Has this happened to you?
One minute you’re playing or hanging out with your kids when it hits you: they’re going to grow up.
It happened to me recently on a camping trip with some friends. We started discussing some of the fears we have as fathers. During this conversation it became apparent that we had many of the same fears:
Will they choose to follow Jesus?
What will they do if someone offers them drugs?
How and when do I talk to them about sex?
Now, my kids are only six and four, so I’m still a long way off from seriously dealing with these questions. But I’m already worried. However, as I discussed these fears with my friends something else started to become apparent.
That maybe these concerns weren’t the real issue.
The Future is Terrifying
Parents like to time travel.
We jump a decade into the future and imagine the worst.
My mind is already filled with far off fears for my kids. But it’s not just worst case scenarios. Sometimes we can be bothered by the normal changes life brings.
For example, my wife doesn’t like me talking about our son becoming a teenager. When I describe him starting to smell more or grow facial hair she doesn’t want to hear it. Of course it’s just meant to be a joke but for her it’s the image of her precious baby boy turning into something a little less adorable.
But this is fair. If she talks about our daughter starting to grow into a teenager I have the same response.
Two Common Parenting Worries
Our concerns about the future of our kids is less about what might happen one day, and more about how we’re thinking in the present. What are we choosing to see and think about, and how is that impacting our families? Our faith? Our decisions?
Worrying They’ll Grow Up
One of the ways we parents work ourselves into a future-fearing lather is by holding on too tight to the present.
Most of us know the feeling of not wanting our kids to grow up. Although you might not feel this way every day the fear is that they’ll grow up and stop needing us or even wanting us around.
We’d prefer them to stay little.
Worrying Who They Are Becoming
I worry in a different way than my wife, tending to focus too much on the trials to come. But I’m not simply worried about them being offered drugs.
I’m worried about how they will handle that situation.
I’m worried about their character.
I’m constantly thinking about who they’re becoming. How they might not be strong or independent enough. We want them to have the character to persevere through life’s challenges and temptations but they’re just kids and only remember a quarter of our advice.
So what do we do?
We try racing to the finish line, treating them like a work project. We address the issues as they come up with laser focus hoping to change them in a single conversation. We do this with good intent but inevitably we get frustrated because things don’t change overnight.
Parenting is a long game.
We know that.
But it doesn’t make picturing our kids’ future any less scary.
Because in the end isn’t that the goal – for our kids to learn and grow in character? But that means, to see the fruit of that, we’ll need to wait for them to become adults. And this should be the goal. After all, the longest form of our relationship with them will be with their adult versions.
How to Face the Future with Confidence
So now the big question.
How do we manage these fears and look into the future with confidence instead of fear?
Well, here are a few things to try that I’ve found helpful.
Picture a Better Outcome
I’m not big on giving advice that naively asks people to think positively. But here I think it applies. When we only focus on the difficult things of the future, it’s no wonder we get stressed.
Our fears should be used more as a warning bell that tells us something is starting to go off the rails.
Maybe instead of fearing our kids will kill themselves or someone else while learning to drive, or worrying about their dating someone you hate, just reverse it. Imagine them doing things well. Imagine they will date someone you might actually like. Now put those images to prayer and ask God how to walk towards it.
Take Time to Connect
We know we should connect with our kids, and already strive for it, but it’s an area where most of us know we could up our games.
For me, taking time to connect can easily feel like it’s just something on my checklist.
If you’re trying to meet all your personal goals and spend quality time with your kids you’re going to fall short.
Instead, connecting with our kids should be viewed the same way as tithing: give a little. A percentage more than you’re giving right now. Just enough so you have to change some of your plans.
You’ll have to give up something.
Don’t time travel
You haven’t met your future children.
And when we get hung up on what’s to come we skip past years of unmade memories.
All of our future fears have smaller moments that come first. These smaller trials help prepare both parent and child for the real challenges. So remember to stay present.
No doubt you will still feel the fear creep back and that’s okay. We’re not trying to eliminate the fear, we’re just trying to manage it.
And when you find yourself in a more difficult season with your children just remember that you’re building into a future relationship with your children.
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Kevin has been married to Jerrah-Lee 11 years. They are currently raising one human girl and one human boy. He loves spending time with his family, traveling and seeking out mildly life threatening situations. Although his wife does not fully support this last hobby, he hopes to raise kids that do.