If you’re a parent raising young children or teenagers, I want to share a thought with you. If you’re here for the first time or back again, let me say how grateful I am that you’ve chosen to trust me with a few minutes of your time. I’m a father of course, so I want to speak to you from a parent’s heart. I confess this might not be popular or easy for everyone, but I hope to convey it in a way that will allow you to see the same significance in it as I do. However, before we get started, let me just state something up front.
If you love your children, the message of the Gospel is the one thing that they need to hear and see modeled by you more than anything else. Although this isn’t necessarily the focal point today, the Gospel isn’t just for saving our soul, it’s for our parenting as well, and there’s no way that we can discuss loving our children without weaving in the framework of that message. Let me say it like this, and I’ll move on. Salvation is the greatest need that our children have. You might not like to think about it, but your children are facing a life and death issue from the moment they’re born. Yes, there is something more important than their physical life, and that’s where their spiritual soul will spend eternity. There is nothing more significant that you can give them, but there is something else that you can do that will make a world of difference – and nudge their heart toward this soul-saving message. So, let’s get back to our current discussion.
As we all know, a parent’s love for their children is expressed in many forms. However, I’m not here to give you a top ten list of those things. I have a personal vendetta against the need for always putting something in a list. Let’s be honest – we don’t live our lives by a structured set of things to do. Read an article filled with bullet points or listen to a five point message today, and tell me what it says tomorrow – point by point. Did you take action on every one of those items? Oh, and tell me those same points again the next day – if you can. If you’re just looking to communicate information, have at it, but when we’re talking about life change and actionable ideas, maybe what we need sometimes is one simple idea that we can focus on – one simple truth that we can invest our time and energy in. That doesn’t mean that we throw everything else out. It means let’s zero in on a thought that will make us better right now. There’ll be time for those other things. After all, if Christ himself warns us not to look ahead to tomorrow because of all the problems we’re facing today, who wants another list of things to do (Matthew 6:34).
Now of course, there are many responsibilities that are paramount to our role as parents, but I want to hone in one of the most pivotal things that you can do today that will have a life-long impact on your children, and guess what, it doesn’t even start with you doing something directly for your children. You probably won’t find it in a traditional list when it comes to this matter either, but I’m convinced it’s of eternal value. Whether you’re married, divorced, or in a complicated situation, if you have children, especially young children or teenagers, hear my plea, and why I’m urging you to do this.
Parents, if you love your children, love the other parent of your children unconditionally and without reservation – no matter the relational status.
Now this may sound strange to you no matter what your relational status is. You could be thinking – I’m married to the other parent of my children – of course I love them. Why is this worth talking about? Maybe you’re in a different situation, and you’re thinking, there’s no way I could do that. Not a chance. It’s not happening. No matter where you’re at, if you read that and immediately decided that this isn’t for you, and you’re ready to check-out, stay with me a moment. I’m not here to be captain obvious to those of you who are married (although you may just be married by position and not practice, and if that’s the case, I’m still talking to you). I’m also not here to guilt you or shame you about your past if you’re circumstances are different. However, I am here to emphasize the opportunity you have to reveal the message of the Gospel to your children, and how your actions can shape the character of your children for the rest of their lives.
So why am I talking about this in the first place? The primary reason that prompted me to share this thought was due to a story I read about a divorced dad that went viral several months ago. Billy Flynn, a father from Boston, celebrated his former wife’s birthday, also the mother of his children, by getting up early to take their children over so they could give her flowers, cards, and a gift. In addition, he helped them make breakfast for her.
Perplexed by the questions he received after doing something of this nature for a woman he was no longer married to, he responded, “I’m raising two little men. The example I set for how I treat their mom is going to significantly shape how they see and treat women and affect their perception of relationships. I think even more so in my case because we are divorced… Rise above it and be an example. This is bigger than you. Raise good men. Raise strong women. Please. The world needs them, now more than ever.”
Now, I’m not going to argue much with what Billy did or had to say. Obviously, I don’t know Billy personally, and I can’t say his motives were Gospel-driven. However, I believe his actions should be commended none the less. On the surface, there’s an underlying attribute of the Gospel here. If there is such a thing as an act of grace (receiving what you don’t deserve) and possibly even mercy (not receiving what you do deserve) from one human to another, that’s about as close as it gets.
After reading Billy’s story, the thought dawned on me that although what Billy did was uncommon and made even more difficult by his relational status, the purpose behind his actions should be echoed to all parents. If you desire the Gospel to be a foundational approach to your parenting, there’s no better place to start than how you treat the other parent of your children.
