As a parent, especially to young children, you are constantly devoting your time and energy into something that doesn’t produce immediate results. It is unclear, at a hundred different turns, whether what you’re doing will have any lasting effect on your kids — which is tough because lasting effect is what you’re really after.
It’s never just about your kids sleeping through the night, or napping well, or being polite at the dinner table, or learning not to cop a bad attitude when they don’t get their way. To be sure, you spend tons of time and energy on that, but it’s never just about that. Instead, all that effort is because you want them to become a certain kind of person in the long run. You want them to become mature adults. All the little stuff parents do, from telling our kids to say “excuse me” and “thank you” to banning them from eating boogers, is all pointed toward their future.
But this future-oriented investment is never safe. Hopefully, you get to see some progress in your kids while they’re young, but you can’t possibly see it all, and sometimes you may see so little that you’re terribly discouraged. I’m pretty sure, for example, that family devotions are more for the parent’s patience than for the kid’s good. It’s just hard to see the impact right away. And honestly, we aren’t actually guaranteed to see anything.
I don’t know if I’ll see my daughters get married, or my sons become courageous men. I don’t know. Parents can never know. So much of what we do is an investment in the unseen, and therefore it is profoundly faith work. It’s waiting work. It’s risky work.
Parenting, like nothing else, exposes us to the possibility of deep suffering. I still remember some of the first parenting advice my wife and I received from a wiser, older church member, spoken compassionately about our daughter. “She will break your heart, you know.” Which did not mean, break your heart as in being cute, or wrapping dad around her finger. This was “break your heart” as in you are going to love this person so much that the thought of them hurting will almost drive you insane, and one day she’ll make her own decisions and you won’t agree with them all, and in fact, some might be dangerous decisions and your soul will ache over it like nothing you’ve ever felt before.
She knew what she was talking about. She was telling us that even with all our love and care and instruction, despite what some books might suggest, we can’t know how it will all turn out. Parenting is never a sure investment with immediate turnaround. Parenting is inescapably the work of waiting.
So how do we do that?