Today being Father’s Day, I thought it timely to talk about a parenting issue. What I’m about to discuss isn’t something that affects only fathers, though, but all parents.
The issue is, how should we respond to our kids — particularly adolescent or adult kids — when they don’t live up to our expectations for them?
Recently I received a troubling email from a reader. It mentioned several points regarding family relationships and religion.
One part that particularly caught my attention was the writer’s description of how her parents reacted when they learned that she was gay. This happened when she was a teenager.
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Her family wasn’t religious, she said, but by the time she was in college, after her parents realized that her sexual orientation wasn’t going to change, they kicked her out. They took away her car. They confiscated her keys to their house.
Apparently, they never changed their minds. Her father has since passed, and the writer wasn’t able to reconcile with him.
She said she has tried to re-establish a relationship with her mother, but her mother said she couldn’t ever accept her, knowing she was gay.
But this isn’t a column specifically about what parents should do if their kid loves someone of the same gender.
It’s a column about having children, period.
It’s about the plain fact that, if you choose to have kids, sooner or later they’re likely to do or become something that sorely distresses you.
The question is how you’ll react when it happens.
Being a parent is among the most exhilarating experiences in life — and among the hardest. There’s no end to opportunities for pain.
Maybe you’re a hardy outdoorsman and you’ve long dreamed of spending days in the woods with your kid, hiking, camping, hunting and fishing. Then it turns out she’s asthmatic and a bookworm to boot, and all she wants to do — or can do — is hang out in the basement with her weird friends, playing Dungeons and Dragons.
Maybe you’ve always prided yourself on being a faithful, dedicated family man. Your son, on the other hand, becomes an incorrigible philanderer who careens from woman to woman, fathering multiple children he refuses to support and who you never get to see.
Maybe you’re an intellectual who lives a life of the mind, then all your kids successively drop out of school, never crack a book afterward, earn their keep performing menial labor and pass their evenings watching big-time wrestling.
Maybe you’re a devout Christian who goes to church three times a week, only to have your favorite daughter, who you worked two jobs to send to parochial school, announce that she’s an atheist.
The list goes on, to infinity.
In an ideal world, we’d all have perfect kids — however we define perfection; if we’re even qualified to define what perfect children would look like.
But they’d all be healthy, beautiful, brilliant, popular and moral, I’m sure.
They’d never be mentally unstable, or lazy, or obese, or dull, or awkward, or rebellious, or surly, or depressed, or homely, or dishonest, or promiscuous, or addicted to drugs. Or gay, perhaps, if that’s on your list of imperfections.
However, that’s not the world we live in.
For the record, so far I’ve had it pretty easy as a parent. I have one child, who’s an uncommonly kind and level-headed young man. I’m grateful.
Still, even in the luckiest families, kids are almost destined to break our hearts at some point, just as we broke our parents’ hearts and just as our children’s children will break their hearts.
There are no perfect kids. There are no perfect parents. (There are only perfect grandchildren! But that’s another column.)
Thus has it always been, from the beginning. Can anyone say “Cain”?
As parents, our goal, I believe, should be to unconditionally love, accept and nurture the flesh-of-our-flesh who we brought onto this fallen planet without their consent, even as our hearts might ache for them and for our own unfulfilled dreams for them.
It’s not necessary that we approve all their choices or even understand their frailties. It is vital that we accept them despite those choices and frailties, no matter what they do, no matter who they become. Just as God has accepted us.
I mentioned earlier that this is Father’s Day.
I remember when I was a boy my dad telling me, “Son, as you get older, there may come a time when I won’t like something you do. But whatever you do, no matter how bad, you’ll always be my son. I’ll always love you, and you’ll always be welcome in my house. You can always come home.”
Later, I tested his promise many times. He held true. He and my mom demonstrated the Lord’s mercy and grace to me over and again. I wish my email correspondent had been blessed with parents like that.
My dad’s vow would be a good one for all parents to make. And keep.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.