[Originally published in the Monroe News on October 28, 2022]
My life continues to enter new and fascinating stages of parenting. Though they feel unique to me I’m sure others out there have found themselves in similar positions. My wife and I have our 3 older boys all in high school now. On the plus side it is handy all having them in the same school again. On the down side, the tuition bill is really a kick in the pants. Our oldest is a senior and so that brings all sorts of extra emotional experiences like watching them go through senior nights, witnessing them playing their last soccer game of the season and a last cross-country meet. There’s also the senior pictures and all the other fun of getting ready for graduation. Maybe the biggest task of them all is the college hunt. It was quite overwhelming back in April when we began to make some college visits. I’m not sure what was more daunting, picturing our oldest getting ready to go off to school, or looking at what a year of school was going to cost.
On the flip side of all the high school parenting we are doing, my wife and I also have a 3-year old and a 9-month old. After years of being out of diapers and bottles here we are, having started all over again. We’re learning quickly how parenting, especially with babies and toddlers, is a young person’s game. Getting up with kids in the middle of the night is one thing in your 20s when you’re used to staying up late; but it is another thing entirely in your 40s when a 10pm bedtime is your friend. One of the things we do enjoy about having both older and younger kids is the interaction between the two age groups. The younger ones of course just adore the older ones and watch everything they do. The older ones have been pretty caring and helpful in loving their little siblings. The funniest part of it all, and we’ve heard this happens in other families, is when our oldest is handling the baby and strangers ask him if it is his own child. He handles it with a blush.
Here’s the thing, as challenging as all of it 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 kids now in our middle age has certainly changed up our lives and our plans. My free time is pretty much non-existent between helping my teenagers around with their school activities and taking care of all the needs of a baby and also that thing called work. But it is great. Genuinely great. It is great because parenting has helped to teach me one of life’s most powerful lessons: to deny oneself. My life isn’t all about me.
Anyone who teaches that our human lives are about self-actualization and seeking and fulfilling all of our inner desires doesn’t know what they are talking about. That isn’t how the human life or the human race works. One way or another we’re going to learn the lesson, the easy way or the hard way, that when our life is all wrapped up in ourselves and we are the center of all we do we’re going to ultimately find nothing but emptiness. So deny yourself. Love your neighbor. Sacrifice. Put the needs of your loved ones, especially family, first. Find joy in all the people around you and you will also find joy for yourself.
We need to teach this to our children as well. Whether we have kids of our own or whether we are teachers or grandparents or others who help to care for and raise the next generation. This task falls upon all adults in one way or another. I’m heartbroken when I hear studies suggesting our kids and our teens are more lonely and depressed now than at any point in history. Why is this? Well at least one reason is that we have become a selfish people. We’re being taught by all the influences around us that our lives are about ourselves. Teens are obsessed with gaining followers on social media and putting themselves out there on all the different platforms to garner attention. And so often this version of self that is put out there is a facade, a fake, a version of self constructed for attention. When we get all wrapped up 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 make legal, no matter what everyone else says is okay or right, we need to teach our kids where true joy is found. We need to teach our kids what real truth and real love look like. God’s Word is a good foundation for all of this. What a privilege, what a gift, what a massive responsibility it is that has been thrust upon us as parents, but also as adults who simply have influence over young people, to be able to give them the gift of God’s Word, of God’s truth for their lives. If we really truly love them, and we really want what’s best for them, then this is the way. Give them foundations and strength and hope in the way of Jesus. He is our joy and our happiness and our truest brother and friend in this life. He’s also Lord and Savior. Jesus is the way, Jesus is the truth, Jesus is the life.
To God be the glory.
Mark Witte is the pastor at Grace Lutheran Church.
You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org