This leads me to those of you who have the opportunity to do what Billy did every day. If you’re married to the other parent of you children, you have an opportunity to love your spouse daily in a biblical manner in front of your children. Essentially, your marital union puts you and your spouse on stage to continually tell the story of the Gospel. What an amazing gift to your children. Now, I’m not here to discuss marriage at the moment. The goal here is to focus on loving your children, but there’s no better way to do this than in the confines of marriage. So let me just say this – husbands, if your primary responsibility in marriage is to love your wife as Christ loved the church, man up and love your wife sacrificially so that your son will know how to do the same (Ephesians 5:25). Wives, if you are likewise called to respect and honor your husband, demonstrate a Godly biblical submission to him so that you can leave a pattern for your daughter (Ephesians 5:33). Again, I realize there is much to be said there, but the point here is the influence that your marriage has on your children. In the words of Billy, it’s bigger than you.
Now, if you don’t share a life with the other parent of you children, let me humbly pull you aside and share some thoughts with you from my heart for a moment. I don’t know your personal situation, or how you ended up where you are, but remember, I love you, and I care for you. Despite how you may feel about the other parent, respect them. Honor their position as a father or mother. They may not accept it or even reciprocate it, but your children will benefit more from this than you’ll ever know. When you do this, you’re doing something else – you’re giving your kids permission and freedom to love the other parent. After all, they are going to always love you both. Don’t create an undeserved hardship for them by forcing them to feel as if they must choose one or the other – or make them feel as if they must suppress their love for the other parent when they’re with you. If you’re actions and words indicate you are supportive of the other parent, and you’ve given them the liberty to love the other parent, you’re cultivating an opportunity for your children to have a stronger and deeper relationship with you. That’s a win for everyone.
Now, you may think that how you feel about that other parent has nothing to do with your children, but your children don’t see it that way, or at least I didn’t as I child. I’m a product of divorced parents. The assumption that children think it’s their fault may not always be the predominant feeling. In fact, I never felt that way at all, but I did feel like I lost something. As a child and even a teenager, I found security in the idea that my parents were together, and I was a part of that bond. No matter what I faced in life, that bond between my parents was as a safe place for me. When that connection between my parents was severed, my world came collapsing down as well. As children get older, there is a sense of sanctuary and comfort that they feel when they know that both of their parents are united in doing what’s best for them and for the family. Children have an innate understanding that grows with time that both parents have a unique and essential role to play in their life. Since they have been born, their world has revolved around both of you. Distance may separate you and the other parent now, but in many regards, you will always be one to your children – as God intended a marriage to be.
Unfortunately, because of my own experiences, I’m convinced this is one of the most devastating emotions that children feel when their sanctuary is lost. After all, if God meant for children to come after the union of a man and woman, He must deem that bond to be a critical factor in the well-being and development of our children.
Now, I don’t say that to discourage you if you’re not raising your children together under the same roof, but just the opposite. Even if you’ve both moved on, the role you play now as a father or mother is even more significant! As I mentioned earlier, this may be a difficult action for you to take. I know that bitterness and anger can be so deeply rooted that it’s tough to change course, and I’m not suggesting you do it alone. The same God who offered grace to you (which I hope you’ve chosen to receive) can help you extend it as well, and no one gives grace better than someone who realizes they need it to.
Now I understand that every situation is different. How you got where you are is different. People are different. Maybe you can’t literally do what Billy Flynn did for whatever reason. Maybe all you can do is change how you feel toward the other parent in your heart. Those internal feelings even if subtle are evident to you children, so think about the impression you’re leaving. If you can’t physically exhibit an act of kindness or speak something kind to the other parent, you can still do something for your children so that they can see the intentions of your heart. I realize to discuss this with your children, if they are old enough to understand, will require laying aside your pride and showing some vulnerability. However, think of this as a God-given opportunity that will allow your children to experience the Gospel first hand. Expressing genuine forgiveness to anyone is difficult much less having to admit your faults to your own kids, but it’s likely to enable you to discover healing not only for yourself, but in your relationship with them.
What am I trying to say by all this if that’s you? Do what’s in the realm of reasonability for you based on your situation. No matter where you both may be in life, you can always encourage your kids and help them do something for the other parent. If you can’t do it for the other parent, at least do it for your children’s sake. If you happen to be the only parent who chooses to extend kindness to the other, know that your children are going to benefit from your actions immensely.
I’ve taken enough of your time already, so I’ll let you be on your way.
Parents, no matter which relational category you’re in, kindness, respect, and genuine care toward the other parent will teach your kids valuable truths that they can lean on for a lifetime.
Billy, kudos to you.
No matter what the world says, I personally applaud your actions.
I hope more fathers (and mothers) will follow your lead.
So, here’s a shout out from the Dad with Swag – you got this one right.
And for that, you’re the man.
From one parent to another, I pray that if you’re married to the other parent of your children, you’ll find a new passion to love and respect them in the manner that scripture commands. If you’re a single parent or in a new place, I pray that you’ll show kindness and respect to the other parent of your children in a manner appropriate for you – even if that simply means allowing your own heart to be changed.
After all, it was a love like that from another parent, our Father in Heaven, that extended something to you and I that we didn’t deserve. Neither did He give us what we do deserve.
The actions that you take can open the door for Him, the Savior of the world, to do the same in your children, and that my friend, is what they need the most.