So the first day of school is tomorrow. Backpacks are ready, clothes and shoes are laid out, kids are finally asleep. For two of them, it’s their first day of school ever. For our third grader, it’s old hat. For mom, watching her baby boy march off to preschool, it’s relief (woohoo, a break!) mixed with sadness. Her baby is growing up.
Of course, there are still two more at home. One of the girls starts next week and the other starts next year. But having four out of the house most days will be a chance to breathe, to catch up, to settle into the routine of homework and folders and papers to sign and lunches to pack and clothes to get ready.
Then there are the less tangible things to keep up with. Do they know enough? Are they keeping up in class? Do they have friends? Do they annoy their friends? Wait, how do I make sure they’re not annoying their friends? Are they learning the facts they need? Can I cram it all into their heads right now so I don’t miss anything? Are they developing character? Are they becoming the kinds of boys and girls that will grow into the kinds of men and women this world needs? What if they mess up? Are they emotionally okay? Do they have the right shoes? How can we make sure they don’t fail?
If you think about it all, you’ll be overwhelmed. But here’s the deal. Parenting is a process, not an overnight project like that science poster your kid is going to forget to tell you about at some point this year. There’s no way we can teach them everything we want today or tomorrow or even this school year. That’s why God gives them to us for at least 18 years, in most cases.
There’s time for them to fail — and they’re going to fail. It’s okay. In fact, if they don’t fail, if they never figure out how to try something and then pick themselves back up and try again when it doesn’t work out, then we’ve failed as parents. (Although we should try to avoid letting them fail an entire grade.)
And when we fail, because that’s gonna happen every day too? Well, God works all things for good for those who love him — including parenting mistakes. There’s no condemnation because Christ already took that for us. Instead, there’s freedom to go be the best parents we can be for the glory of God.
Our goal isn’t to protect our kids from everything. Our goal isn’t to be the cool parents in the classroom. (As someone tweeted the other day, “As you get older, you realize that the cool parents were really just bad parents.”) Our goal isn’t to spur our kids to leave a string of impressive accomplishments in their wake.
Our goal is to plow up our kids’ hearts so that when they finish this school year, when they finish their time in our homes, they can leave trusting Jesus, ready to serve him. Yes, they’ll learn reading and writing and math and all the rest. But as we prepare these arrows to be launched into the world with a purpose and a target, we do so with an eternal weight of glory in mind, looking to the things that are unseen.
First day of school? Let’s get after it.
Credit where it’s due — several of these thoughts came from a parenting class we just started at church. Thanks to @jpaulhatfield for pointing our minds in a stimulating direction. I’m planning to try to write a little more consistently as we move through the class.