Directionally Challenged

Directionally Challenged

When I was a new mama, I used to cling so tightly to the scripture which said ‘Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6 KJV). I interpreted it as a sort of formula. I thought the scripture meant, “If you point your children in the right direction, they will never stray off the path. In other words: Perfect parents =  perfect children.  I worked my hardest to make all the right choices, say all the right words, do all the right things.

And then I had tweens.

Oh, is there anything more humbling than watching a teenager grow up? In the beginning, I was a hot mess. I felt so lost- I couldn’t tell you up from down. My sweet, sweet boy who I had taught to have wonderful manners, was suddenly obsessed with bodily functions at inopportune moments.  The tiny voice declaring “Yes, Ma’am” devolved into prepubescent angry squeaks “In a minute! Gosh! Why are you always on my case?” The smart child who was reading novels in kindergarten suddenly couldn’t remember where he put his jacket. Or backpack. Or a trashcan. Or deodorant. *faint*

My previous formula played in my head. If I believed it, really believed it, I would have to also believe the reverse. If a child is going in the right direction, it would be completely due to great parenting. If a child were to stray in any area at all? Then obviously, to me anyway, the sole responsibility would land squarely on the shoulders of the parents.

It wasn’t long before the pressure came to be too much. If you’ve ever met a 12 year old child, you know that they are in a phase of extreme trial-and-error. Every time my child struggled, I felt like a failure. I worried nonstop about his direction. How would he ever end up going the right way forevermore if he was stuck with this terrible mama?

Then one day, a revelation. On the radio was an interview with a woman whose name I cannot remember. What I can’t forget is what she said. “Parents, Proverbs 22 is not a guarantee. God is not telling us that our children will lose their free will if we are perfect parents. This is an unfair pressure we put on ourselves. He’s saying that once our children understand the right way to go, they’ll never be able to get away from knowing what the truth is. They can still make their own mistakes and bad choices, they can still stray from us, from God. They’ll just always know there’s a better way.”

Tears running down my cheeks, I got it. How did I expect to grow perfect children when perfect people don’t even exist? Why did I think I could beat the system of free will by controlling every bit of my child’s life? Why did I think that I could raise children who never needed to make mistakes, choose the wrong thing, find out the hard way?

Over the years, as I study human growth and development, I find that this scripture has even deeper meaning. I have come to believe that “train them up in the way they should go” is less about pointing children toward the direction of impossible perfection, and more about finding God’s purpose for their unique traits and aiming them toward the direction He has for them. As we point out their God-given gifts and talents, as we respect the way they were created (Loud! Introverted! Adventurous! Creative! Passionate! Organized! Loyal! Humble! Weird! Special!) we are giving them a tremendous head start onto their path.

As our children head out in whatever direction they choose, won’t it be a wonderful thing for them to have a compass that constantly tells them that they have value and purpose? What if our job isn’t to strap our children to a train that’s headed in the right direction, but to hand them that compass and point them in the right way? What a tremendous relief that is to me. May it be so for you, too.

Grace & Such strives to advance Christian growth among women. While we believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, we also recognize human interpretations are imperfect. Grace & Such encourages our readers to open their Bibles, pray for wisdom and study for themselves what the Word says. For more about who we are, please visit the About Us page.
Amber Lappin
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  1. Rebecca Preston on May 19, 2016 at 7:04 AM

    It’s kind of funny. I would not have put that burden on my parents. I did pretty much what I wanted to do without much consideration for my parents, knowing full well it was my (stupid) decisions. How come we take so much responsibility for our kids, when they will do as they will do? But I like how you turned it to show they are their own persons, and we can only come alongside of them on their path!

    • Amber Lappin on May 19, 2016 at 1:29 PM

      Hi, Rebecca!
      I don’t think my children would consider their choices my burden, it’s a responsibility I completely took on for myself. Putting that down has been incredibly freeing 🙂

  2. Ruth on May 19, 2016 at 7:21 AM

    Amber, I can so relate. You are a much quicker learner than I. With kids, several in their 30’s now, I am only recently realizing this. What freedom to celebrate them instead of the alternative ….

    • Amber Lappin on May 19, 2016 at 1:30 PM

      Ruth, I wish I could say that I have it all learned! I still have to remember this lesson over and over and over again!
      Thanks for your comment 😀

  3. Diane on May 19, 2016 at 7:55 AM

    “What if our job isn’t to strap our children to a train that’s headed in the right direction, but to hand them that compass and point them in the right way?” With grown kids, I used to look back and think how awful it was that I didn’t have the straps on the train tight enough! Now, I look back and am in awe of raising two kids who figured out how to unstrap from my lunacy train!! Thanks for the reminder that we have a different role to play than just being the best and greatest parent, but helping our kids find their best and greatest way.

    • Julie Steele on May 19, 2016 at 10:03 AM

      The lunacy train says it all. We parents try too hard some times.

    • Amber Lappin on May 19, 2016 at 1:35 PM

      Hi Diane! I still wonder if I’m doing it right- I still think “Man, maybe I should have controlled my children better, made them do this, or never let them do that.” in the end, I don’t know that we’ll ever get the balance perfectly. Being the parent of adult kids is a whole other trip, is’t it?

      • Diane on May 24, 2016 at 4:58 PM

        It is. And to be honest, the guilt sometimes overwhelms me! But it’s the best – cause eventually comes those sweet little grands that I can totally spoil guilt-free!!

  4. Gretchen on May 19, 2016 at 4:06 PM

    I have never seen this passage discussed about in this way, and I love it. Sometimes we do miss the forest for the trees. Because we forget our own compasses. I love the fact that if Using our compasses we & our children will always be able to find true North. Great visual and much needed encouragement, no matter what our kids’ ages.

    • Amber Lappin on May 19, 2016 at 8:44 PM

      I forget my own compass all the time. You’re right- it’s not just our kids who need to know we’re created on purpose and for our purpose. The true North is who it’s all about, a fact I lose track of on the regular.

  5. Tara on May 22, 2016 at 12:49 PM

    I had a similar conversation with a friend on Friday, we’re both raising teens/young adults. About how painful it is as a parent to watch our kids make stupid teenage-brain decisions yet we have to let them go, we HAVE to.
    They won’t learn and grow if we protect them, they will only learn what we want them to do and be, not what they want to do and be. One of my daily prayers for my kiddos is “Father God, please help them to make wise choices based on what you want for their future.” I swear though, letting go physically hurts, we just want to protect our babies. Blows my mind thinking about how God had to let go of his only son for us.

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