Our Children Raise Us: Lessons from the School of Parenting


As moms and dads, the odds of being perfect parents are the same odds of being perfect human beings: nil.

We’re not omniscient. The parent who thinks he has learned all he needs to learn and is finished maturing remains immature. We have much to gain, and our children can be a way for us to grow up. I used to think the sequence was this:

  1. Grow up.
  2. Get married.
  3. Have children.

But no. You get married, grow up a bit, have children, and then grow up lots more. Our children help to raise us.

Home as a School for Parents

A parent taught only by adults possesses an incomplete education. Parents cannot appreciate everything they are told about parenting until they experience children of their own.

When I taught in public schools, one of my colleagues had raised no children of her own, but because of her master’s degree, she considered herself quite knowledgeable in raising them. Sadly, she didn’t know what she didn’t know. The experience of parenting provides an unparalleled school. The tests may seem a bit tough at times, but to become a parent is to enroll.

In normal school, the tests are generally preceded by lessons. In life, including parenting, the tests arrive prior to the lessons and are in fact part of the lessons.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4)

Raising children brings a conveyor belt of tests and trials, and as instruments in the hand of God, those tests produce mature parental character.

A Child’s Many Lessons

Becoming a parent, then, is no license to stop learning, and the household is a wonderful, God-given school. What are some of those lessons parents might expect to learn in this school of the family? Consider just a sampling.

Children teach us that life is brief. Childhood goes by in a flash. We are older than we think, closer to the finish line. Even when life may seem to be dragging, it flies by, with less and less sand left in the hourglass. My own children are now middle-aged with their own children becoming adults. How did that happen so fast? Since life is brief, wise parents sort priorities so that main things take precedence, deferring lesser things accordingly.

Children remind us of lessons we are continually forgetting, such as the centrality of enabling grace to do what we ought to do; the need for humble realism, pointing us back to the enabling grace we need; and the bigness of God, who always provides enough of that enabling grace. “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).

“You get married, grow up a bit, have children, and then grow up lots more. Our children help to raise us.”

Children picture for us (and remind us) what receiving God’s kingdom is like: “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15).

Children can model faith, amazement, yearning, and delight. They can teach us that the universe God created is a fascinating place. Alert parents are on the lookout for ways to imitate these living, God-given signposts in our homes. From them we can learn how to try things, to experiment.

Children are also mirrors, reflecting back to us our priorities and our character. Where did that child learn to use that tone of voice? The home serves as an excellent laboratory in which to practice setting a guard at our lips. The mirrors are listening.

As mirrors, children teach us about ourselves, that we (parents and children) are a race of sinners, born with a sinful bent, with none of us fulfilling righteousness — no, not one (Romans 3:10–12). We all tend to be self-centered, making foolish efforts to self-justify. To parent without a conscious awareness of our sin nature is to garden without an awareness of weeds.

Children also have reminded me that mercy covers a multitude of sins. They can be models of forgiveness. Don’t waste the models.

Aiming Bottle Rockets

Over time, children also teach us just how much we depend on God himself to raise our children.

Even though parents are extremely influential in shaping the lives of their kids, if your children don’t eventually disabuse you of the notion that you are responsible for everything they become, then let me relieve you of that unbiblical idea right now.

Once, when I set off a package of “identical” bottle rockets launched from the same pop bottle and aimed the same way, they launched in wildly varied directions, some curling and swirling, some darting straight to the heavens, and a few blowing up before leaving the launching pad. In the providence of God, children vary like bottle rockets. Yes, you can aim them, but you can’t guarantee they’ll end up in the same place. Not all variables are within parents’ control. Children teach us this lesson, illustrated with their lives. The uniqueness of each child (at any age) points us to God’s matchless creativity.

It’s true that some parents do a terrible or indifferent job of “aiming” their little rockets, and the above paragraph is not aimed at soothing their guilt. I’m saying that rockets from the same package, manufactured the same way, aimed by the same aimers, go off in different directions. If parents don’t know this going in, the arrival of actual children provides a field exercise in recalibrating expectations.

Embrace Your Home as a School

Learning from our children depends, in part, on embracing the reality of our deep, ongoing imperfections. Such humble and realistic self-awareness serves healthy and wise parental openness, helping us not run from the painful lessons we see in the mirror of our kids.

I have found it helpful to consciously ask, “How is God refining me by means of his word, these children he has given me, and the circumstances in which I now swim?” In addition to being mightily encouraged by the glimmers of progress that occasionally burst through, I am served by the adversities I encounter as a parent. As messengers of God, the challenges of parenting humble me, point out where repentance is due (or overdue), pull weeds of selfishness and immaturity in my heart, and spread fertilizer on the soil from which grows the fruit of the Spirit.

Parenting challenges prod me to refocus and make not just a home but a life. They spur me to plant seeds and water the seeds planted in my own heart by my God-given children. Lord, make it so.

My wife and I have often told our children, “You raised us.” God be thanked.

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