My life continues to enter new and fascinating stages of parenthood. While they feel unique to me, I’m sure others out there have found themselves in similar positions.
My wife and I have our three older boys all in high school now. On the plus side, having them all back in the same school is handy. On the other hand, the tuition bill is really a kick in the pants. Our eldest is a senior and that brings with it all sorts of additional emotional experiences such as watching them get through seniors nights, witnessing their last football game of the season and one final cross country meeting. There’s also the senior photos and all the other fun of preparing for graduation. Perhaps the greatest task of all is the college hunt. It was pretty overwhelming in April when we started doing some college visits. I’m not sure which was more scary, imagining our oldest getting ready to go to school or seeing what a school year would cost.
On the other side of all the high school parenting we do, my wife and I also have a 3 year old and a 9 month old. After years without diapers and bottles, we’ve started all over again here. We quickly learn that parenting, especially with babies and toddlers, is a young person’s game. Waking up in the middle of the night with kids is a thing in your 20s when you’re used to staying up late; but it’s a whole different thing in your 40s when a 10pm bedtime is your friend. One of the things we enjoy about having both older and younger children is the interaction between the two age groups. The younger ones, of course, love the older ones and watch everything they do. The older ones were quite caring and helpful when it came to loving their little siblings. The funniest part of everything, and we’ve heard this happens in other families, is when our eldest handles the baby and strangers ask him if it’s his own child. He treats it with a blush.
Here’s the thing: As challenging as all of this can be, and it often is, I wouldn’t trade any of it or give it up for a second. Sure, having our second generation of children now in our middle ages has certainly changed our lives and plans. My free time is pretty much non-existent between helping my teenagers with their school activities and taking care of all the needs of a baby and also what is called work. But it’s great. Really amazing. It’s great because parenting has helped teach me one of life’s most powerful lessons: to deny yourself. My life isn’t just about me.
Anyone who teaches that our human life is about self-actualization and seeking and fulfilling all our inner desires does not know what they are talking about. That’s not how human life or the human race works. One way or another we will learn the lesson, the easy way or the hard way, that when our lives are all wrapped up in ourselves and we are the center of everything we do, we ultimately find nothing but emptiness will . So deny yourself Love your next. Sacrifice. Put the needs of your loved ones, especially family, first. Find joy in everyone around you and you will also find joy in yourself.
We have to teach our children that too. Whether we have children of our own or whether we are teachers or grandparents or others who help nurture and educate the next generation. This task falls to all adults in one way or another. It breaks my heart to hear studies suggesting that our children and teens today are more lonely and depressed than at any time in history. Why is this? Well, at least one reason is that we have become a selfish people. All the influences around us teach us that our lives are about ourselves. Teens are obsessed with gaining followers on social media and showing themselves across all the different platforms to get attention. And so often that version of self that is put out there is a facade, a fake, a version of self constructed for attention. When we are completely absorbed in ourselves, it should come as no surprise that loneliness follows.
No matter what the world offers, no matter what new laws and proposals our states suddenly legalize, no matter what everyone else thinks is okay or right, we need to teach our children where true joy is to be found. We must teach our children what true truth and true love look like. God’s word is a good basis for this. What a privilege, what a gift, what a tremendous responsibility that has been placed on us as parents, but also as adults who are simply influencing young people, to be able to give them God’s Word, God’s truth for their lives. If we really really love them and we really want the best for them, then this is the way. Give them foundation and strength and hope in the way of Jesus. He is our joy and happiness and our most faithful brother and friend in this life. He is also Lord and Savior. Jesus is the way, Jesus is the truth, Jesus is the life.
Mark Witte is the pastor of Grace Lutheran Church. You can reach him at email@example.com.