January 13, 2012

Five Possible Goals for Parenting

Every decision parents make concerning their children is going to depend on the ultimate goal they have for them. It doesn’t matter if you’re thinking about the use of technology, or discipline, or whether to encourage your kids to join the school’s ping pong team—every strategy depends on what the goal is.

I’m going to give you five possible goals for parenting. Four of these goals are common, but not great.

False Goal 1: Ease.

There are times when the only thing we care about is how to get a moment of peace and quiet. Sometimes this is understandable, but many times parents make momentary decisions with bad long-term consequences just to keep the kids out of their hair. Having kids is a lot of headache and hardship. Parents with this goal want to get through the process of raising kids with as little difficulty as possible. Convenience is king.

In some cases, parents with this goal see their kids as a burden and as an obstacle in the way of what they really want to do. Parents with this goal will always gravitate toward the easiest acceptable option.

False Goal #2: Trophy

Many parents raise their kids to be their trophy. Some parents want their kids to excel at sports so that they can relive their glory days through them—or live out the glory days they never had. Sports is one example, but there are many others. Parents want their kids to be popular because this makes them look good. Popular kids have popular parents. It doesn’t feel as good to be the parent of rejects. Another trophy is success. A child who grows up to become a doctor or a corporate executive makes a nice trophy for their friends to see.

Some Christians want their kids to be “good Christians” because that is the kind of shinny trophy their peers admire. Parents with this goal want their kids to be good in order to protect the family image. When their children sin, their first thought is, “How is this going to make us look?”

False Goal #3: Happiness

These parents want to shield their children from any type of unhappiness, pain, frustration or disappointment. They can’t bear to see them go through that. They want to see their kids smiling and they will do whatever that takes with little thought to the fact that difficulties build character and constant appeasement leads to spoiled greed and a soft child.

You'll hear these parents talk about their offspring and use the phrase, “At least he’s happy.” This is a give-away that happiness was their goal for them. No matter what else, as long as they are "happy" everything else is fine. Did you ever notice how often this statement is attached to awful life-decisions? She grew up to become porn star and he’s a mafia hit man, but “at least their happy.”

Now, in one sense there is truth to this goal. If your ultimate goal for your child is that he or she would find ultimate happiness by delighting in God—then there is no greater goal. If that is what you mean by happiness, you can find peace even when your child goes through hard times if the experience will bring him closer to God. The miseries of this life do not compare to the unspeakable lasting joy that will follow. Unfortunately, this usually isn’t what people mean. Usually parents settle for the shallow and fleeting version of happiness that this world has to offer.

False Goal #4: Friend

The picture depicted to the right isn’t the image that these parents have in their heads. They see themselves and their kids as BFFs. Moms picture themselves and their daughter going shopping together, hanging out and being mistaken for sisters. Dads imagine themselves just kicking back and popping a beer with their boy. For others, their satisfaction comes from knowing how well-pleased their kids are with them. They daydream about their kids singing their praise with hearts full of love and admiration for their beloved mother or father—perhaps a statue is in order.

In reality, the picture is more like the one shown above. These parents are absolutely dependent on the approval of their children. They want their kids to be happy with them. These parents desperately need to be liked by their kids. Therefore, who is in control? The kids of these parents have tremendous power over their parents. They can withhold their approval like withholding oxygen.

Some parents refuse to be an authority figure over their child because they would rather be a buddy than a real parent. They forget that having a good relationship isn’t the same thing as being a peer to their child. We all desire a good relationship with our children, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of what is really best for them. 

Goal #5: The True Goal – Disciple

The real goal, the ultimate goal for Christian parents is to raise children who become authentic growing disciples of Jesus Christ. Our goal is for our children to glorify God by treasuring Christ. We want them to treasure Christ as their Prophet, Priest and King. Their changed life will flow from this as they glorify God in their hearts.

Our goal for our children should be the same goal that Paul prayed for believers in Colossians 1:9-14:

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Spend time dissecting this passage and thinking about the specific things Paul is praying for. Pray for those same things for your children. Make your parenting decisions while asking yourself what is the best strategy for reaching these goals.

There is a grain of truth in each of the false goals. At times, and in the right way, they can be appropriate as long as the true goal always stays higher. For example: There are times when we need quiet. We want our children to be our legacy, in a good sense. We want our kids to have true happiness. And we want a healthy relationship with our kids. However, it is easy for us to justify these goals while they mutate out of control. Some parents are completely sold out to one of these false goals. For all of us, they are always a temptation that we will fall into from time to time.

Most Christians will probably assume that their goal is for their children to be disciples of Jesus, but here is the test: What happens when two of these goals are in conflict? What happens when you are forced to choose between two? What happens when raising your child as a growing disciple is inconvenient? What happens when this goal might endanger the shininess of your trophy in some people's eyes? What happens when living for Christ will put your child through intense pain and heart-ache? What happens when raising your kid the right way makes him or her furious with you?

Which goal gives way? When we can’t have both we see what goal is really on top.

See also:
Parenting in an Age of Technology
A God-Centered Philosophy of Discipleship


  1. We just went to an awesome parenting conference by Paul Tripp this weekend. He hit a lot of this info and was really convicting in helping parents identify their true motives and need for God's help. He sells a DVD and CD set of the whole thing on his website. Great material and engaging delivery... Lots of work to do on our own hearts too!!

  2. Hi Angie! Glad to hear that you were able to get to a Tripp conference. Everything by the Tripp brothers is fantastic. I use a lot of it for Adult Education here at Peace. I've also had the youth sponsors read through "Age of Opportunity." Great stuff!

  3. So what do you guys think? What are some examples of times when it is easy for us to make one of the wrong goals the goal? (I think we all do this sometimes.)


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