My family and I just returned from a vacation to Lake Tahoe. It was beautiful and I am really grateful we had the opportunity to go. That said, vacation with small children should never be called vacation. It should be called “the week when you do all the usual work to keep your children alive, but in another location.”
Outside of their normal routine and structure, the kids misbehaved constantly. There was more whining, more fighting, less gratitude and less kindness than ever. Returning from vacation, I had a genuine feeling of disappointment in my kids. I felt like a failure and wondered where I have gone wrong. Shouldn’t all of my intentional parenting efforts result in my kids becoming “better and better” people over time? Why do they seem to be getting worse right now?
As I considered these questions, I was reminded of an insight I heard years ago: There is no disappointment without expectations.
Is the problem, therefore, with my expectations or with my kids failing to live up to them?
When you work hard to be an intentional parent, it’s easy to become wrapped up in the expectation of results. After all, if we didn’t believe our extra efforts would have the desired impact, we wouldn’t bother in the first place. The problem, however, is the nature of sin.
One of my favorite bloggers, C Michael Patton, wrote about the topic of Christian growth (theologically defined as “sanctification”) this week.
Patton explains that he had always defined sanctification as “The state of experiencing growth that is measured by becoming more Christ-like. Interpretation: You are getting better and better.”
This is how many of us subconsciously view the growth process of our children. We expect some kind of (at least roughly) linear growth to stem from our careful Christian parenting, as if we are guiding our kids up a step-by-step ladder of goodness. When they fall, our flawed expectations lead to disappointment in them and ourselves.
Patton goes on to conclude that his working definition of sanctification is now: “The process of Christian development that has more to do with how dependent you have become on the Lord, not necessarily about being ‘good.’”
The reason this definition is necessary, he says, is that “New life stages present you with new ways to show off your fallen nature.”
I simply love the truth of this statement. Though he is writing as it applies to adult life, it couldn’t be more applicable for kids. Kids go through far more developmental stages in 18 years than adults do the rest of their lives. Every time they face new schools, new relationships, new self-awareness levels, new activities, and so on, they will face new trials which will undoubtedly lead to new ways to sin.
Just because we are raising our kids in a Christian home doesn’t mean they will continuously and automatically evolve into “better and better” people.
Learning to expect that may be one of the most difficult things I need to account for as a Christian parent. It reminds me that my role is not one of pushing them as firmly as I can up an imaginary ladder of goodness, but rather it is one of holding their hand down a narrow (and winding) road.
Next time you are dealing with disappointment in your kids (or before you get to that point!), try this: Reset your expectations for the road to wind, rather than for specific “results.” If we expect the road to wind, we will come to embrace the opportunity to guide rather than lament the circumstances that led there.