Perhaps one of the more unfortunate shifts of the English language in recent years has been the expansion of parent to a verb. Both forms of the word poked like twin sore thumbs from the title of a New York magazine article dated July 4, 2010: “All Joy and No Fun: Why parents hate parenting.”
Jennifer Senior, an upscale mom like the other moms she describes, transitions from her personal experience of raising a 2-year-old boy (a pint-sized Hun, apparently) to research showing that “parenting” is not the transcendent experience it’s cracked up to be. Less time with the spouse or with friends; fewer pleasurable experiences on the order of watching TV, chatting, napping, shopping; more tussles with small individuals whose wills seems to be in inverse proportion to their size—all these add up to diminished happiness and life satisfaction.
Well, duh. One wonders where these surveyed women got their rose-colored glasses. Roe v. Wade supposedly won women the right to have children on their own terms, but apparently no one told them that infants still insist on their terms. The author shifts from the blindingly obvious (parenting means much less time to do what you like) to the politically predictable (government help with child care would ease the burden) without a solution. It’s not money: “parents’ dissatisfaction only grew with the more money they had, even though they had the purchasing power to buy more child care.”
Ms. Senior balances this dirge with questions about what true happiness is, and whether the present drudgery of diaper changes and play dates will eventually fade as we build healthy, fulfilling relationships with our adult children. She allows that “happiness” and “life satisfaction” may mean different things at different stages in life. But the never-ending obstacle course of “parenting” leaves her little time to pursue that thought—or any other.
When parent becomes a verb, it distorts a fundamental relationship in two ways. First, it changes a role into a job, like the architectural designing or academic counseling a mother curtails in order to, well, mother. Any job has its performance anxieties, and parenting is the most anxious of all, especially when the boss is pre-lingual.
Second, “parenting” is all about … the parent. Rather than an individual who must gradually take more responsibility for himself, the child becomes a product to be shaped by mom’s (or dad’s) expertise. Though one or both parents may smother the child with concern, those concerns are often expressed in first-person: Do I spend enough time with her? Should I enroll him in art class as well as tae kwon do? Am I a bad mother if I go to the office Christmas party and let the nanny take them to the dentist?
We sigh over high-income moms who don’t know up from down, but Christian parents can be just as anxious, goal-oriented, and self-centered. We know how our kids should turn out, and it looks a lot like us. Preferably without all the painful life lessons we had to learn. We’re determined to avoid the mistakes our parents made, but nothing can shield our kids from the mistakes we make. Or the mistakes they’ll make out of their own deceitful hearts. Raising godly children is not just “parenting” with the adjective Christian in front of it. For all the how-to strategies, helpful books, and wise gurus (and thank God for them), two stubborn nouns remain: the parent and the child, both sinners in need of grace.
“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord … like arrows in the hand of a warrior,” according to Psalm 127. Why arrows? The warrior shapes, sharpens, and fletches them, but their purpose is to leave the bow and spring another generation into the future. We do our best to aim, but we aim into unknown territory: the surroundings we cannot predict, the culture we cannot influence, the individual who is most emphatically not us. And not about us, but, like everything else, all about the glory of God.