mistakenly, in my belief) made marriage and having children a nearly mandatory part of the faith. i have been told point-blank by very influential pastors that it is God’s will for every person to get married and have children, a viewpoint based on a very narrow interpretation of God’s command in Genesis to fill the earth. i have heard countless sermons and seminars on dating, marriage, and raising kids, but none in support of the gift of celibacy and the joy of being single for life, a.k.a. the spiritual gifts that no one wants. and this focus on marriage and family was for the most part well-intentioned, based on a desire to protect families and children from a world that can be exceedingly perverse and ungodly. but as a result, Christians assume that their own journey of faith necessarily includes marriage and children.
but i want to plant a seed of dissent in our minds, and suggest that this is not necessarily true. we have somehow forgotten how Christ himself taught that in heaven (i.e. that place where things are the way they are supposed to be), there is no marriage because our corporate relationship with Christ will be our greatest joy. in other words, in the place/state where everything is as it should be, the relationship between Christ and the church is not a metaphor for marriage…marriage is the metaphor and the moon, while Christ is the source, the sun! and we forget Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians, that it’s better to stay unmarried because a married man’s interest are divided, when an unmarried man’s are not. we may explain away this passage because of its very particular societal and chronological context, the fact that Paul thought that Jesus’ return was imminent, but we cannot deny that what Paul says here is truth. there is no consistent imperative in biblical theology that it is God’s plan and will that every single person be married and have children. instead, i suspect that this is a cultural imperative that masks itself under a cloak of faith – this is definitely the case at korean churches.
although i bring up this thought in the context of our personal approach to marriage and children, it has far broader implications for the church and our intersection with modern culture and morality. it is my opinion that the cultural war that is being waged in regards to rights to marriage and having children is a bed that Christians have themselves made, and now have to sleep in. you see, if you talk about something in the very highest terms, as if it is so awesome and so important and so necessary, you shouldn’t be surprised if people want it for themselves. and for decades, Christians have exalted the idea of getting married and having children so very high, as a sanctified, mandatory calling from God himself – is it any wonder that people felt left out, excluded, and wanted to secure this precious state for themselves at any cost? who wouldn’t, given the amount of one-sided attention the church paid to these ideas? we cannot ignore our own role in how people perceive the importance of marriage, and should face the consequences of our own imbalance. imagine what the modern debate on marriage would look like if instead the church said all along was, “yes, marriage and child rearing are wonderful and are God’s will for some people…but not for all. you don’t have to be married or have kids, and God still loves you immensely and is not displeased with you in any way. no matter what, the love of Christ is the most powerful one you will ever experience, and can be fully known whether you are married or not.” i’m not suggesting that the debate on marriage would never have happened, but perhaps the tone would be more civilized, the stances less entrenched, and the Body of Christ more…you know, Christ-like.
although it is lamentable that we did not do this earlier, it is not too late for us to reclaim a balanced and fully-biblical understanding of marriage and children. we can reverse this cultural and theological imbalance now, starting with us. we don’t have to look down on those who are single, and remain so. we no longer have to ask the question of a pastor who is single, “what’s wrong with him/her?” because the answer is “nothing”! we don’t have to set our biological clocks to the timeframe of our friends…for some of us, we may not have to start those clocks at all. it is completely okay if we don’t, or can’t, have children – God loves us still. we should hold marriage and children, as well as celibacy and singleness, sacred, all at once.
after all, marriage and children may not be for everyone…but fortunately, Christ is.