What Are Our Children – Vehicle, Obstacle, or Passenger?

It’s hard being a parent. It’s hard raising little sinners up to be godly, contributing members of society. Children make it hard by being, well, themselves.

But you know what’s harder than raising little sinners? Being a sinner who gets to raise little sinners. Parents are selfish, and this selfishness exhibits itself most clearly in our parenting.

We treat out children as vehicles to happiness. They are required to carry us to the promised land of reputation or vicarious success. The bear the weight of our bulging, saggy, baggy egos on their little shoulders as we jerk the steering wheel this way and that toward good grades, little league all-star games, and proper table manners. They strain under the burden of our crushing expectations as we mash the gas pedal to speed up their progress toward making us look like genius parents in the eyes of people whose praise we lust after and who we can’t really stand.

And at some point our kids break down. It might be a quiet sputtering to a halt or it might be a glorious, tire blowing, whirling spinout. But it is certain to happen. Since they are resilient it will likely end up happening multiple times as they keep trying again and again.

And what is a vehicle that stops working? An obstacle. And that is what our children become upon our realization that they can’t carry us to the promised land of parental bliss. Then our resentment builds. We might be aggressive with words or passive with our affection, but one way or another that obstacle child comes to know that dad or mom wishes she would just get out of the way. A broken down vehicle is, at best, a nuisance after all.

But children are neither vehicles nor obstacles. If anything, they are passengers. We are to carry them through the changes, travails, and challenges of childhood then youth until they are capable of traveling on their own. And then we accompany them and show them the way. And at some point, down the road, they begin to help us. We are to carry their burdens until we can teach them to carry it as a man or woman ought.

I find myself tempted to put the burden of my happiness on the shoulders of my children every day, and I know this is the case by how often I react to their failures and sins as if they have stopped me from achieving happiness. My aim needs to be to help them learn where real happiness lies by carrying them there. That is, I must model the easy yoke and light burden of Jesus and take my children to Him as the source of happiness.

I live in the Nashville area and spend my days helping churches with leadership development. My nights are spent writing and rooting for Minnesota sports teams. I also podcast a bit. I'm the author of The Pastor's Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity, Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt is Not the Enemy of Faith, and The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life