What will you do when your 17-year-old tells you that his girlfriend, the one you counseled him not to date because she is not a Christian, is pregnant? How will you react when you find out from another parent that for the past six months, your daughter has been going by a different name and using the boys’ restroom at her middle school? What will be going through your head when your teen proudly displays her new tattoo or eyebrow piercing at church? What will be your facial expression when your young adult son tells you that he’s pretty sure he no longer believes in God?
Many years ago, when I was the parent of a toddler and a baby, I heard something on Christian radio that changed my parenting mindset: “If you’re a parent of a child, even a very young child, now is the time to ask yourself this question: What will I do, what will I say, when my teenage daughter comes and tells me she’s pregnant? Or how will I react when I find drugs in my son’s room, hidden under his bed?”
Not if, but when.
Not because you would literally expect your daughter to someday say this to you, or because you fully expect to find drugs in your son’s room, but in order to have a clear mind and a prepared heart for whatever you might hear, see, or discover one day about one of your own children. So that despite the shock and sadness you may feel, despite the hard conversations you may need to have or decisions you may have to make, you can, above all, maintain the relationship with your child.
And have I found the need to employ this good advice over the past 26 years of parenting? Yes. Yes, I have.
Here’s why this “when, not if” concept was so helpful to me, as both a fairly new Christian and a fairly new parent. First, it gave me permission to see my kids as human beings: flawed and capable of making potentially life-changing mistakes, just like I was at that age. There was no unrealistically high standard (Christian or not) for either of us to have to live up to. This was a great relief to me as a parent to release my children from the expectation of perfection. And by extension, to release myself from that expectation, as well.
Second, it made me unshockable. Now, to a certain extent, my own history of poor choices and experimentation as a teen had done this for me already—but my kids were being raised very differently than I had been, so the temptation to see them as somehow less likely to make mistakes or errors in judgment was great. But hearing this concept of “when, not if” made me realize that anything was possible. Any one of my kids could say or do something that would otherwise be shocking or horrifying to me, but by preparing myself with this attitude, I could face potential bombshells with more grace and less disappointment.
After I heard that advice on the radio, my husband and I talked about what it meant to truly love your child for better or for worse. What it meant to keep a clear head and a calm heart in the face of poor choices or decisions you wish your child had not made. What it might be like to raise a child in the Christian faith and then witness them make choices or deal with struggles that you couldn’t have imagined back when they were five or ten years old. This is what I came to think of as unshockable parenting—not only unshockable, but also uniquely Christian.
Unshockable in the face of tattoos or piercings … changes to hair, clothing, or personal grooming … pornography use or other online addictions … drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, weed, or vaping … skipping school … dating a non-Christian … sexual activity. Not to mention issues such as severe anxiety … gender dysphoria … depression or suicidal thoughts … eating disorders, and more. And this is just what I came up with off the top of my head; the challenges that living in today’s culture throws at our kids are many.
So before you, my Christian friend, say, “My kid would never…”, let me say to you that oh, yes, they most certainly might. The good news is that as a Christian, you are uniquely in a position to prepare for this because of the examples you’ve been given in the persons of God the Father and of your Savior, Jesus Christ.
As a Christian, you, more than most, are aware of the depths of sin in the human heart—the Bible has much to say about it. You’re familiar with the concept of original sin (that we as human beings have an inborn tendency toward sin and are in desperate need of redemption and ongoing sanctification for our entire lives). You’ve taught your children about the heroes of the faith (Abraham, Rahab, and David, among them) while perhaps glossing over certain problematic areas in their lives. You’ve read the words of the Apostle Paul, who calls himself the “chief of sinners” and laments his ongoing issues with poor behavioral choices. And you know the workings of your own sinful and wayward heart, from your earliest struggles to this very moment.
Our children are not perfect, and they will not lead perfect lives. They will wrestle with sin, poor choices, and difficult issues beyond their control, whether publicly or privately, just as we do. How do we ensure that we can be a safe refuge for our teenage or adult children, even in their darkest moments or at times that they may cause us great sadness or disappointment? That we will be unshockable parents … in order to maintain the relationship with our child?
It’s easier to be unshockable and to maintain the relationship when you remember these things: First, remember that God the Father is never shocked by anything that you do, say, or think, even when you are terribly ashamed and try to hide things from him. Second, remember that Jesus is a “friend to sinners”—tax collectors, prostitutes, thieves, and every other one of us besides. He also is not shocked by anything your child has done. He doesn’t react in anger or disbelief or horror in the face of human sin. (Tears, perhaps. The compassionate heart of Jesus weeps for us and for our fallen world, I’m sure of it.)
With these examples before you, you can do your best to be (visibly, at least) unshockable in the face of your children’s unfortunate decisions, choices you don’t like, or struggles with issues you may not fully understand. Why? To maintain the relationship. Because after all is said and done, your relationship with your children remains—or as parents, we hope it does. And if your children are dealing, or will eventually be dealing, with the aftermath or consequences of an especially poor decision or difficult struggle in their lives, they need your love and mercy more than ever.
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After publishing this post, I was back on the Kurt and Kate Mornings show with Moody Radio Florida, talking about a few things that I didn’t have space to say in this original article, as well as some reader insights that I received. You can listen to that interview here.
Photo by Rémi Walle on Unsplash
8 thoughts on “Unshockable Parenting”
Beautifully said. That relationship is paramount.
Thanks, Arryn. Yes, it’s always at the forefront of my mind.
I wish more believers wrote about this. As I was going through this with my now adult children, I felt very alone and alienated. Thank you for addressing this topic in a truthful way.
Thanks for reading, Kristen. I completely understand what you mean about feeling alone in this.
I would also like to add, our kids need to see that our world does not fall apart by their choices, even walking away from the faith, because our hope is in Christ and His sovereignty over all things. He is still working in their lives even though we don’t see evidence at that time. As a mother of 5 adult kids who have rebelled against the Lord, if took me a long time to learn that I didn’t need to despair, even though I was sad, because God is in control.
Thanks for that comment – such a good point.
Thank you, I needed this. For the past 15 years, I’ve chosen to love my now-27-year-old daughter unconditionally thru decisions/actions that took her away from God. Now, though she seemed to be closer to God again, she is living with her boyfriend against our wishes/advice. My mom is throwing this in my face, saying, “what are you going to do about it?” What I did about it is that one time only, I let my daughter know clearly that we don’t approve of her choice to live with him, but that I won’t harass her about it every time I see her. That I will still love her regardless. The criticism from my mom is very fresh, so this was needed. Thank you.
It’s so hard, especially when others question us, but I doubt you’ll ever regret this choice you’ve made. Thanks for reading.